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Eating disorders in children are becoming increasingly common... But when I was a kid - in the early 90's - growing up in a small African city - they were pretty much unheard of.
But they did happen... I'm proof of that. I developed eating demons when I was just 8 years old...
I remember walking through to my moms room and passing a scale in the hallway.
I knew that last time I was weighed - years earlier - I was 45 pounds (about 20 kg's)... I was a very average 5 year old girl - I was a "medium-bear" in my grade 1 class...
I was curious to see what I weighed now... So without thinking I jumped on the scale.
I saw the numbers go up, up and up. I weighed in at 70 pounds (32 kg's)...
I felt the blood draining out of my face. I felt dizzy...
I was horrified.
For some reason, as I saw those numbers go up - I decided that gaining weight was a bad thing.
I needed to be skinny so that I could be a good gymnast!
Between the ages of 5 and 8 the idea that weight gain was bad and dirty had entered my head.
I had never heard of eating disorders in children - but somehow I had fallen into the trap...
This incident triggered my downward spiral into the hell of anorexia and bulimia. I began to restrict my food... And then, in time, I began to binge and purge.
Eating disorders in children were so uncommon that nobody suspected I was sick. Everyone just thought I was a skinny kid.
At first, months would go by between my bulimic actions... Most of the time I was a happy carefree kid! I loved life!
But as I got older, I would eat and throw up more often...
By the time I got to 15, I was making myself sick after every single thing I ate. Often up to 15 times a day.
I longed for the numbers on the scale to drop. I always thought - If I could just drop 10 pounds - I'll be happy with my body...
Eventually, the weight did come off - but the happiness never happened. I still hated my body. I still thought my life would be better if I could drop more...
Of course, I was wrong. I would never be happy with my body if my focus was on losing weight... I would always be striving for something I was not - which meant that I was not accepting what I currently was.
But, it took me a long time to realize this. In fact - it took me over a decade.
I finally sought help for bulimia when I was 20 years old. I'd been fighting for over 12 years with this illness - and I was ready to speak out...
Eating disorders in children can be easy to treat - if you catch them in time. Unfortunately, I had suffered from bulimia for over 1/2 my life before I got help... This made recovery much more difficult.
10 years of throwing up my food
10 years of self abuse and punishment
10 years of telling myself I wasn't good enough...
10 years of strong neural pathways building up in my brain - reinforcing these things and making it that harder to break these beliefs and recover from bulimia.
Harder to recover - but definitely not impossible.
It took me one year to fully, 100% recover from bulimia. It was a challenging year - full of obstacles and challenges. But it was an exciting year - because each day that I woke up... I reminded myself that it wasn't where I stood that mattered - but the direction in which I faced.
As long as I was taking little steps towards bulimia recovery - I was facing in the right direction.
Each day I would do exercises to help build up my self belief, to help make me realize I was beautiful, to help me break the strong cycle of bulimia that had been carved into my sub-conscious.
Each day I would work on my structured eating plans - training myself how to become a normal eater again.
And, each day I got better - I got stronger...
Until finally, after 1 year - the day come that I said I will allow myself to eat, I will allow myself to be happy and I will allow myself to be free of bulimia - forever.
And, I never threw up again.
That was 6 years ago... And, since then, I have grown to love and respect myself even more.
Although I like to stay slim and healthy - I know that I am not defined by my weight... I am defined by my character.
If you are trying to help your child through an eating disorder, I think Karen Phillips book "Mom, Please Help: Anorexia and Bulimia Positive Energy Treatment" has some great exercises and suggestions.
I hope my story about eating disorders in children has inspired you to begin walking the road to recovery... Be it for you - or your child.
Article by Shaye Boddington
Author of your-bulimia-recovery.com
and creator of The Bulimia Recovery Program and Community