(Anorexia to obesity to anorexia again becomes a life of spinning like a carnival wheel. It makes you dizzy. It makes life a blur. It looks like a lot of action but gets you nowhere. This is a true story, written in her own words, of a woman getting off that wheel and finding wisdom.)
by Kym, guest writer
My first bout of anorexia came when I was 30.
I grew up being underweight. I believe I didn't get enough nutritional food, but it had more to do with my parents' income than emotional or compulsive behaviors.
Starting at the age of 22, gaining weight hasn't been a problem. Having food available and never having had to learn to restrain my eating, I found myself moving up and up the scale until I reached the “obese” level by the age of 25.
At 30 I lost weight extremely fast, and I went below my high school weight. With the help of a therapist, I gained control of my life. I gained back a safe weight, but I didn't fully address my issues nor did I learn coping skills. So, my weight slowly went up, and again, I found myself obese.
I recently started a new job and feelings of inadequacy triggered a relapse back into anorexic behaviors, and once again I'm underweight.
Life Lived as a Woman of Many Different Sizes
My experiences have given me the opportunity to move into the world in many different sizes. I've also seen others' reactions to my various weights. As one would expect, I got a lot of praise for losing weight. People were more interested in my weight loss “secrets” than questioning the speed at which the weight was coming off.
Strangers treated me differently too. It wasn't until I was a more “normal” weight that department store sales clerks asked me if I needed help finding things. I also got more greetings and casual conversations when in public.
However, I can't totally blame strangers who ignored me when I was obese. I had internalized hatred for myself, and I didn't believe anyone would want me to interact with them. Society taught me that I had to hate myself when I'm big, otherwise it might appear that I'm OK with being overweight.
At 31 when my weight moved from thin to “so thin that obviously something is wrong, I found myself being ignored by strangers and sales clerks again. One of my close friends was asked two times if I had HIV.
Power of Society's Disapproval and Approval
By the age of 44, I moved back from anorexia thin to being obese. I had to get used to society's disapproval again. I had gotten used to better customer service and developed confidence that people would reciprocate my greetings. But I moved back into my “fat” woman role which, in some ways, felt more safe.
Currently, I'm slightly underweight....just enough to get society's approval. My current relapse started at the age of 48 when I started a new job. As I lost weight this time, the praise of my co-workers fed into my ED. Although part of me knew I wasn't eating enough, my ED voice kept telling me that all these people couldn't be wrong.
I still get praise from people who haven't seen me for a while and from store clerks who confirm my Identity with an outdated driver's license picture. Praising my weight loss reminds me of my ED way of thinking that "thin equals happiness.
Then, since I still have unhappy feelings, I believe that I must not be thin enough. Praise for being thin also reminds me that becoming obese comes easily to me, so I must constantly be in “diet mode” or obesity will catch up and take over.
I'll be 50 soon, and I'm doing what I can to protect myself from weight loss praise, mostly by asking folks to not make comments. When I do get praise I remind myself that the people are just trying to compliment me. I say to myself "No, ED, it's not a sign that more weight loss will bring more praise or that this is a healthy weight for me!!
I find it interesting that with my experiences from obesity to anorexia and back again, I haven't learned yet that if I don't like myself large, I'm not going to like myself thin. And gaining a healthy weight isn't going to make me like myself less than I do now. OK, I will admit getting dressed in the morning is more fun when thin, but only through the hard work of recovery am I going to find happiness beyond a pair of skinny jeans!
(Note from Joanna Poppink. Kym comments regularly on my blog. She is an articulate and courageous woman determined to find her recovery. She said, "sure," immediately when I asked her to write a post about her personal experience. I'm posting it as a full article. She shares, with great honesty, her emotional experience of moving back and forth through a range of body weight that I believe can provide insight and inspiration to many of you reading on this site.
Thank you, Kym!)
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at