Senior Reflection: Living with an eating disorder at Uni

There’s never been a point in my life where I haven’t been chubby. At the point where the rest of you had started to lose your baby fat, I just replaced it with adult fat.


Consequently, there’s also never been a point in my life where I’ve been perfectly OK with my body. For anyone who’s seen a movie or television show at any point in their lives, you probably realize there aren’t a whole lot of fat people aside from the occasional comic relief and absolutely no fat protagonists. As someone whose entire world view has pretty much been shaped by movies and TV, I came to the conclusion growing up that being fat made me something less than the people around me.


Coming into Uni, that was still true, but various factors helped to assuage it somewhat. I had friends who wouldn’t constantly ridicule my weight. Uni fitness and track helped me become healthier and feel better about myself (though the more effective long-term plan would’ve been to be okay with my body how it was.) But none of that was enough to counteract the years of self-hate I’d been taught to enact on myself. Not only that, but Uni kids (and especially the boys I happened to make friends with) are generally pretty athletic, raising the bar for what I thought was a normal body.


My weight fluctuated throughout my time at Uni for a number of reasons, from track to weightlifting to eating too much. Starting second semester sophomore year, my weight steadily rose and by second semester junior year I was verging on 240 pounds.


The crapbag of cripplingly low self-esteem and a chubby, lumbering body came to a head second semester junior year, when I started purging. Purging involves forcing yourself to vomit after eating. Purging is most commonly associated with bulimia (which I would later be diagnosed with.)


I’d heard of purging in movies and for so long it seemed like something so far beyond what I would ever find reasonable. But as time went on, I began to understand the appeal more and more. It felt like a shortcut.


A mentality I’ve picked up from Uni is trying to get ahead by whatever means. As long as I get the A, get into college, and graduate, the journey doesn’t matter as much as the destination. That mentality is then exacerbated by the hypercompetitive culture, which makes you want to get to said destination even faster, since everyone else is already there. That’s what was going on here. I needed to feel like everyone else by whatever means possible.


It started off slow and I swore it wouldn’t continue after the first time. Or the second. Or the fifth. After a few weeks of doing it, I just began to accept this as my reality.


I was purging multiple times a day. I was purging during my free period and during lunch. I was purging in the bathroom of my friend’s houses. I purged in the bathroom of the Champaign Country Club after dinner at junior prom. As part of a Big Show sketch, I had to eat a pint of ice cream. Every rehearsal, after that sketch finished, I dashed down to the third floor bathroom and purged.


I made excuses, telling people I had eaten a lot a few hours before and just really needed to use the bathroom. I made a routine of turning on the fan to hide the sound of my retching, vigorously washing my hands and spraying down the place to cover the scent, and making sure my face held no traces of fatigue.


My cheeks began to swell. I had red marks on my hands where my teeth would hit my knuckles as I shoved them down my throat. I constantly thought I smelled vomit even when there wasn’t any there. My chest was sore. It hurt to breathe. It really hurt to laugh. And I was tired. Above all else I was enormously tired.


It was an awful, awful thing to experience, but in a sick way I was also relieved. I could eat what I wanted without feeling bad. It felt productive, like working out. And at the end of the day, I was losing weight. Fast.


By second quarter senior year, I weighed 180 pounds, a 50+ pound drop from where I was the year before. And people noticed. And it was weird.


It was weird because they liked it. People praised me for my weight loss, saying how impressive it was. And while it undoubtedly made me feel good about myself, it felt off. It was like I had cut off a limb and they were complimenting me on my clean knife work. They didn’t know, of course, but everytime they asked me what my secret was, in the back of my head I thought, “Do you really wanna know?”


And to the extent that it did make me feel good about myself, that’s not exactly a good thing. I was being commended for self-harm. Every compliment I got told me that I was on the right track and I should keep going.


Since then I’ve gotten better. I’ve told my friends, my parents, talked to my doctor, and figured out better ways to deal with my weight. Although it’s still not gone. The last time I purged was a few weeks ago. But progress isn’t linear. I had a three month period where I was able to stop and the idea in general feels far less appealing.


Uni didn’t create my bulimia, nor did it even necessarily make it worse. But it definitely didn’t help. If Uni wants to create a concerted effort to helping kids with self-esteem issues and eating disorders, below are some tips to make Uni a better environment.


  1. Don’t comment on students’ bodies. Unless you’re close to someone, you don’t know where they’re at with their body and you don’t know how it might impact them. This especially goes for teachers, who actually commented on my weight loss more than students did, which was especially weird.
  2. Recognize that body-image issues aren’t gender-specific. It took me a long time to tell people about my bulimia, because it didn’t feel like a problem boys were supposed to have.
  3. Dispel the myth that healthiness and fitness is achieved through pain and suffering.
  4. Actively demonstrate acceptance of different body types.
  5. Get rid of Uni’s culture of hyper competitivity and success through any means