I watched the Netflix movie ‘To the Bone’ the other day, and oh man, did it bring back some memories. I’d seen it pop up under ‘New Releases’ or whatever, and had actively avoided it in the beginning. We had just traveled back from the States to Belgium and I knew I had put some weight on during our five weeks away. Constant moving every week or so, a wedding/wedding preparations, and a lack of working out just aren’t conducive for maintaining weight. I’d done my best, but I worried that watching the movie could be a little triggering for me, or bring about the large amount of the guilt that I am often prone to when it comes to body image. Some things I still haven’t beaten. I don’t know if I ever will.
I broke down one afternoon after I’d had a few workouts under my belt and wasn’t feeling as bloated and disgusting as I’d been feeling for the past month (keep in mind that I’m starting IVF anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks from now, and will be in a perpetual state of bloating at that time. I’m incredibly nervous for that part of it—besides having to inject myself and have 12314908743 ultrasounds done at the start of a new school year. Should be a stress-free transition for sure).
The main character is a 20-year-old female named Ellen. Ellen has been in and out of inpatient facilities for what seems like awhile, before ending up at an inpatient facility that is run completely different from most normal programs. There is one scene where they’re having group therapy. The therapist is talking to the group, and mentions that it’s not about a ‘goal weight’; that is never has been and that there are much deeper factors, usually feelings that the patients don’t want to feel. Which hit me in all the feels.
When I was diagnosed, I was a little bit older, at 22. My mom realized I was sick relatively early on, but I hadn’t hit a weight that was low enough for doctors to take her seriously, at least not initially. I can remember weighing about 125 pounds, which doesn’t seem like a low weight, but I had dropped it rather quickly. She took me in to a doctor who basically said I was at a healthy weight, and agreed with me when I said I was just trying to get healthy. As weight continued to fall off of me—I lost nearly 30 pounds in about a month—she set a meeting up with one of her friends, who was a recovering anorexic. I was incredibly annoyed by this, but agreed to go, knowing I could fool this friend into thinking I was fine. When my brain decided to stop eating, it was like a switch flipped. I just stopped. I ate on average 200-250 calories a day, but some days, as little as 150 calories. FOR AN ENTIRE DAY. And I ran about 2 hours per day. It amazes me what you can put a body through and still survive. Anyways, that’s where I was when I met up with this friend. In the course of our discussion, I can remember saying that I was ‘fine’ and was just trying to get to my ‘goal weight’—and of course I had a number I could provide (I think it was 110 at the time), and as soon as I hit that, I would stop. I now realize that’s a common phrase for us anorexics and if everything else about me didn’t tip her off, I’m sure that didn’t help. She told my mom I was sick, and shortly after I found myself being taken to a new doctor who specialized in eating disorders.
I was furious the first time I went to that doctor (and for many appointments after). By this point, I knew something was wrong with me, but I had no interest in rectifying the situation. The doctor I was taken to was incredibly blunt, which is best when working with me, but annoyed me at the time. She weighed me, said I was unhealthy, and that she recommended inpatient. I refused. There was no fucking way they were getting me to check in to a place when I wasn’t sick. The doctor looked me dead in my eyes and told me she wouldn’t make me go to inpatient, but that if I lost any more weight when I came to see her, I was going in. My parents had already agreed they would take away my rights to force me into inpatient if needed. The doctor said my weight was definitely low, but that I wasn’t in as much danger as other patients. This infuriated me as well, and I saw it as a competition. I wasn’t as ‘sick’ as others? Then I’ll show you sick. Challenge accepted.
I went home that week and lost another five pounds, putting me around 105 pounds. Again, it probably doesn’t seem that thin, but on average I usually weigh around 130-135 and appear thin. I’m pretty muscular. People noticed something wasn’t right with me, and I can remember my sister stating that I looked like a skeleton. By the time my next appointment was rolling around, I had started to panic that the doctor and my mom would make good on the threat of inpatient. The day before I was to go in, I started chugging diet cokes and ate cereal, something that I binged on when I got too hungry. It wasn’t enough to get me back to where I was when I started, and the scale showed that I was under my previous weight. The doctor looked at me. I promised it was an accident and that it wouldn’t happen again. It kept me out of inpatient, but only with the agreement that I saw a nutritionist and a psychologist weekly, on top of seeing my doctor weekly. It was a fuck-ton of appointments and I found them all to be enraging initially.
