Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Once Upon an Eating Disorder

It was the Spring of 1980. I was 15 years old and decided to make up a self-improvement project out of dieting. I “felt fat” at 128 lbs and wanted to weigh 105 , so I got a yellow folder (pictured above^^), some magazines and graph paper, and began what I called “The Long and Winding Road (to thinness.)” I was quite industrious: cutting out images and words, doing collage and making up daily worksheets for myself. I had a goal and I wanted to achieve it.

Actual cover page

This was not the first diet I had been on. I don’t really know when that happened, but I had been growing increasingly conscious from about age 8 and beyond that my body was “too much” in some way. I was sturdy and a bit plump, but photos of child-me don’t show anything much out of the ordinary. My perception though, from comparisons and comments that I got, was that I was FAT and FAT = BAD. So weight loss was on my radar.

In my first journal at age 10, I wrote: “I’m starting my diet again. I think I can make it this time. I passed up a donut so far.”

I bought my first diet book when I was 13 or 14, the Stillman Diet, sometimes known as the Water Diet because you had to pee all the time. I made myself broiled hamburger patties, eggs, cottage cheese and not much else. Lost weight, felt virtuous, got praise, then went on a binge and berated myself for failing.

But THIS time would be different. I was sure of it. I put so much energy into this new project, was so organized and goal-oriented. (10 points for Gryffindor; oh yes, I was/ am a Hermione.) I recorded all my measurements, every calorie I ate, my feelings, exercise, pounds lost. I wanted to lose weight fast, so I got it into my head to eat as little as possible. And so I did, days in a row, as you can see here:

 

These 300 and 200-calorie days were what I called my “good days,” the “bad” ones being when I ate over 1,000.  I was starving myself.

The accompanying journal entries I wrote are all obsessed with food, my weight and my body, There was the day I fell over and fainted in church. The days go from being virtuous and excited when I could eat very little and lose pounds, to chastising myself for eating too much or losing control and bingeing. I felt crazy and conflicted; I felt critical of myself for failing. There are notes in there about my parents too, how my dad offered me $10 if I could lose 20 lbs in one month, or my mom saying I should weigh 100 lbs. I believed being THIN would make me beautiful, worthy, acceptable, and that I’d finally get a boyfriend (the ultimate validation).

In my Introduction (yes, 15 year old me wrote an Introduction to this diet-project), I said:

“By losing pounds you will gain self-confidence, a healthy gorgeous body, a good self-attitude, and hopefully never again those flabby pounds that make you hate yourself, unhappy, depressed, and face it, ugly! You are just plain ugly when you are fat…”

It’s all pretty painful to read.

This also set me on the lifelong path of a yo-yo diet and binge cycle, and being consumed with crazy thinking about food, eating and my body. Information about eating disorders was still pretty limited back in the 70s and 80s, and I honestly felt sure I was the only one who felt so CRAZY about my food behaviors. And sure that a diet would fix everything.

I present this to you today to give one example of how an eating disorder got started. It’s been almost 40 years old since I was that 15 year old and despite all my intense and purposeful searching for help and knowledge, there has been so much painful struggling for me. I’ve learned so much and it’s gotten better, but some days are still hard.

Our society is generally still pretty screwed up about food, weight and body image. We need to talk about it. Maybe someday this kind of needless suffering will be extinct. More to come from me on this topic in the future!

Please feel free to share your stories or ask any questions in the comments. It’s good to talk about this. Thanks for reading!

[All photos come from my dieting journals circa 1980.]

 

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. Sadly, such a common story and I don’t think much has changed for today’s teens.

  2. I feel so bad for that young teen who just needed to be told she was loved and lovely just as she was. To have your gifts recognized and appreciated instead of critical comments would help us all to become fully ourselves.

  3. Thank you for sharing more of your story with us all….

  4. What a heartbreaking story, Theresa. Oh, that collage – and those logbooks – and that stern self-talk. This made me think of Anne Lamott’s comment that her therapist said to her, “Oh, you want to go on a diet? Great! How much weight do you want to gain?” Thanks for sharing this. If only we could stop doing this to ourselves, and to other people. I ache for the little girl you were, and for all the beautiful little girls who are taught to hate themselves in this way.

    • I so agree with you and Anne Lamott! I certainly wouldn’t have spent 40 years messing up my metabolism and health by yo-yo-ing if I’d known then what I know now. I ache for my younger self too and all the girls who did the same and still do today. Thanks for your supportive words, Claudia!

  5. I thought I was fat in high school mostly because my thighs chaffed. I weighed 125. Last semester in my Patternmaking class I had to take the measurements of a size 8 dress form. I was surprised to discover that other than my bust was 2 inches bigger, the dress form’s measurements were the same as mine in high school. I will never be that “fat” again. As I now weigh 195, my new goal weight is 165. BTW I never wore a size 8. My dress patterns were size 12 and the rare times I bought a dress it was a size 10. I will leave my opinion of your parents unspoken.

    • It’s hard when numbers become such an important part of how we “rate” ourselves. We’re never taught to focus on how our bodies feel, or find the good in them, or to just relax about how wonderfully imperfect all our bodies are. Thanks for chiming in, Linda!

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