My Relationship with ED: One Woman’s Struggles with Food, Body Image, and a Lonely Secret




Madison's Sr Pic for [D]mergent

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By Madison Rose Penwell

(Editor’s note: The young woman who wrote this piece is my niece, a senior in high school..  It covers that time in her eighth grade year, when she found her struggles overwhelming and sought help.  She feels the need to share her story to provide encouragement and hope to others who face these same struggles. I agree, and am a proud uncle. ~Derek Penwell)

“Madison, are you awake?” My mom calls into my room. Another day. Dear Lord give me a snow day, I can’t take another day. Well, a snow day is impossible. It’s the beginning of October.

Pulling myself off my bed takes every bit of strength within me. Madison, snap out of it, why are you being like this? It’s just another day, I have to tell myself. The light’s on and I am dreading what comes next. No, not the shower, but what comes before. I turn to the mirror, and the cycle starts once again. How have I been told so many times how beautiful I am, or what a gorgeous figure I have? I simply don’t see it, but oh what I’d give to feel it. Like every morning, I pinch, I measure, I examine, but nothing changes. Well, even if it has I can’t tell. If anything I look terribly worse. Here come the tears. I don’t know why this has to happen every morning! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. And I hate myself.

The warmth of the water streaming down my skin soothes the pain for only a few minutes, but I can still taste the salty tears as they continue on.

While in the shower, I can only picture what my mom is packing me for lunch, and I contemplate what I’m going to tell her after school today. “I wasn’t very hungry,” was my excuse yesterday. The day before I changed my mind and got hot lunch. Possibly, the day before I had said someone brought food in class the hour before lunch. I can’t remember that far back- something I’ve notice has become normal for me since this problem started. I never remember anything anymore. My focus does not move from comparing myself, counting calories, and constant exercising, making it so hard live my life.

As I quickly skim my lunch, trying to be discrete so my mom doesn’t notice, I see an apple, turkey sandwich, chips, and a cookie. What’s she trying to do? Does she think I’m fat or something? Well, I guess I can throw some of it out in first hour when I get to school, then I will be fine, and I can show her that I have no food left.

First hour bell rings and I situate my stuff but once I sit I can feel my thighs widen. Looking at my friend across the row, I notice that her legs barely change when she sits. How is that possible? To the side of me, the girl wears a scoop neck short sleeve shirt, and I can see her collar bones are extremely defined. I feel mine. There could be some improvements. My mind continues to race as I observe the girls around me. I feel as if my throat is swelling and I feel the tears coming to my eyes, but I can’t allow such an embarrassing thing to happen; then people will ask questions. I can’t explain all this to someone. They wouldn’t understand some of the thoughts I have about myself. Whenever I mention the subject to my friends they simply say, “Yeah, me too.” Yeah right! How could they say such a thing when they look the way they do? They are perfect, and I don’t even compare.

As the first few hours of classes have gone by I swear I’ve run through my day’s calorie intake at least 50 times. I can’t turn it off. It never stops. Even when I want to pay attention to Mrs. Ackerman, my mind won’t relax. If it does, there’s something telling me what an idiot I am for not focusing on my calories, as if I’ll forget what I’ve told myself is off limits. There’s constantly a battle going on inside my head. I feel trapped, and ready to be done with this, but I have no way out. Sometimes I wish my mom would notice, but if she does, that would involve letting go of this control, in other words I’d gain so much weight that no one would talk to me. I know it. My friends say the nastiest things about overweight girls, I don’t even want to think about what they’d say about me.

10:55 and the bell just rang for lunch. My anxieties burst. I’m not ready to sit around the lunch table again and talk about how fat we all are, discuss how much someone else is eating, and compete to see who can eat the least. Or maybe that unspoken competition is only me.

I take four small bites of my apple, then make the excuse that it’s mushy and I don’t want to eat the rest, so no one notices. Once I reach for my sandwich, I trim the edges off, taking as much of the sandwich apart as possible so I can toss it in the trash. Even though I feel like I’ve stuffed my face, my stomach aches. I can hear the gurgling, and feel its churning. When I place my hand on my side to unnoticeably check how far my stomach sticks out, I feel it concave. This is success.

I walk through the door, dreading supper already. When I look around me, all I can see is food. While my parents are still at the church, I grab the cereal box and eat as much as I can, as fast as I can. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. I feel my stomach again. Lift my shirt, and it’s still curving in. I can see my ribs. This motivates me to eat more. Ice cream, check. Chips, check. Chocolate, check. As much as I can stuff down my throat before they come home the better. Once I hear the screen door open, my time is up, and I rush around the kitchen to toss everything in its hiding place. I’m instantly overwhelmed with regret, frustration, and self loathing. Since, my parents know no different, I go to walk on the treadmill. My goal today is 800 calories. It may take me three hours, but it’s worth it. I could even set my alarm for three a.m. and go down while they’re sleeping and they’d never know the difference. Everything will be fine, it’s no big deal. And hey, I only ate half my apple, and a little of my sandwich, right?

The thoughts come back though. My apple was at least 45 calories, but I should round up, so make that 50. The sandwich was probably 60 since my mom uses whole wheat and I barely ate it. I know water is nothing, but it’s making me bloat again, so I should take it easy on the water. Everything I just shoved down my throat was probably 1,000 calories… No. What did I do? I’m never going to be happy with myself if I keep doing that. If only I had some self control. It makes no sense. How can I be so weak? I’m so worthless.

Somehow my parents barely notice that I haven’t touched my food. I’ve moved it around a little and eaten a few peas but other than that, it’s gone untouched. I am not exactly in the mood to think about this plate of food because I can’t stop thinking about all the food I ate after school. I really just want to sleep, because I’m so sick of thinking. I so badly need a break from this. I feel as though not eating is eating me alive, and I can’t take it anymore.

I look to my left, pizza, I look to my right, more pizza; It’s everywhere. STOP! I jolt right out of bed. I can’t escape it. This, this… thing, it’s following me everywhere, and even manages to trap me in my own dreams. Part of me wants to call for my mom and cry to her to help me get away from this. This thing, these thoughts, I’ve started calling ED. He won’t leave me be. And I just need my mom. I need her so I can escape into her arms and wash my pain away. But she doesn’t even know…

I looked in the cabinet trying to find anything to ease this pain. My depression medication should help, but it’s not. Maybe I just need a little more. I pour the bottle empty, ready, pills in hand, but I can’t stop shaking. Instant storm of tears flood down my cheeks, and I lose all control.

“MOOMMM!” I scream at the top of my lungs, as I’m blubbering in my tears, “MOM! come help me. Come in here, mom. I need you..”

She rushes into my room with terror on her face as she sees me on my bed, pills in hand.

“Oh, Madison..” No words cross her lips as she embraces me with tears now streaming down like mine. We still sit on my bed, I in her arms, and cry. She needs no explanation from me right now, and I only need her embrace.

It’s been close to an hour, and I finally say to my mom, “I need help. I need to go see someone. I don’t know what else to do anymore.”

My journey from there involved praying, counseling, and a lot more praying. So many girls never let go of this “ED” that they allow to control their lives. For me, from the beginning, I knew I would overcome. 1 Corinthians 6:13 says, “I will not be brought under the control of anything. Food’s for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will do away with both of them.” I finally accept this verse. Over the years of struggling with such a controlling disorder, I, for the first time, have allowed God to be in control. And what a comforting feeling that has given me. Struggling with an eating disorder, or what I called “ED,” wears a person out. It is time to change the view of beauty. The first step for me is sharing my story.


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