Amy Medina - 'Something Fishy' - on 'My Own Struggle With Anorexia'
online conference transcript
Bob M is the moderator.
Bob M: IT'S EATING DISORDERS AWARENESS WEEK: I want you to know that I DO LISTEN to your comments and suggestions...and that while many times we do have experts on to talk about various disorders and the latest treatments, etc., it is also nice to talk with someone who has been through the disorder and is dealing with it...and that way we can get a different perspective. Tonight, I want to welcome Amy Medina. You probably know her as "Something Fishy". Amy is the webmistress of the site and really does a wonderful job. There is so much information on eating disorders there. If you didn't know, Amy also is dealing with her own eating disorder, Anorexia. That's why I invited her onto our site tonight, to have her share her story of what it's been like for her and those close to her...and how she has dealt with that. Good evening Amy and welcome to the Concerned Counseling website. Can you start by telling us a bit more about your eating disorder and how it started?
AmyMedina: Hi Bob... and everyone... sure. I am in recovery for Anorexia and have been suffering with it for approximately 11 years (since I was about 16). I've suffered through 3 types of Anorexia... compulsive exercising, purging-type and also the restriction/starvation type. There are a number of "anorexia causes" that I feel played a role... one of which, in the beginning stemmed from an inability to cope with stress and a need for acceptance from my peers.
Bob M: For those who don't know, could you briefly explain what the 3 types of anorexia you've dealt with are?
AmyMedina: Yes. Compulsive exercise type is driven by the compulsion to over-exercise to burn calories and energy. Some do it with aerobics or jogging, bicycle riding or excessive walking. Purging type Anorexia is trying to "get rid" of food from the body, after any consumption of food, through self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or enemas. Restriction/starvation type is starving oneself of some or all types of food and calories. Some also eliminate very specific things from their diet, like items with sugar and fat.
Bob M: You experienced your first symptoms of anorexia at 16. Can you remember what was going through your mind at that time? Were you concerned about developing an eating disorder?
AmyMedina: Probably in the back of my mind I was thinking about an Eating Disorder, but I don't believe it was on a conscious level. At the time I was cutting high-school a lot, and I desperately wanted acceptance from my peers and my father. My parents were also going through some marital problems at the time, which was a bit confusing.
Bob M: So, was the eating disorder something that just "snuck" up on you?
AmyMedina: I'm not sure it completely snuck up on me. My father had said to me once "you better not be Anorexic." So, I think at some point it became a way to get back at him or get his attention somehow. As it progressed, I became more and more aware that I had a problem.
Bob M: What, if anything, at that point did you do about it?
AmyMedina: Nothing! I didn't do anything about it until a year later. For me, it always seemed to wax and wain. During more stressful times I was "more Anorexic." During less stressful times, I was less concerned with what I ate and didn't. It all hinged on my happiness inside and it didn't really start to escalate until I was about 21 or 22.
Bob M: Can you tell us, what has been the worst part of it for you over these years?
AmyMedina: Physically, it was scary knowing that what I was doing could hurt me or kill me, yet feeling like I HAD to do it. Emotionally, watching the people around me who love me worry has been very hard... and then the working through recovery and finding out a lot about myself has been difficult. I also worry a lot about my own daughter, and that is VERY hard.
Bob M: So we can get a sense of your experience....before the eating disorder, what was your height and weight. And at the worst point, what had your weight gotten down to?
AmyMedina: Well, at 16 years old and 5'4 inches tall, my weight averaged between 115 and 125. At it's worst, at 5'5", I weighed about 84 pounds.
Bob M: For those just joining us, welcome to the Concerned Counseling website. We are speaking with Amy Medina, who is "Something Fishy" about her own struggle with the eating disorder Anorexia. We will be taking your (audience) comments and questions in just a minute. Can you share with us, how it came to be that you realized you needed professional help? (anorexia treatment)
AmyMedina: Part of it was through the internet Bob. I was involved with the Eating Disorders newsgroup and met some wonderful people, one who has become my closest friend. She and I have been battling recovery together. The other part of it was needing to take responsibility for myself and my family. I wanted to get this out of my life so I could be happy and so I would be around for my daughter.
Bob M: And so how many years went by from when the anorexia first set in, before you got professional treatment?
AmyMedina: Well, it set in when I was around 16. I truly came out of denial about it when I was about 24, and then really went for professional help when I was 25. So, almost 10 years.
Bob M: Please detail for us what kind of treatment you have received over the years and briefly discuss how effective it's been for you.
