An Internal Enemy, the Eating Disorder: Why Did This Happen?

An Internal Enemy, the Eating Disorder: Why Did This Happen?

Sophia Robertson, Digital Media Editor/Contributing Writer, Greensboro NC

Sitting on the stairs in tears while my mom and I argued about food (prior to this I had stabbed at my food, claiming that I hate it and hate all other foods), I heard her say something that really made me think: “The eating is a problem, of course, but this is part of a much bigger issue.” She was right, like moms usually are. 


When I was in the recovery process, a big question that floated through my head and my mom’s head was “why did this happen?” My counselor initially told me that we probably wouldn’t ever have a sure answer to that, though there were some possibilities of things that contributed to it. I was pretty excited the day that I discovered the answer.


In a meeting with my counselor, we’ll call her Karmen, I told her two things that had been on my mind for the last few days. I thought that maybe they would mean something to her, but at the least I thought it would be a fine topic of conversation. The first thing I told her was that before the eating disorder, probably about a month or two before, I was extremely obsessive about little things. For example, my family and I were going on a trip, and I was bringing two extra pairs of shoes. I needed my sneakers, flip flops for the pool, and sandals for a fancy occasion. I grabbed a couple of plastic grocery bags and started to stuff my shoes in them, each in a separate bag. Then, I noticed the dilemma. I had grabbed three bags, two brown and one white. I only needed two bags in total. Hmm. The white bag is a little brighter and happier, and I want everything to be perfect while I’m there. Maybe I should go with that one and a brown one. Wait, wait, wait, but then they wouldn’t match? Maybe I should just do both brown. Seriously, I took at least five minutes to decide which bag to bring. I was so obsessed with making everything right for the trip because I wanted it to be the best that it could be. Does the color matter today? No. Did it matter then? Definitely not. God only knows how long it took for me to pick which shoes to bring.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a disorder that many people claim to have. Some people have it worse than others, but no matter what, it always ties into other parts of the person’s thoughts and actions. One symptom for OCD can be “food aversion.” Why? People hear things about “negatives” of food and how “unhealthy” some foods are. People with OCD want perfection, and food, a huge part of everyone’s lives, is a target for that perfection. Unfortunately, a lot of what people say about nutrition is not backed by facts. Additionally, when searching OCD on the internet, anorexia and bulimia come up as related conditions. Surprised?


The second thing that I told Karmen came to my attention when, at the prior meeting, she asked me what happened, if anything, the few months before the eating disorder. Was I really stressed about something? Where had I been mentally and physically that summer? The eating disorder, while I may not have been fully aware of it, began in the summer, so I thought back to that time. I was about to start my sophomore year, and I did not want to take Health and P.E. at school even though it was required. Sports while people watched me was not my thing. Anyway, I was taking the course online that summer. The first lesson in the health section was on eating disorders. I took notes and heard stories of how twisted people’s minds could be. Later on, I began a required exercise log. Throughout the course, students had to have 3-5 days of exercise per week with a certain number of minutes doing each workout. Sometimes I would go to my neighborhood’s club house to hop on the elliptical for a while and then lift some weights, but other times I would do reps of at-home exercises such as lunges across the house many, many times, crunches, or push ups. For a while, I would even run up and down the stairs until I could barely breathe, and that was after all of the tiring strength-building exercises. It wasn’t fun, but I told myself that I was just doing it for the course. However, I kept doing the exercises after the course stopped. Well, a class tells me I need plenty of exercises and that ice cream is bad for me. I guess I should get that exercise in and lay off sweets. I told myself that too, but I left out one of the most important parts that was screaming at me on the inside: …even though that’s not what would make me happy. Yes, I should have everything in moderation and stay active, but not to an extreme that would make me unhappy.


It was an “aha!” moment when I told Karmen this. She nodded her head as I spoke, as if she had heard this numerous times before. She had, actually. She told me that it was not uncommon for young people with eating disorders to have gotten much of their information from school and classes regarding health. We figured out that the answer to the big “why” question was a combination of things. Some research shows OCD and OCD-type issues as biological. I had been a perfectionist for a while, but through life it escalated. The combination of OCD with the information that I heard (from school, a source that I assumed was completely true) led to the eating disorder. Learning about anorexia from Lesson 1 of Health was like a little seed placed inside my mind. From there, it grew and grew until falsities mixed with truths in my head, and I couldn’t decipher which I should be following. 


The reason that my eating disorder formed is unique to me. There are many other reasons why people can have eating disorders, such as simply the desire to be thin, especially because of bullying or even an innocent comment. When my eating disorder began, I told myself that it was because I was trying to be healthy. This first stage was probably when I was closest to orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder related to healthy eating but not with the main goal of losing weight. Orthorexia morphed into anorexia as I exercised more and more and continued to cut back on food because I wanted to lose weight, despite that being the unhealthy choice. In a book I read, a wise woman said to a young girl that there are three things in life that are necessary but all you need: Love, purpose, food. The young girl goes on to embrace life, and enjoy it, eating a decadent piece of cake (which is extremely rare for her, a girl focused on maintaining her skinny frame). Author Soman Chainani wrote, “She’d always thought of cake as fleeting, pointless, but here in the span of one taste, she’d understood why it mattered. Because life was fleeting and pointless unless you let yourself enjoy it, savor it, down to its lightest, most insignificant moments.”