Students reflect on recovering from eating disorders

The first time she shoved her fingers down her throat, she didn't know why. 

Waterford senior Claudia Davis remembers after the first time she did it in high school, she told a friend she went home and threw up her food. She didn't realize purging was a problem until it became an addiction. 

"I kept going back and doing it, and I kept hiding it," she said. 

Davis has been "clean" for three years — but getting there was not easy. She is one of 30 million people in the U.S. who have suffered from eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. 

While physical symptoms are usually associated with eating disorders — like bulimia and anorexia — Lisa Carpenter, a licensed therapist in Mount Pleasant, wants people to remember the psychological aspects. 

"It's all about the food but nothing about the food," she said. "They're not about a person who doesn't like to eat; it's not a choice. A lot of people mis-perceive that." 

Davis continued purging for about four years. When she would get home from school, she would immediately head to the bathroom. She said there was a lot of "very low moments" where she wouldn't eat anything, but would take excess amounts of vitamins or laxatives.

From a young age, Davis knew about dieting, but there were multiple factors that she believes contributed to her eating disorder. When she was a child, Davis was verbally and physically abused by a family member.

During the second year, she made a new year's resolution to quit, only to continue purging for another year. 

"Eventually (my cousin) ratted me out and told my mom," she said. "My mom was like, 'Why would you do something so stupid to your body?' It felt like she didn't understand." 

Davis tried stopping, but nothing worked. During her time at Oakland University, she went to see a counselor, because while dealing with an eating disorder, she developed anxiety and depression.

"That was the best thing for me," she said. "Going to someone every week and telling them I didn't (purge) was a really proud feeling." 

Carpenter said "co-occurring" mental illnesses are common with eating disorders. Typically, she said, it manifests itself in the form of anxiety or depression. 

"If a person is more anxious or depressed, that might come first," she said. "The eating disorder can come as a way to hep regulate those emotions." 

Eating disorders most commonly occur in women between the ages of 12 and 25, according to ANAD. Carpenter attributes this to the amount of pressure and change that comes during these times — one of the biggest being the transition to college.

"It's time of life and the stressors of being in college — taking classes, expectations and deadlines," Carpenter said. "There's a lot of pressure to look a certain way, be a certain way."

Davis said she is still in a state of "recovery." She deals with the symptoms of her eating disorder every day. 

"A lot of the time it's still something I'm working on," Davis said. "If someone looks at me, I feel like they're judging me. Once (the eating disorder) is there, it's whenever you look in the mirror."

Sandusky junior Lindsay Ball didn't focus on what she saw in the mirror. 

Instead she took others' comments about her weight very seriously. She developed anorexia in junior high, after she received positive feedback from classmates about her weight. This was after Ball was out sick with the flu. 

Though she was always active in high school sports, she started exercising outside of practice. It became an obsession, she said. 

"My body didn't look like I had an eating disorder, but my mind wasn't healthy," Ball said. "I was really into restricting. I would wake up before school and run on the treadmill, then after practice I would go back and run through dinner." 

Ball began to wonder how many calories were in toothpaste. Carpenter said restrictive obsession is a common symptom of eating disorders.

"If you become obsessive over the numbers, if that's all you're thinking about, if you start not doing social things because you're worried about what people are going to eat — when it starts to cause a problem in other areas of your life, that's a clear indicator that something's going on," she said. 

Ball's illness followed her throughout high school. During her freshman year at CMU, she thought she was doing better, but the transition made it easier for her to fall back into old habits. After a while, Ball realized what she was doing wasn't making her happy.

"I started focusing on health," she said. "I needed to work on being balanced. I don't need to freak out. I worked on being more balanced, and that's how I got myself back onto a health track." 

Ball still sometimes struggles with falling back into disordered eating — but she is thankful to be healthier. Carpenter said recovery from eating disorders, though scary, is very possible with the right treatment, including a medical doctor, a dietician and counselor. 

Davis found comfort in getting involved with student groups. Here, she can share her experience with others.

"I feel like it has the potential to help someone and see there are ways to get help, that other people are dealing with it," she said. "We do a very good job at hiding it. When you get to hear it yourself that someone is accepting (of it), it's something special."


About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a super-senior at Central Michigan University. She comes from metro Detroit ...

View Posts by Sydney Smith →