Krista Barlow struggled with anorexia and bulimia through high school and college. Understanding more about the diseases helped her to overcome them. She hopes to help others by sharing her story. Learn more about these conditions in this candid and personal interview.
Krista Barlow is a senior in college. She plans to continue her career in the medical field after graduation.
Please explain what anorexia and bulimia are.
A person with anorexia nervosa (an-uh-RECK-see-uh nur-VOH-suh), often called anorexia, has an eating disorder in which that person has an intense fear of gaining weight. Someone with anorexia thinks about food a lot and limits the food she or he eats, even though she or he may be too thin.
Bulimia nervosa (buh-LEE-me-ah nur-VOH-suh), often called bulimia, is also a type of eating disorder. A person with bulimia eats a lot of food in a short amount of time (binging) and then tries to prevent weight gain by getting rid of the food (purging). Purging might be done by making yourself throw up or by taking laxatives. (Laxatives are pills or liquids that speed up the movement of food through your body and lead to a bowel movement.)
In my experience, anorexia and bulimia are both eating disorders that are rooted in a poor self-perception and body image. Usually the binging from bulimia is done with junk food or foods you feel "guilty" about eating because they are not typically healthy. These foods make you feel good for a short amount of time but then you realize that you've eaten too much and want to get rid of it.
How did you become anorexic and bulimic?
My condition started near the end of my freshman year of high school. The anorexia was easier for me to hide. I slowly stopped eating without anyone really noticing. Because my high school had off-campus lunch, there was never much accountability for what I was eating or how much I ate. As long as I ate around my family, I didn't have to worry.
The bulimia started as an accident. Once I realized that making myself vomit does not hurt like it does when you have the flu or you're sick, I found it was an easy release for me when I felt stressed or upset. I controlled my food intake with purging.
What would you eat in a typical day?
I could always make excuses not to eat. But if I felt myself needing to eat, I ate the bare minimum to keep from passing out or fainting. Goldfish crackers or coffee were an easy way to hold myself over to the next time I felt faint. I knew what I was doing wasn't good, but the empty feeling in my stomach was addicting to me. If I binged, it might be with fast food such as Taco Bell. But after too many tacos or burritos, I immediately felt the need to take a shower and purge the food. I thought no one could hear me throwing up if the shower was running.
Did your family and friends notice your anorexia and bulimia?
I was always thin growing up. So, because my weight loss was gradual, it was not that noticeable to my friends at school. However, my mother noticed changes in both my behaviors and weight. She always had an idea something was going on even before I admitted it to her. I dropped to around 102 pounds at one point in my sophomore year in high school. There was no hiding that.
When did you realize that you needed help?
I had an episode in high school when I was shopping with my mom: I fainted after not eating for days. My mom had known about my problem and was very supportive in helping me eat. However, she told me I had to want to get help, and that no one could force it on me. At that point, I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep hiding my eating disorders as easily. The summer after I graduated high school, I noticed I had a lot of blood coming from my throat when I spit. I noticed it more when I brushed my teeth. I knew I needed to stop. I had damaged my esophagus badly. I needed to change.
What kind of treatment did you go through?
Until the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I never sought professional treatment for my eating disorders. My family supported me dealing with anorexia and bulimia through high school and college, but the stress and new challenges of being at a university were eventually too much to handle. I knew I needed to make a decision. I needed help to stop me from going back down the unhealthy path I had known in high school. I sought help from the student health center on my college campus. I learned how common eating disorders are from my doctor. We made a plan for me to talk to a counselor and reevaluate the way I see my weight on a scale. I got rid of my scale for a year while I learned to not equate my weight to my self-worth. I learned to see that number on the scale in a healthy way. I got counseling and improved my self image and body image.
How is your recovery coming along?
My treatment has been successful so far. A patient is thought to be in recovery for two years after treatment is started. Talking about my experience with anorexia and bulimia has helped me to better understand the diseases themselves and heal. I have a better understanding of my past behaviors. But I do still think about my eating disorders in the back of my mind.
What advice do you have for other young women and men who are facing eating disorders?
Don't feel ashamed of what you are going through! So many more people go through this than are willing to talk about it. Many times we only see severe cases in the media or on television. A lot of the time, that's the problem. Some people can't identify with the serious cases of eating disorders they see on TV and they don't get help as a result. Eating disorders don't have a face. They affect so many different kinds of people from all walks of life. Many times, eating disorders are happening right in front of us. No one should feel afraid to reach out for help.
What kinds of things do you like to do to stay healthy?
I have always been active from being a cheerleader. After high school, I stayed active too. I like to snowboard with friends and go to the gym by my house. I also like to eat healthy while still enjoying foods I love with my family.