AmyMedina: Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer in "what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another." Treatment and recovery are VERY personal choices. I have been in therapy. Therapy has worked well for me, especially when I have a good bond with my therapist. The therapist can be that objective outsider to offer suggestions on self-exploration. I have done a great deal of writing in a journal (not logging what I eat, but emotional things). It's helped me to come to a lot of realizations about myself and my feelings related to experiences. And doing the website and all the contact I make with other victims has really helped me. Through helping others, it helps me to help myself and face the realities of an Eating Disorder. Exploring my own spirituality, what I believe and don't believe, has also offered me a sense of comfort and self.
Bob M: Have you ever taken medications to help you or been hospitalized because of the anorexia?
AmyMedina: No Bob, but that was a personal choice I made for myself. I did have a therapist suggest Prozac and my decision was not to take it. I have always been the type to not take medications for things, even headaches.
Bob M: So, at this point, would you say that you are "recovered," in the sense that you are eating "normally" or do you still struggle with that?
AmyMedina: On all levels, I am still in recovery. I eat better than I have in over 12 years, but I still have hard days because I am still in the process of learning how to effectively cope with stress, pain and life in general. I feel confident though that I am healthier than I have been in a long time.
Bob M: I want to post a few audience comments first. Then, we will go to the audience questions for Amy.
Margie: I've been through the same three types.
Issbia: This is in reference to what Amy said about her father. My parents told me a few times that I needed to lose weight because I was "starting to get pudgy," which makes me wonder why people don't know how to talk to other people.
Marissa: I feel the same way.
Bob M: Here's the first question, Amy:
Rachy: How can people spend years in denial? I mean, I know I have some issues, but I don't think I have a full blown eating disorder. But if I did, and it did develop into something I couldn't handle, I would know. The weight loss alone should be an indication, shouldn't it?
AmyMedina: Rachy, well the weight loss isn't always so drastic in the beginning and the analogy I often make about denial is this...Your Eating Disorder becomes a sort of friend to you and that friend gets closer and closer. By the time you realize it's a problem, that "friend" already has you fooled and you have a harder and harder time believing it's really your enemy. So giving up the Eating Disorder is like trying to say goodbye to your best friend and killing your enemy all at once.
Dewdrop: Did you feel that you were in control of your eating disorder? I know I feel totally in control, but now I am beginning to consider that to be an illusion.
AmyMedina: It is an illusion and that is part of it. In the beginning, you like the control it gives you, but at some point that control begins to shift and the disorder has a stronger grasp on you than you realize. I believed I was in control long after I had lost it, Dewdrop.
Bob M: Onto more questions:
Chimera: But because of this disorder, I barely have any friends left. I haven't told anyone, but everyone finds me not very much fun to be around. My friends have given up with me lately and I don't know how to do this without having any support from friends. I read a lot of info saying that social support is very important in dealing with something like this. How am I supposed to deal with this if the only friend I have is a disorder that wants to kill me?
AmyMedina: That's part of the hard part. You have to say to yourself every day that you deserve to get better, that you deserve to be happy. Then you have to take the step to reach out to others and just ask for help and support. If you don't feel anyone in your immediate life can give that to you, than you have to try to find it through anorexia support groups, therapy, someone new in your life, a teacher, an aunt or uncle, or even start with chatrooms on the internet. You need to remind yourself every day too, that you are not alone.
Bob M: And Amy, that's one thing I have found that is common among people with eating disorders...the loneliness, the isolation.
AmyMedina: That's very true Bob. It was the initial goal of my website, to remind victims they are NOT alone.
Bob M: What has been your family's (mom, dad, siblings) reaction to your disorder?
AmyMedina: To be completely honest, I have never actually talked to my father about it, though I know I will have to someday. My mother has been wonderful. She is not afraid to ask me questions and has been honest with me about the whole thing (as a matter of fact, she's here tonight! HI MOM). My husband has been great too, in trying to learn about eating disorders and how he can help me better than just by asking me to eat something. I feel very lucky to have the people in my life that I do.
Moira: I think my ED has to do with the fact that I feel responsible for all the world's woes. Can you relate to this and how can I stop it?
AmyMedina: Yes, I can relate to that a great deal. Somehow, I've always felt that the more I help others, it makes me a better person. Truth is, you are the BEST person you can be when you love yourself. It's so common to find Eating Disorder victims to be the type that want to help everyone else but themselves. There is no sense of compassion towards your own problems. You need to start to validate them to yourself and say "I deserve help too" and "I deserve happiness" and most of all, realize that you are not to blame, nor are you responsible, for the world's problems. I know it's hard Moira.
Miktwo: How did your husband handle your ED?
Bob M: Specifically, dealing with your anorexia, does it put a strain on your marriage and how have you and your husband handled that?