Which leads me to another part of the movie. There was a girl in the inpatient facility the main character was at. She had been given a transfusion of nutrients through her nose. As they sat down to dinner, it came up how many calories might be in one of those intravenous drips. Ellen knew and told them all—1500 calories, which caused the girl who had the drip to leave the room sobbing at the idea of that many calories inside of her. Later on, there was a scene where Ellen was talking to the only boy in the facility, and someone she had developed a relationship with. He was much further into his recovery and was eating regular foods. She said that anytime she thought about eating something substantial, it would cause her to panic, like the world was going to end or something if she ate. That brought back the most memories. Eating any form of food caused intense panic for me. I used to feel that I could actually feel the fat forming if I ate—even if it was broccoli. There was an evening that my mom made me eat broccoli and cauliflower, steamed with nothing else on it. I sobbed and refused and yelled before finally eating some of it. And then I cried and panicked and felt like the world was falling at my feet. I used to say I felt like I needed to rip my skin off and crawl out to escape from my body. I just wanted to claw everything off, as I would lay there, feeling the fat forming on my stomach and hips and thighs, knowing I’d run longer and harder the next day, cut out a few extra calories to make up for the broccoli. The first time I saw a nutritionist, her plan for me was for 1,500 calories a day. I left the office in a blind panic and went to my therapist where I sobbed that I would NEVER eat that many calories. In my warped mindset, eating showed weakness. Those that needed to eat worthless calories weren’t as strong as I was. I could resist temptation and that made me stronger than everyone else. There was no way I would resort to eating that many calories, ever.
It took a lot of therapy and doctor’s appointments and pleading from my family and an eventual move before I started to eat again. I don’t like to say that I recovered. Because for me, I don’t know that I can ever fully recover from anorexia. Maybe some would think that I give it too much power. Maybe I do. Going through anorexia was one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Its impacts, for me, have been long reaching. But I have a good enough grasp on things to not let it rule my everyday life anymore.
When I was sick, I was convinced nothing could stop me. The thinner I got, the less I ate, the stronger I seemed to get. I could run for hours. I could survive on little to no food. I used to have to have heart tests run, to measure my heartbeat. It was so low at one appointment that my doctor told me I couldn’t drink diet coke or do any exercise because it could cause me to have a heart attack. A heart attack on a 23-year-old. I scoffed, went out to my car where I drank a diet coke on my way to the gym. I was so confident that I was, and would be, fine. My mom used to say she was watching me kill myself. I’d scoff again. I wasn’t going to die. I just wasn’t going to eat. Those things were perfectly compatible with one another. I sometimes can’t believe that was me. That I was so foolish to think that death couldn’t call on me. I’m so glad it didn’t.
My doctor looked at me one day, in one of our myriad of appointments, and told me I had a choice. Girls like me always reached this point. I could tip one way and choose to get healthy and live my life. Or I could tip the other way, and spend a lifetime in inpatient facilities, therapy, and sickness, until I finally wore myself out. Something clicked in me. I won’t tell you I magically started getting better. That would be stupid. My anorexia was fueled by a deep hatred for myself and a feeling of complete and utter lack of control over my life. Food and my weight were the only things I had that gave me self-worth and that I felt like I could control. I’ve been in therapy for 12 years now, on and off. I currently have the most self-esteem I’ve probably ever had. That doesn’t mean I have a constant overwhelming love for myself, but I know I have a lot of good qualities. I’m often still plagued by self-doubt and guilt, and my inability to have a child has caused a bit of a setback in the whole ‘self-love’ department, but I’m working on it. I have a good support system who cheer me on. I still have issues with control and while I try to work on them, I still feel the best when I’m in control of a situation, or at least feel like I am. I hate feeling like I don’t know something. Perfectionism is something I still crave. I still work with body image issues. I still struggle with feeling out of control when I’m not working out, convinced I’ll get fat. My self-esteem is still tied to my weight, to an extent.
Despite all that, I watched that movie and felt relieved that I didn’t live that life anymore, and felt bad for all those that were living it. It’s a long road to ‘normal’, or at least functioning. I don’t restrict and haven’t in a long time. I haven’t had a full relapse since my mid-twenties. The things I still battle are minor in comparison and I have enough skills to still live. Even though the scars are there, and some things haven’t gone away, I’m grateful for where I am today. I know I’m a much stronger person because of what I’ve been through and what I’ve overcome–and what I’m continuing to overcome.