What drives eating disorders? Misconceptions abound, even in psychiatric and primary care practices. “It’s the media,” one child psychologist will declare. A pictogram laden with ripe images of welter-weight runway models illustrates that the average teenage girl simply has aspirations to be rail-thin and worldly.
“No,” a pediatrician will retort, “it’s bad eating habits. It’s straying from the food pyramid.” Suddenly, the FDA-inspired food pyramid will magically appear. Heads will nod: Yes, a lack of six to 12 servings of complex carbohydrates would certainly inspire a 13-year-old pre-pubescent child to binge on waffles, doughnuts and a host of other starchy, lightly-digestible and sugary foods. Foods easily purged later in the locker room bathroom before soccer practice.
A battle of statistics, studies and other graphic imagery will be tossed back and forth between the so-called experts. Shattered academic egos are the by-product in this battle of the pseudo-bulge. A voice, so quiet that it’s barely audible over the noise of who is right, speaks. It’s my voice. Thirteen years after the fact, it speaks to fill the void in the 14-year-old girl who was once so consumed by this very battle that she had nothing left to say.
It was all about the control. I woke religiously at 5 a.m. every morning in order to run 5 miles. That, and a six-hour school day, would make things all right. I would consume three saltine crackers, a slice of a MacIntosh apple and a half glass of skim milk, and I was satisfied that those 100-or-so calories would burn away during the ensuing three-hour field hockey practice. Those three-hour practices would entail another 8-10 miles of running, thus serving as punishment for nourishing my emaciated frame.
Had that child psychologist shown me, say, photos of a modern-day Gisele (it was 1997, after all; she was still undiscovered on the beaches of Brazil) and asked what I thought, I would have laughed in his face. I’d point out her flaws — full thighs, a curve at the waist, breasts. I’d sit back, smug in my chair, confident in the jutted ribs on which my shirt hung.
The food pyramid — well, that’s another story in itself. It was brought to my attention more than once. It popped up at my physician’s office, where silent alarms rang when my weight was measured at 40 pounds less than the previous year. It reared its government-regulated head at the gynecologist’s office during a premature, virginity-intact visit at age 15: The nurse discovered I’d lost my menstrual cycle.
“Isn’t she drinking milk?” they asked my mother. “Are you having sex?” they accused me. Yes, my mother nodded, unaware of my magician-like ability to spit full glasses of the bone-fortifying wonder-drink down the sink behind her back. No, I shook my head, eyes wide as saucers. I feared initiating into adulthood after my time spent in the cold metal stirrups.
Details of my battle and the seven subsequent years of recovery still prove to be mythic and mystical to many. Theories not scientifically validated tend to show. So today, with my stomach full of supper and heart full of fortitude, I can turn, look them in the eyes and tell them, “You’re wrong.”
— Karyn Polewaczyk