When "You Look Just Like Your Mom" Sends the Wrong Message - A Diary of Anorexia
By: Lauren Beach
I was in third grade when I started to feel fat.
I wore loose fitting clothes, refused to wear jeans, and sucked in my “gut” in every picture. My mom was dieting because the size that she wore was just too big for her. People constantly told me that I looked just like her. When I heard that, I understood this: my mom thinks she’s fat; I looked just like my mom; I must be fat. I thought she was beautiful - bright blue eyes, a glowing smile. But none of that mattered if she was “fat,” because that meant I was fat, too.
In middle school, I only allowed myself to have a half a sandwich and apple in my lunch, only half of which I actually ate. My parents encouraged me to take more. Extras would end up in the garbage. My friends offered bits and pieces of their lunches. I only picked so that they wouldn’t suspect anything. Comments and compliments fueled my fire. People would comment that I was too thin, which only drove me to be thinner. I never felt thin enough.
If I felt I ate too much, I would exercise excessively, explaining the obsession as a quest for wellness. I began getting debilitating headaches everyday. I saw neurologists, massage therapists, and OB/GYNs to figure out the cause. My parents never suspected that I wasn’t eating enough and I was going to be the last one to tell them.
I got a C in ninth grade algebra, but killed it at calorie counting - that was mental math. I could not recall chronological events of WWI if you paid me. But I could remember each and every morsel I ate for a week, and the calories I burned working out. My eating disorder consumed every part of me, but I don’t think my parents had a clue. That’s not to say that they were clueless by any means. My parents were incredible: extremely involved in my life, my biggest fans, two of my closest friends. But I lied and hid my obsessions and restrictions more than they could ever know.
I managed to keep my thoughts, obsessions, and actions under the radar until my friends reported my behavior to my guidance counselor. I was caught and began seeing a psychiatrist weekly after that. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. But I continued to struggle. Honestly, the physician went about it all wrong. Eating disorders were his specialty - he’d written journals, studied, and treated many. But sometimes, you have to look at your patient and not the papers. I had weekly weigh ins that would either infuriate me or encourage me - both scenarios spurred me on my quest for skinny.
I never read the articles he gave me - I wasn’t interested. I glazed over when he lectured. I wasn’t ready to change. Nothing mattered more to me than being thin. I began seeing a dietician as well. She made me journal my intake. Perfect: now I could really keep track of what I was eating. Most of what I wrote down was pure fiction.
Eventually, we found the ticket. I was a summer camp counselor for years and it was my life. When my health wasn’t improving, my ultimatum was inpatient treatment or camp. I chose camp - it saved my life.
But, twenty years later, I still wrestle with anorexia. I don’t think anyone really knows the daily battle that I continue to wage with myself to maintain my health. Now, I’m not here to tell you my sob story or to point out the things that my mom and dad might have missed. I’m here to share my thoughts, both past and present, so that you might better understand your daughter and get her the help she needs. Maybe you’ll see some red flags. Maybe you’ll be better equipped to communicate with your daughter in a healthy manner to help prevent a fire before it rages. Maybe this is all part of my own path to personal healing - in that case maybe journaling could help your daughter, too! Regardless, I hope you find support, guidance, or some insight from my story that helps you to help her.
The most important thing that I want to point out in all of this is that I did not have control. I did not want to obsess about my weight. I knew that my parents were worried and frustrated. Trust me, it’s not that I didn’t care. But it simply wasn’t about them. I’d lost control. You lose control with this disease and nothing else matters. Not even my rational thoughts about food and exercise could be heard over my obsessive ones. Going out to eat was not enjoyable (and it still isn’t). The taste of food made no difference to me - only the calorie content. I couldn’t grab a coffee with friends without worrying about taking in too much.
But, at the same time, for me anorexia was all about control. The more that my doctors, dieticians, parents tried to take control from me, the more I rebelled. My parents plated my food at dinner and yet I was still able to feed most of the higher calorie foods to the garbage disposal. If I couldn’t be sneaky enough, I’d exercise longer and harder. For years, my mom packed my lunch - and all but a few bites wound up in the garbage. I loved making my brother snacks after school because I could prove to myself how “strong” I was to avoid eating it myself. There was always a way to maintain control or gain it back when taken away. I’m not proud of the lying and hiding; but it was the only way to appease the thoughts that overwhelmed me.
I’m healthy now, but the thoughts are still there. They always will be. Sometimes they will win, sometimes I will, it depends on the day. I have an incredible support system: a husband watching over me who has taken on far too much responsibility of making sure that I win the battle most of the time. For that I am so grateful.
I pray that your daughter will get to where I am, or that she will never have to deal with this disease. Support her, listen, praise and acknowledge her strengths - her kindness, her wisdom, her compassion. Most of all, love yourself, and make it known that you do, so that she can hear what it means to be confident.
Hey dads - love your wife in public and boost her up so your daughter can hear you - you’d be surprised by the impact. Complement the strengths of others and never, never mention weight. After all, weight does not matter when it comes to being a strong woman. Healthy matters, confidence matters, happiness with oneself matters. Find your daughter’s pure joy, her passion, and help her nurture it until she can do it on her own.
I also want to point out that I was not an unhappy kid or teen. I didn’t walk around with a frown or a red letter on my chest. I was happy! I had a wonderful childhood, filled with experiences that most kids only dreamed of. I had an amazing family and everything I could have ever wanted. To most people, I was an average girl, enjoying life with her family and friends. The thoughts and obsessions came from within and it was never something I talked about. Most people never knew how much I actually struggled. And I preferred it that way.
Editor’s Note: According to The Emily Program Foundation, “Every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of suffering from an eating disorder. Sadly, only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receives treatment, and most medical doctors receive little to no training on eating disorders.”
Author’s Bio: A dedicated labor and delivery nurse, Lauren is the mother of two incredible little boys, and married to an amazing homegrown Minnesota guy. Although passionate about her job, Lauren also enjoys her position as a Beautycounter consultant, promoting healthier skin care and beauty products. She loves spending time with her family and is motivated by all things related to health and wellness.