Growing Up Alex: Childhood and Middle School

Alex Childhood 1I had shown signs of disordered eating since I was a child. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mom most of the time. Whenever we’d have dessert after dinner, I had to wait until she had finished eating hers before I would even begin mine. She did not make me do this. At four years old I had somehow deemed this act necessary.

I am also an only child. Any time I ate with a friend, I would make sure that I ate slow enough so that I could eat just the slightest bit less for lunch or dinner, even if it meant that my friend left 2 noodles of macaroni and I left 4. I stopped eating donuts at age 7 when my father casually mentioned that they were fattening. Kids would bring munchkins in to class and I would claim that I just didn’t like them. I was terrified of ‘getting fat’.

My dad lived on the beach and I would stand in the bathroom in front of the mirror, in my bathing suit, sideways while sticking out my stomach and then pulling it back in in an attempt to figure out if I was fat. I was only 5.

I compared the size of my legs to the size of my neighbor’s legs and was ashamed that hers were thinner than mine when we’d walk to school in the first grade. By age 7, I was reading the nutrition information on packages as I ate.

One day, after getting a haircut, I looked in the mirror and saw a fat face staring back at me and I began to sob. I was in 3rd grade and I was underweight for my age.  My face was certainly not fat. I admit that, to this day, I still struggle with seeing my face as it actually is.

Alex Childhood 2None of my behaviors seemed odd to me because they were just a part of how I lived my life. I liked food like cookies and chocolate and pizza and when I would eat them, I would eat decent sized portions. I was a small girl both in height and weight. My classmates would call me cute and pick me up and treat me like a little kid. I grew used to that. I grew used to being called, ‘Little Alex’. I essentially accepted it as part of my identity or, as some therapists may say, it became a part of my self schema.

In 6th grade I went through a growth spurt and the natural course of puberty brought upon by early adolescence. I shot up 3 inches in 1 year. In 7th grade I was still on the shorter end of average, but I had caught up in height to many of my classmates who had once loomed over me. I was very uncomfortable because it didn’t fit in to this schematic idea of who Alex was. Alex was supposed to be short. She was supposed to be smaller than everyone else.

My entire life I had struggled to find clothes that fit me because of my size. The women working retail would always remark to my mother about how tiny I was for my age in a way that almost made it sound like a positive thing. As a young child I dreamed of being tall. When I actually did grow and became ‘average’ in height I had a wee bit of an identity crisis.

A common component of puberty in girls is weight gain. It’s natural. It happens to all of us at one point or another. Pants that used to be too big, even with belts, suddenly fit just fine. Sometimes when I sat down, I could even feel the cloth touch my stomach. In my mind this wasn’t okay. I’ve had many therapists over the years and it seems that while I showed many signs of disordered eating as a child, it was around 12 or 13 when I really began to slip in to more eating disordered behaviors.

Growing Up Alex: Factors and the Existence of Depression and Anxiety in Eating Disorders will be posted on Thursday 3/27/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!

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Growing Up Alex – A 7-Part Series on Growing Up With and Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders have become so common and are even more so now with the many social media network’s out there. Hashtags such as #thinspo, #thinspiration, #thighgap, #ana and #mia are everywhere. Social Media networks like Instagram and Tumblr, and the group Project HEAL, are working to educate and help those who are in the midst of ED’s and educating those who want to learn more.

One of my good friends, Alex, has suffered from an eating disorder since her pre-teen years. We’ve know each other since we were 8. We’ve grown up together. And I am so honored to tell her story here. This started as an idea for a ‘Friendly Feature’ and now, I’m turning it into a series of posts; around 7 to be exact.

It’s honest, it’s hard to read, but it’s true life. It’s 100% Alex, and captures what she went through to a level that many of us could never relate to.

What is goal of these posts? Simple – to tell Alex’s story; her story of growing up and developing an eating disorder, how she masked it, decided to go to treatment, and finally her recovery. These posts will be long, longer than I normally write, but it’s important to tell this story properly. Most important, these are her words. She wrote every single post. These will be posted over a few week time-span.

The main goal: awareness. If we are able to reach and help just one person, then we succeeded. And onto part 1.

Meet Me: Alex

My name is Alexandra, but that’s mainly just for my grandparents and the government.  Most everyone else calls me Alex. Or Al, if you’ve known me forever. Or ‘Woo’, if you’re my mom.  I’m 28 and this is my story.

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Food and I haven’t always gotten along. It wasn’t really even about the food. It wasn’t the food’s fault. It also wasn’t my fault. To be up front; it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Food and I have just had a rocky relationship for most of my life.

Let’s rewind to 2002, at age 16, as I was sitting on one of those sticky exam room tables, swinging my legs back and forth anxiously, hugging a paper gown to my freezing body. My doctor was talking about me, in front of me, to my mother and my ears perked up when she casually said, ‘…and due to Alexandra’s Anorexia, I’d like to perform an EKG’. I didn’t know what an EKG was but I knew what anorexia was. I also knew that the reason I had been sent to the doctor was because my therapist had recommended it.

However, at 16, I “knew” well enough that I did NOT have anorexia because I “did not look like a skeleton”. I ate. What was this doctor talking about? Clearly, she knew nothing and I, at 16, was the expert.

While the nurse hooked up those freezing cold stickers across my bare and underdeveloped chest, rather than be embarrassed, I was lost in thought. The doctor had said words like ‘nutritionist’ and ‘try to get soup with beans’ and something about talking further with my therapist. I had had a frappucino the prior weekend and that had lots of calories! I did NOT have anorexia. At this point I didn’t understand that the media portrayal of anorexia only showed the most extreme side of it, probably for shock value and exploitation of very sick and very, very sad individuals. To this day, I worry that the media’s portrayal of only terribly emaciated individuals plays a great deal in to why many women and men avoid treatment to begin with.

It would be a few more years before I would accept this diagnosis, and many more years before I could even utter the word ‘anorexia’. I would just say “eating disorder”. Let’s backtrack.

Growing Up Alex: Childhood and Middle School will be posted on Monday 3/24/2014. Make sure to follow the blog to receive an e-mail for when it’s posted or follow it on Bloglovin‘!