An RD Confesses: "I Had Bulimia"
The Perfect Child
As a nutrition professional, I know that bulimia is a potentially life-threatening condition, affecting at least 1.5 million women in America. It can cause heart damage, osteoporosis, and all kinds of digestive dysfunction, like permanent constipation. Bulimia can even be deadly if it causes your esophagus or colon to rupture, your heart to stop, or your body's electrolyte balance to veer out of control. But like me, many bulimics are aware that what they're doing is harmful. The sense that they "should know better" only makes them feel guilty and drives them to secrecy, perpetuating the binge-purge cycle.Secrecy, Obedience, and Perfection
For me, the secrecy started in kindergarten. I was usually the last to be picked up at the end of the day, so while I waited -- feeling alone, bored, and a little unloved -- I would go through the cupboards in the classrooms until I found snacks to eat. When my mom finally arrived, rushed and frazzled, I was too relieved to tell her how mad I was or how lonely I had been. I also thought I needed to be perfect for my mom to pick me up. Besides, I didn't want to get in trouble for sneaking food. I was 5 years old and already ashamed of eating.
I continued to hide my feelings throughout childhood, trying to be the perfect daughter, spending much of my time alone, reading. My favorite book was a children's cookbook; the illustrations accompanying the recipes showed a happy '50s family making fudge and other sweets together. I "read" it over and over. At school, where I couldn't be alone, I'd occasionally go to the nurse with a stomachache or throw up on whoever was around (sorry, Mrs. Hogue). But it usually garnered sympathy rather than reprimands. Quiet and obedient, I appeared to many as "the perfect child."
Perfection took on even more meaning as I got older. My father, who put himself through college and graduate school at MIT, valued education above all else. He expected straight A's, and my grades just weren't quite good enough. He died of lung cancer when I was 12. I knew he had no choice about leaving. But having a daughter like me, I thought, maybe secretly he didn't mind. To make up for disappointing him, I believed the only thing I could do was be perfect from then on. That way, no one else would leave me like that.
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