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It was at a family Chanukah party that I first experienced the burning shame about my weight. Eleven- years- old, I had been somewhat oblivious, carefree and happy. Yet as I grabbed another custard-filled donut, I saw my twin cousins smirking.
“Suri, could your skirt handle another?” Rivky laughed as Chayala looked pointedly at my belly. I glanced down, confused- and then it hit me. She’d just called me fat. The humiliation was hot, coursing through every cell. Meekly, without looking at them, I dropped my doughnut and scampered to the back of the house, where I stayed for the rest of the night.
I was always chubby. Most of my baby pictures depicted a fat little girl, with a mess of some food on her face. Food was something I enjoyed, something I appreciated. Until I didn’t. Until food became the reason for my shame. From the age of eleven, I waged war on food. Every meal was a new battle, every pound lost, a victory. My weight fluctuated as I yo-yo dieted through my teens, desperately chasing that svelte figure I never seemed able to obtain.
I got married young and my wonderful husband, who never understood my diets, supported me. Despite all the dieting, I was not thin and I despised my body and how I looked in clothes. I yearned to be one of those slender girls who ate whatever they wanted, yet always looked incredible. They had confidence, they had poise. They seemed to glide. I felt clumsy in comparison.
A few months after I got married, I was at a wedding where I met a friend of mine. She had recently started a women’s clothing line and was excited to show me pictures of her products. As we gushed over the different styles.
I pointed to one dress and asked, “Could I buy that? The pattern is beautiful!”
She casually swiped to the next photo and said “Oh, I don’t carry your size.”
I was stunned. Her words dug into me, clawing at my insides, raging and rushing and completely destroying me. The rest of the night was a blur of faces and time. The next thing I remember is laying in my bed. I couldn’t relax. My fists balled, I felt the shame and rage building inside until my chest exploded. “Never again!” I said through tightly gritted teeth. “Never again am I going to feel judged and degraded because of my weight. It stops now!”
I skipped breakfast the next morning and ignored the hunger pains as I skipped lunch too. I prepared supper for my husband, but told him I had had a big lunch and didn’t feel hungry. The lie glided off my tongue so naturally. Where did that come from? I was not used to lying! But Sruly seemed satisfied with my answer and he dug into his portion with gusto.
I fell asleep to pangs of hunger, yet felt victorious. The next morning was difficult, yet I bypassed the kitchen on my way out and avoided eating. I felt lightheaded as I walked into work, but again, I felt victorious too. I was going to be thin. Finally! As lunch hour approached though, it became harder and harder to focus on work and not on food. At two o’clock, I found myself walking purposefully to the cafeteria, “Just for a small salad,” but found I had lost control. Fifteen minutes later, I stared disgustingly at my empty pasta plate. I couldn’t believe I had done that! What a fool! What a disgusting fool! I felt heavy and awful and quickly dashed to the bathroom and forced myself to throw it all up. I washed my mouth out in relief. I felt light. I was floating.
I quickly became trapped in the cycle of fasting, binging and purging. I was caught in a maelstrom of lies, Sruly at the receiving end of most of them. But the compliments were starting to come my way, and I reveled in them. Never again would anyone think, why doesn’t she do something about her weight?!
A few months later, though, Sruly began to pick up on my strange eating habits and confronted me. That day was the first of many filled with arguments shouting, Sruly was at a loss. He tried to cajole me into dropping my “crazy diet,” and as time went on, his attempts became increasingly desperate. I, of course, continued to insist that I was just fine. My marriage was on a rapid decline, and while I recognized how deplorable I was being, I couldn’t control the rush that accompanied my non-eating and purging.
Even crazier, I was blind to the grave physical danger I was in. Already, my body was showing signs of the abuse I was subjecting it to. My teeth were sensitive to cold, I had reflux and I couldn’t focus. And I had stopped losing weight! My body was resisting the abuse, desperately holding onto everything it consumed. Yet I still couldn’t stop. It was so irrational.
Finally, Sruly put his foot down and insisted that I meet with a Rabbi Dewick of Magen Avrohom, an organization that deals with Eating Disorders. Still in denial, I acquiesced to the meeting just to get Sruly to stop nudging me.
I was surprised by the wealth of information the Rabbi Dewick had on Eating Disorders. He seemed to understand my thought process, my frantic need for weight loss, at all costs. He promised to help find a therapist whom I could connect with and though reluctant, I agreed.
When we came home, Sruly sat me down with a plate of buttered toast. I balked at the notion of having to eat it, knowing he wouldn’t let me purge. I cried and cried, begging him to understand that I couldn’t eat but he wouldn’t give in. Though it took me the better part of an hour, I ate the whole thing. My stomach roiled. I imagined the butter blowing up inside my body and bursting into my cells making me bloated and fat. The image grew more and more vivid, until I could take it no longer. When Sruly left the room, I slipped into the bathroom and threw it all up.
Recovery is a long and twisted road. Though I knew how destructive I was being and that I had to stop, the bulimia often got the better of me. It was a constant push-pull with getting better and getting thin. The extremes were so real to me and something I had to fight every meal, every snack and, at times, every bite.
It’s safe to say that without Magen Avrohom’s commitment to my recovery, we would still be floundering or worse, c’v. They were a rock through it all, steadfast, sensitive, dependable. A bulwark against the high odds of a setback.
We’re one year since that day Sruly confronted me. I haven’t purged in quite some time and have been maintaining a healthy meal plan. I know that an Eating Disorder never really leaves, but I still fantasize that one day I’ll wake up and unwittingly place food in my mouth without dwelling on the calorie content for even a moment. I’ll sit down to a danish and a coffee like I did in the old days and thank Hashem for His wonderful food and take pleasure in it.
The struggle against an eating disorder is relentless and constant, 24/7. Those in the struggler’s environment need help in dealing with the struggler on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis. The right word and action can make all the difference in soothing and coaxing the struggler to take the right steps. Research supports that the patient’s social system – family, friends, mentors, school system, employers – is a most important treatment component. Unfortunately, they are generally ignored. Rather than excluding them, Magen Avrohom’s innovative approach enlists the active cooperation of all important and positive people in the struggler’s world. We guide them on how to develop a supportive, healthy and unified environment conducive to the patient’s progress.
Dealing with a family member who has an eating disorder places great stress on the family. Progress is not straightforward – it is one of ups and downs. If intervention is made very early on, the rate of recovery can be as short as one year. If the disease went undiagnosed for any length of time, recovery can take years. The emotional and financial strain on families is enormous. They see their suffering as unending.
Despite the enormous challenge inherent in our work, Magen Avrohom continues to be there for strugglers and families. We are committed to every struggler who walks through our door. They know we understand the struggle, and that we care. Through education, guidance and support, the strugglers regain self-confidence. They are encouraged to make positive choices, which puts them on the road to complete healing, eventually freeing them from eating disorder’s powerful grip.
Magen Avrohom’s aim is to keep the struggler as functional as possible in their natural community environment; to support and guide family members; and to ensure that the struggler is progressing towards recovery.
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