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Why Weight Is Not the Only Indicator of Someone Struggling With Anorexia

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

“The hospital won’t take me, my weight isn’t low enough,” I say, a fake calmness in my voice. I’m staring at my mom instead of at the food on my plate. The food I won’t eat, which is why we are having this conversation. Yes, they took me last time. But I weighed less then. I was eating less then. I was sicker then. Now, I’m in recovery. And, usually, I eat the food that my parents have chosen and portioned for me.

Today is different. The voice of anorexia is loud. So loud that I can’t hear my mom pleading with me to, “Pick up the fork. Darling, pick up the fork. Please, pick up the fork.” Instead I tune her out and listen to the sweet whispers of anorexia. As long as I don’t pick up that fork, my world will remain OK. And besides, I tell myself, the hospital won’t take me. Nothing is wrong with me. I’m not underweight.

My mom emails our family-based treatment (FBT) therapist, desperate for advice. I could tell her there’s no point. Nothing will make me eat. In the afternoon we go to my pediatrician who checks (you guessed it!) my weight, and then my vitals, and finally, the level of ketones in my body. My weight and vitals are fine, reinforcing the idea that “I am not sick.” The ketones are high. I’m thrilled.

An hour or so after we get home, my mood has plummeted. I’m walking in circles around the kitchen, anorexia won’t let me sit down. I’m refusing food and water; anorexia won’t let even the tiniest bit pass my lips. I start to cry, “Mommy, make it stop. I want it to stop. I don’t want this. I can’t wait until tomorrow. Make it stop.” My mom looks devastated. She calls our FBT therapist again. That’s when the decision is made. I’m going to the hospital. My mom tells me they probably won’t admit me. My vitals are OK. This is just so I know it’s an option. My dad drives to the emergency room in Philadelphia. We choose a hospital not close to home because it has a good eating disorder program.

I don’t believe they’ll take me. My weight is too high. Not sick enough. By the time we get to the emergency room, I have a pounding headache. When the nurse draws blood I nearly black out. Two weeks later and I still regret the 4 ounces of apple juice she gave me because I said I didn’t feel well.

This is when I learned that weight is irrelevant. I’m told I have to stay in the emergency room until they decide where to put me. I’m dazed and barely awake, it is midnight after all. I haven’t fully processed that they will admit me. I learn that they need to decide between the cardiac unit and the eating disorder unit. I can’t believe they’re considering taking me to the cardiac unit. I’m not very sick.

At 3 a.m., they get the labs they need back and decide to put me in the eating disorder unit. I stay there for exactly two weeks. I was that sick.

When I get home I look over the tests they did the night I was admitted. I learn that my potassium was almost twice the safe maximum limit. This put me at high risk of sudden cardiac arrest. That’s why they didn’t know where to put me. That’s why I was on a heart monitor. That’s why they put me on a glucose drip.

As I scroll through the pages of lab results, I notice how much improvement there has been with just a few days of eating and drinking enough. I also notice that my weight is not listed on any of the pages. It doesn’t matter. I could have died from my eating disorder at any weight.

So please don’t be afraid to go to the hospital if something seems wrong. I didn’t know that night how lucky I was because we didn’t wait. Don’t take the chance.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Kimiko16

Originally published: November 6, 2017
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