Unbearable Lightness

Anorexia Nervosa by Dr Mohamed Osman

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Dear Portia de Rossi,

I picked up your book, put it down and have picked it up again several times which is quite unusual for me. I’m a voracious reader and always looking for a new book to read so the majority of the time when someone recommends a book to me I’m just so happy to have a book in my hands I’ll read it no matter what. The reason I hesitate to delve deep into your book is because it’s such a sensitive topic for me, riddled with insecure moments in which I’ll be forced to examine myself.

Weight is and always has been a sensitive issue for me as it is for so many women but it’s also been a completely taboo issue for me. Almost as if the more I pretend I don’t have issues surrounding my weight the more people won’t be able to talk to me about it and possibly bring up something I don’t want to hear. To this day anorexia is underestimated at a statistic of about 1 percent of schoolage and University women suffering from the eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa. It goes widely unreported because so many women for so long get away with not talking about it but 15% of anorexia nervosa sufferers will die from the disease if it is not intervened with medical help. It can run your life and cause you to look in the mirror everyday and not see the increasingly skeletal face that is looking back but instead become increasingly more convinced you are getting fatter by the moment.

How do I know?

My freshman year of college was the first time in ten years I hadn’t run track or played an organizational sport. I had no idea what staying fit meant without a coach barking orders down my throat, a trainer doing weekly weigh-ins and a meet to perform for each week. All I knew was that I was not going to succumb to the disgusting Freshman 15 everyone always talked about. A few months went by and it was in the back of my mind to devise a fitness plan but in the throes of this brand-new life experience it just hadn’t happened. I’d begun working at a child care center and was at work on day in overalls and a white T-shirt (it was the 90’s! Sheesh!) and I happened to catch the view down my overalls and what instantly assaulted my eyes was the way my portruding stomach caused my white Tee to stretch out until it was pressed against my overalls. In that moment I made two decisions:

1. I was fat.

2. I would never give anyone a chance to see how fat I’d gotten.

The very next day I signed up for an 8 am aerobic class and began running five miles a night on the track at the gym. I cut out any foods that I thought would make me fat, and considering I am an extremely picky eater to begin with and only had about four foods in my diet to begin with, this left me with very few options on what to eat. Each day I would get up at 7 am, shower and go to the gym where I would take an hour high-intensity aerobic class. Throughout the day I would drink 8 cups of very strong coffee and around lunch time I would nibble on two, sometimes three, Triscuits. If I timed my workout just right I could skip dinner altogether and hide under the excuse that I was at the gym during meal time and time got away from me. I would make it home after the dining hall had already closed. If not, I would troop down to dinner with everyone else and have a small bowl of salad with no fixings and no dressing (Translate: I would eat leaves). Then for dessert I would have a few bites of one or two Hot Tamales.

At night I would lay in bed on my back with one hand over my abdomen. Partly, to muffle the growling sound it made and mostly to congratulate myself on my ever flattening stomach. I didn’t notice the way my ribs extended beyond my stomach or the way my back bones stabbed the mattress. I did, however, always notice in the morning the way my face looked round in the mirror, the way my stomach still reached beyond my pelvic bone when I stood in the shower. I would rub the roles I felt in my neck, willing them to go away and then add an extra mile to my workout in the evening and a thirty minute ab exercise to my workout in the morning.

When I went home for Christmas that first year I balked at, snarled upon and at times even melted down over the comments people made about my weight. My mother was shocked, immediately proclaiming,

“You’ve gotten too skinny Sunny.”

Even my boyfriend became worried, commenting,

“You’re getting thin Sun. Are you sure you’re eating properly up there?”

I was outraged at the way the adults in my life were treating me like a child and told them so in many agitated conversations. As if I didn’t know how to choose foods to eat! I was just monitoring my weight.

At that point I was 19 years old, Five feet two inches and one hundred pounds.

Time marched forward and I continued with this routine in my life. Skipping more salad bowls and adding on miles to run at the gym.

In March of that year one of my male friends made a circle with his hands and wrapped it around my waist, with room left over in an attempt to show me how skinny I was. Still I couldn’t see it and still I was determined not to be fat. It’s amazing how somewhere along the way, without me even noticing it my mentality shifted from working hard not to GET fat to working hard not to BE fat as if I was already fighting the battle of the bulge I was constantly afraid would infringe upon me.

In April I hit rock bottom and with the help of some really amazing women who would eventually become my sorority sisters I saw myself in the mirror for the first time and was appalled at the shell of a woman I had become.

I was 20 years old, five feet two inches and ninety pounds.

I had gone so long without eating actual food I couldn’t even remember the last thing I ‘d put in my mouth and actually chewed. I subsisted on several cups of coffee and ounces of water a day. I spent more time at the gym than at work and school combined. I was getting up earlier to go and staying out later in order to “maximize my workouts”. I stepped in the shower one Spring evening after a particularly intense workout and saw nothing around me except Black Spots. I sunk to the shower floor with my head in my lap and cried as I struggled not to pass out, even as I still avoided looking at the way the position I was in caused my “fat” stomach to roll over my nearly non-existent hips.

I needed help and it came in the form of five Phenomenal Ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated who gave me back my sight and helped me to appreciate my body the way God designed it, the way God intended. It wasn’t an easy road to recovery and my relationship with food has been forever altered. Even to this day I struggle with managing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and while I am a healthy weight for a woman my age I still have to fight the urge to do what I feel like it takes to have a flatter stomach, thinner thighs and a little less junk in my trunk.

I fully understand Portia de Rossi when she says in Unbearable Lightness:

I’d never known a day where my weight wasn’t the determing factor for my self-esteem. My weight was my mood, and the more effort I put into starving myself to get it to an acceptable level, the more satisfaction I would feel as the restriction and the denial built into an incredible sense of accomplishment.

Love Always,


One Response to “Unbearable Lightness”
  1. Bella Syk says:

    I love your story! Its not always easy to tell it. Go Sunny!

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