Skinny Doesn’t Equal Happy: Lessons my Eating Disorder Taught Me

by Lex Ellenthal

When I was 12, I started on a new medication that caused me to gain quite a bit of weight. I went from being so skinny that if you turned me sideways I couldn’t be seen to being relatively average sized. But I was 12, and after having been impossibly skinny for my entire life, I felt enormous. I stopped wearing shorts or skirts that fell more than an inch above the knee because I perceived my thighs as huge. I would get upset about how “fat” I was and eat to comfort myself. It became a very unhealthy cycle and soon I truly was overweight. I was 13 the first time I tried to make myself throw up. The time between when my 13 year old self knelt in front of the toilet and stuck her fingers down her throat and now has been full of various attempts to shed the excess weight. First, there was the exercise.

I had to go running every night. I went at night because I didn’t want people to be able to see me trying to exercise and laugh. I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner until I’d run at least a mile. I know that research shows that exercise makes you feel better and all that, but I would come home on the verge of tears, if not in tears, every time. I couldn’t run just for the sake of running; it was all about my weight and my worth. I never felt like I was getting better at it, even after months. Eventually I gave up and would jog to the end of my street, lay down in the grass for 10 minutes, then jog home. Finally, I got my parents to stop making me run 5 nights a week. That’s when the diets started.

My mom was trying to get fit at the time, so she would make me try these crazy diets with her. We would just suddenly stop eating everything with flour and sugar, and as a 15 year old with no willpower, that drove me insane. I rarely lasted more than two days on a diet before giving up, binging on whatever I had been disallowed from eating, and then trying again. Sometimes I’d manage a week without a binge, but only if I was sneaking small, unhealthy snacks once or twice a day. After each failed-diet-binge I would try to throw up. I was never successful. I felt awful, like I was such a failure that I couldn’t even diet right; it progressed to me feeling like a failure because I couldn’t have an eating disorder right.

That’s when I got into the crazy weight loss gimmicks. I tried powders (Sensa) and pills (Hydroxycut Max) and I would lose weight, only to gain it all back as soon as I stopped using these ridiculously expensive products. I spent hundreds of dollars (my parents’ money and my own) on these things, and despite the awful side effects of the pills, such as stomach aches and light headedness, and the strange smells of the Sensa powders that helped reduce my appetite more often than not, I was into these scams for nearly a year.

And then it got really bad. I developed EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I alternated starving and bingeing and after I binged I would try and fail to vomit. It was all tied up in my perception of myself and my perceived value. I felt like I needed to be skinny to be worthwhile, like I needed to be skinny to be happy.


I got help a few months after I turned 16. I’m fine now, in case you’re wondering. But I’m angry. I’m angry at our culture that teaches little girls, small children, that their weight is indicative of their worth. I’m angry that I fell for it. I’m angry that I wasted almost 5 years of my life feeling miserable about my appearance. I’m angry on behalf of everyone, of any gender, who has suffered through this. So I’m here to tell you: diets are bullshit, and you are more than what size jeans you wear. Sure, health is important, but eat fruits and veggies so you can live longer, not so you can look better. Exercise not because you feel compelled to, but because of the rush it gives you. Most of all, never ever get your value as a human being confused with your physical appearance or your health. Stay cool, friends.

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