*possible triggers: eating disorders*
Today is the last day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I have spoken about my disordered eating plenty before, but this blog about “almost anorexic” caught my attention.
Growing up, I was tall and thin. Still am. I was an athlete with long limbs, and that was the “look” for modeling. I continued to eat pizza and ice cream, because they tasted good and I could. My metabolism was high, and I was active.
Before heading to Tokyo when I was sixteen, I was told I needed my measurements to shrink (waist and hips) to align with Japanese clothes. Even though I ran track and danced, I tried to lose weight by eating a cantaloupe a day. And I filled up on Snackwells – they were fat free so they must be okay. Things were different in the early 90s concerning carbs, so I didn’t care about calories, only fat. Not ideal. Whatever.
My mom was aware of my “need” to lose inches, and this was common practice for the modeling world. What did we know?
“35% of ‘normal’ dieters progress to disordered eating.” (NEDA)
I guess it was the next year that I experimented with not eating for two days at a time. I was able to hide this from friends and family due to school activities. At play rehearsal, when everyone ate McDonald's french fries, I licked ketchup out of the packets. But I found that track practice was difficult on an empty stomach. So I decided anorexia wasn’t for me. I liked food too much, and it wasn’t sustainable.
I soon tried the binging and purging trick. I learned somewhere that if you touched the hangy-downy-thingy in the back of your throat (aka uvula), you could make yourself throw up. So, with a school friend, we tried that. That was gross and also it didn’t seem to produce much. I guess I wasn’t good at bulimia, either.
Well, once in the throes of modeling full time, I learned new tricks about laxative tea and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes to abate my appetite. And when I overindulged at Thanksgiving and on Easter, I went to the bathroom, tears falling from my eyes as I bent over the toilet.
This cycle continued for many years, but I was never able to lose that much weight, even though I only ate salads with fat free dressing and plain baked potatoes with ketchup. My stomach hurt a lot, and I missed out on flavor. But I thought this was what I was supposed to do.
I never went to a doctor for a diagnosis, because I “didn’t have a problem.”
When I retired from full-time modeling (partly because I was always told I needed to lose weight), I moved home to get happy. I worked out everyday, and at work (with the UK women’s basketball team), for lunch, I only ate a bag of sweet and salty trail mix from the vending machine and a Diet Mountain Dew. And I regularly took laxatives. That’s when I really began to lose weight.
I finally had the body of a model, when I was no longer in the biz. My BMI was less than those of the athletes I worked with. I was proud when people commented on how thin I was.
Then, newly married, I moved back to LA, the city of superficiality that made me crazy once before. I worked on a TV show, which had craft services throughout the day. Food was available all the time. At first, I took advantage, but then I worried I was gaining weight. So instead of just eating lunch or a light snack, I resorted to coffee and cigarettes. It was all or nothing for me. I learned to love my growling stomach. Pushing through the hunger was something for me to celebrate silently.
And after work, I would go to the gym on an empty stomach. And I could run for days. And I lost weight. Quite a bit actually, as the producer noticed. But I “didn’t have a problem.” I was finally feeling like I could fit in with the Hollywood types.
But back home I came, after two years and a divorce. I am not sure when I began to eat right and exercise at a normal pace again. I was living with my parents, again, so I ate regularly and didn’t smoke…as much. I made plenty of other poor choices to be sure, but my relationship with food seemed healthy.
Leading workshops helped me to practice what I preached. If I talk about treating your body as the Temple of God, I better do so, as well. I enjoy food, eat a pescatarian diet, indulge occasionally, exercise regularly. It continues to be a journey, and I readily admit that to anyone. But I have always had a hard time saying I was anorexic or bulimic or whatever. In my mind, I was “almost anorexic” because I never saw a doctor or went to the hospital or looked like a skeleton. But that’s the thing. Most folks with an eating disorder are not so extreme. That is why the #NEDAwareness theme is “I had no idea.” Because it isn’t always so obvious, even to the one with the disease.
It is time I claim my past. And I pray my story helps someone in the present.
For help for you or a loved one, check out mybodyscreening.org #NEDAwareness
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.