AmyMedina: It is hardest on my husband in the day-to-day setting because he is the one to deal most with my mood swings and when I'm having a hard time. He is a musician, so he deals with some of it through music. We also have a wonderful relationship where we can communicate and I trust him a great deal. His biggest help to me has been his ability to learn about the Eating disorder and to listen to my needs. It IS a strain on the marriage and his biggest fear is that I will die in my sleep. I often caught him checking to see if I'm breathing at night.
Bob M: Here are a few more audience comments:
Marissa: I had a lot of abuse including sexual abuse. My eating disorder started at age 10.
Marge: You talk about three types. It seems to me, it's all the same thing. It's a merry-go round. You just keep switching horses. I was dancin' 4 hours a night, didn't eat for four months, and I still was arguing with my Doctor. I said I was "Just on a diet". The reason I was at my Doctor's was someone told him to insist I come in to see him.
Dewdrop: I never knew there were three types, but now I realize I need help since I do fit in all three.
Issbia: Rachy, the weight loss isn't viewed as a problem, it's viewed as a solution to a problem.
DonW: Compulsive eating is slowly killing me. I hate to say that the only time I felt I ate normal was when I was on Redux.
Bob M: Here's the next question Amy:
cw: Bob, can you ask her how she handles the feeling of being fat as she achieves a healthy weight?
Marissa: How do you get rid of the feeling of "feeling fat" and not wanting to gain weight?
AmyMedina: It's tough! I have to remind myself out loud every single day that my self-esteem does not hinge on what I weigh, that regardless of my weight I am still a good person. I also do not own a scale. I do not judge how my day is going to be on what that number says in the morning and when I eat, I tell myself, remind myself, that it isn't going to make me balloon up 10 pounds over night, or even 1 pound... that I NEED this food to keep me healthy and to keep my heart beating. I still have a tough time with it when I'm having a very hard day, but I just keep reminding myself ALL the time, that it IS okay, CW and Marissa.
Solidarity: I have had anorexia since I was a newborn, neglected of food and all else. What are the side effects, risks, and what may I have already damaged in these 26 years?(complications of anorexia) I don't over exercise. I just forget to eat or don't eat properly.
Bob M: As Amy is answering that question, I want everyone to know that she is not a Dr., but she has a great deal of knowledge on the subject.
AmyMedina: The side effects and dangers are quite numerous. Most common is dehydration, malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances, all of which can cause you to have a heart attack and die almost instantly. Also, some other dangers are kidney damage and failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, TMJ syndrome, chronic fatigue, vitamin deficiencies, stroke, seizures, edema, arthritis (specifically osteoarthritis).
Somer: Did Amy ever go through the Binge/Purge cycle?
AmyMedina: No Somer, I have never suffered with bulimia (binge/purge cycles), but one of my closest friends does.
Mattymo: Amy, do you believe that in the end, the weight issue is so often clouded, and it is more to do with having a release, a way to keep stability in one's life?
AmyMedina: Yes, I believe the weight issue IS often clouded. A lot of people suffering with Anorexia seek control over their lives. A lot of bulimics look for a way to release emotion and forget pain. (I'm generalizing of course)
Jo: It's weird Amy. I am a compulsive overeater and very obese. I hate the word, but I am. I wanted to be anorexic to lose the weight until I saw all the pain -- same pain. It's hard to deal with sometimes, when I realize the pain an anorexic goes through all because they "think" they look like me. I can see that a lot of the problems and "solutions" are the same, but why is it -- this 'fat' thinking?
AmyMedina: It's different for everyone Jo, their perception of themselves. But ultimately, it all hinges on self-esteem and how it translates. It's like looking into one of the circus mirrors. On days I feel bad about myself, if I look in the mirror, it somehow translates to me seeing what I don't like. Because of society, part of that is seeing what is considered "unacceptable" in myself.
Bob M: And by the way, tomorrow night's conference focuses on "Overcoming Overdieting" based on the book by Jane Hirschmann. We have a wonderful guest coming. We start at 6 p.m. Pacific, 8 CST, 9 EST.
btilbury: Do you have other compulsive behaviors? I tend to move frantically from one compulsion to another, just to keep ahead of the emotional turmoil.
AmyMedina: I had a borderline alcohol problem some years ago. I also have workaholic tendencies which I have to fight every day (and don't always win!)... I am the major perfectionist about my work.
Bob M: Here are some audience comments:
Chimera: I don't feel like I can do anything. I feel like the only person on the planet most of the time. I know in my head I am not alone, but I feel lonelier than I ever have, Amy.
