When food is the enemy

Robin Heim

Her mornings are normal. She stirs and lifts her head from her pillow rubbing sleep from her eyes and stretching her limbs, struggling to wake up. Gurggle.

She cups her hands over her middle to muffle the sound of the hunger usually remedied with toast or eggs. She proceeds with her routine.

Getting out of bed, brushing her teeth, checking away messages for a second or two. All seemingly typical routine until she engages in her not-so-normal morning ritual.

“I have a system,” explained a Villanova sophomore who asked that her identity be concealed. “Now it takes me about 20 minutes to do the same thing every morning.”

After dressing herself and ignoring the churns and moans of her stomach, she approaches the full-length mirror backing the door to her room and examines every inch, every curve, every one of her body’s imperfections.

She lifts her shirt, turns to the side and slides her hand down over her now concave stomach. She turns to another angle; she pulls and moves skin to see … three more pounds? Five maybe? Seven? Another angle. And another. And her day begins.

Anorexia nervosa is a relatively common disorder among teenagers and young women that, contrary to popular understanding, is not merely a disorder about food. An array of scenarios, even hormonal complications, can trigger a disorder like anorexia.

Often, it involves a confidence problem. It’s not just the fact that a girl doesn’t love the way she looks in that pair of jeans. It’s a deep-rooted lack of confidence, feelings of worthlessness, high levels of stress, a traumatic experience and prevailing cultural standards; these are all leading foundations for the onset of anorexia.

People can limit their intake of food to find a sense of control that perhaps they don’t feel in other aspects of their life; this new control is also a way to manage stress or a situation in which the subject feels overwhelmed.

“As soon as I started getting boobs … or puberty I guess … that point when I started being aware of my body, I guess, was about the time I began feeling really self conscious,” she admitted, bringing her index finger, almost cautiously, to her teeth. “I guess that’s normal.”

She goes on to explain how she endeavored to control her body, her weight. How even early on, as a child, she looked and compared herself to the glossy model on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

When asked if any particular situation was significant enough to spawn her illness, she responded, “I remember when I was really young, maybe in about fourth grade. I was sitting on the floor looking through one of my mom’s magazines. But there was an ad on one of the pages, this tall, totally skinny girl wearing a designer bathing suit. She was beautiful to me,” she paused.

“I looked at her, her waist, her arms, her neck, then I looked at my mom at the sink. I looked at the page, then looked at my mom and just repeated that about four or five times.”

She lifts her hand and fixes her bangs to the side. Her eyes now move downward and softly shaking her head, she says, “I chose the wrong person to idolize. I chose a piece of paper instead of my mom.”

Tired of her gurgling stomach, tired of the comments from her friends, tired from the lack of calories, she’s been forcing herself to eat a little extra each day.”Before, I used to cut a slice of bread in half to make a sandwich,” she says. “Now I use two.”

She says that even though she thinks she can get to a normal weight and above her current 99 pounds, she knows that she’ll have to see a doctor at some point.

“I sometimes feel like there’s no way I can do it on my own. It’s sad that for a while I didn’t recognize my own face as myself. I would just look down at my body and that would be me.”