Rachy: I know I have some "food issues". I just feel like this is the first time I've had control. I mean, I lost 40 lbs since January 7 and I'm happy about that. I look exactly the same so, I can't stop just yet. I know it isn't healthy, but I'm just not at my goal yet. When I was heavier, my husband and family made fun of me. Now that I've dropped 40 lbs, they act as though they haven't noticed. Why is that? I end up feeling like, "Huh, I'll show them. I'll just lose more."
Bob M: Here's the next question, Amy:
Thora: I fast for days and then eat a little and purge it. I have been doing this for quite some months, and have lost weight, but don't feel sick or bad in any way. Am I still doing damage then?
AmyMedina: Yes, absolutely! Fasting for days and then purging when you do eat, puts you at all the risks of Anorexia AND Bulimia (bulimia information). Purging REALLY messes with your body's hydration and nutrition levels very quickly, and screws up your electrolytes. You are at an increased risk of having a heart attack in your sleep and dying. Purging also screws up your body's ability to absorb nutrients, so when you do it, you are not getting the most out of what is in the food Thora.
Bob M: I also want to welcome Cheryl Wilde to the Concerned Counseling website tonight. She also has a wonderful eating disorders site on the net. It's dedicated to her sister, Stacy, who has really struggled with anorexia. We are going to have them both on our site next month to talk about what they've gone through together. Here's a comment from Cheryl:
Cheryl: I talk with Amy about the dangers of starving, dehydration and laxative abuse. My son, a high school wrestler, does this to make weight.
Bob M: Are you scared Amy that maybe you have "passed on" your anorexia to your daughter and that someday she will have to deal with it herself?
AmyMedina: I worry about that a lot. I worry about the predisposition to depression she may have, and I worry that she'll have this desire to try it because mom was that way one time and look, she's still alive. I pray and hope it never happens and hope that my openness and education prevents it. It's a very scary thought to me Bob
Bob M: Here are some more audience comments:
Stacy: Amy, I wish that I could not judge my day without the scales. I am so afraid of gaining weight. I have gained 5 pounds this year, and I feel like...you know.
sick_and_tired: I have been in 8 different treatment hospitals for my eating disorder. Does it ever get easier?
Bob M: Amy just got booted. She'll be right back. As we wait for her for a moment, I want everyone to know we appreciate your coming to our website. It is very rewarding for us because we get so many positive comments through the email every day. And we are glad that you are finding the information and support you are looking for. I see Amy is back. Here's another audience question:
TWK1: How do you make yourself eat when you have no appetite?
AmyMedina: Sometimes, if I don't want to eat, I have to force myself to make sure I do, reminding myself the whole time that it's okay! It's not easy and there are times when I don't. But for the most part, now, I eat when I'm hungry and that usually consists of two good meals a day and a good snack. I also drink a can of Ensure each morning.
Cubbycat: Are your hunger/fullness cues normal now, or has the anorexia altered that? I found that binge eating and purging messed me up and I have trouble telling whether I'm hungry or if I'm full.
AmyMedina: My hunger cues are still a little messed up. But for the most part, I can tell when I'm hungry. If you have a hard time with that the best thing to do is see a good nutritionist who has a LOT of experience with Eating Disorders. Sometimes, for some victims, 6 small meals a day works better than the typical "3 square meals a day" and it does take a while to get used to the feeling of hunger and fullness again. You have to allow yourself the adjustment time.
LCM: Amy or Amy's mum: My mum attributes every down day, every little tear or pout to a 'relapse' or further decline in my (mental) health. She is clearly overreacting. As a mother, is there anything I can say to make her understand that a 'bad day' is not necessarily a sign of 'doom'?
AmyMedina: LCM, I can't speak exactly for my mom, but the one thing that has helped my own mom and what may help yours is to get some therapy herself. This will help her deal with HER issues surrounding your Eating Disorder and recovery and will also be an objective opinion that she may be more responsive to. Parents need support through this too.
Peanuts: Sometimes I lose so much weight that everyone thinks I'm gonna die. Then it seems like I go on a binge spree and can't stop. I'm on a binge spree now because I'm so depressed with the weight I've gained I can't handle leaving the house. What's the best way out of getting out of a binge spree or is there one? I'm feeling totally hopeless.
AmyMedina: One of the best ways to get out of a binge spree is to not starve yourself. When you restrict your calories and fat intake your body goes into a "starvation mode" so that when you do it, your mind wants you to keep eating, as if you are stockpiling for the next fast. Also, if you haven't already, reach out for some help. Take some small steps to find support. Work on finding your own underlying causes for the ED.
Bob M: Here's a comment from Amy's mom. I asked her how she is dealing with Amy's eating disorder:
FISHYMOM: It has been hard not to be so scared all the time for Amy. I have learned to trust her though. She has come so far. And we talk. That helps.
Bob M: Another common thing I find Amy, is that so many young people in their teens are afraid to share what is going on, their eating disorder, with their parents. Can you address that?
AmyMedina: It's very hard for ANY victim to share their Eating Disorder with anyone. There is the aspect that they do not want to give up the security it provides them and there is still a lot of shame attached to eating disorders within society (unfortunately). I think teens have a particularly hard time because a lot of them are just getting "into" the ED. A lot of them enjoy the acceptance from their peers when they hear "you've lost weight and look great" and I think a great number of them are still in denial as to the severity of the problem, or that it is even a problem at all.
cubbycat: I used to be full-blown bulimic (purging with laxatives). Then I started to pass out, so I quit the laxatives 10 years ago. I fooled myself into thinking that I no longer had a problem, but food is still how I handle my emotions. When you were first recovering from the anorexia, was there any tendency to cross over into bulimia or binge eating disorder?
AmyMedina: My transitions stayed within the bounds of Anorexia, switching from the exercising to the restricting to the purging and back and forth. It is VERY common for victims to waver between all three Eating Disorders though, anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating.
Bob M: Do you ever feel like just "giving up"...that it's too much of a struggle? How to you handle it when those times come around?
AmyMedina: That's an easy one for me, Bob. I still have times where I think it would be easier to just go back to the Anorexia, but then I look at my daughter and for her I can't do that. I also hate the thought of just being that depressed all the time again.
Bob M: Here's a few more audience comments:
UgliestFattest: I was exercising 10 hours a day and eating about 250 calories a day and taking 12 laxatives a day. I still denied that I had an eating disorder. There are times that I still feel that I don't have an eating disorder. Have you ever gone through that (where you know you have an eating disorder, then you are denying that you have one the next moment)?
Rachy: That stuff doesn't happen for a while. I don't even look like I have a problem. I can stop before any of that happens to me.
Marge: I lost 86 pounds and my husband didn't seem to notice.
Moira: Thank you for being so honest with us, Amy.
AmyMedina: I would like to address Rachy's comment specifically if I can Bob! Rachy, there are victims that die everyday that are not typically "underweight" or that don't look like they have a problem. The dangers all happen internally and very little hinges on what you weigh! UF: denial is a powerful thing, especially when you cling to your Eating Disorder for support and for the feelings of control it gives you. I have often been through times of denial, knowing I have an eating disorder, but thinking "ah, so what, nothing will happen to me." But believe me, those "nothings" DO happen.
SocWork: So Amy what would you say are the resources and strengths that you rely upon in dealing with the disorder? It appears that one of them is your concern for your daughter.
AmyMedina: Yes, one of them is that. The biggest strength I rely on is myself, and continuing to find the desire within me to get rid of this for good. I can't help but think "if I'm so good at being a perfectionist about everything, than I can be good at recovery too!" I WANT that because I want to be happy and healthy. Resources for me have been therapy and journal writing. I truly need my writing to help me cope with my emotions. I've come to a lot of realizations and conclusions about myself through that writing.
AmyMedina: I believe BobM got disconnected for a moment. While we wait for him to come back, let me take this opportunity to thank EVERYONE for sharing your comments and questions with me. I know it's not always easy to talk about this subject. You are all beautiful people!
Bob M: Sorry about that. El Nino just struck our building in San Antonio, Texas with a bolt of lightening. I think we are going to wrap it up for tonight. I want to thank Amy for coming tonight and sharing her personal story with us. It takes a very courageous person to do that and I'm sure some of the personal questions were tough for her to answer. I hope though for those of you here, it gave you some insight to what an eating disorder is all about and also, there is hope. But it takes some strength and the ability to reach out for help so that you can work through it. Amy, I would appreciate it if you would give your website address.
AmyMedina: Thanks Bob. I just wanted to tell everyone if you struggle with an Eating Disorder (and I'm sure a lot of you are struggling right now) PLEASE by all means, come and visit the website. You are not alone. There is support for everyone there, from victims themselves to their loved-ones. The url is http://www.something-fishy.org/
Bob M: Again, thank you Amy for being here. Tomorrow night, as we continue our series for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, our topic is "Overcoming Overeating". Hope to see everyone back here then and pass the word around to your friends or net buddies to drop in. We have received many favorable comments from people about how coming to the conferences and getting information has been the start of their "recovery".
AmyMedina: Thank you for the opportunity Bob. I truly appreciate the chance to communicate with everyone.
Bob M: Good Night.
Last Updated: 06 April 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD