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Starving for perfection

Kara Rieger

Kara Rieger

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Adler Bowman, Kirkwood High School

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It all started with the goal of losing a few pounds, to be able to look in the mirror and see a skinny body that fits into society’s mold. For Taiye Joseph, sophomore, a brand new body was something she believed would fill her with confidence. In the summer before her freshman year, Joseph longed for a transformation her peers would notice. Exercising and monitoring calories quickly grew from a daily habit to an unhealthy obsession. She worked out three hours a day, frequently skipped meals and still never believed she was skinny enough.

Her parents first realized something was wrong in September 2015 when their daughter would hide her food while pretending to eat, and throw away the lunches she had packed for school. In October, her friends and family noticed a dramatic change in her weight and her parents brought her to doctors and specialists who diagnosed her with anorexia.

“Every single time I stepped on the scale it felt like an accomplishment,” Joseph said. “I would think to myself, ‘Wow, you lost so much weight, but now let’s lose 5 more pounds’ and I would never really be happy enough. I sometimes went multiple days without eating and my stomach would be in so much pain, but I never ate because the feeling of being hungry made me happy.”

In November, Joseph was admitted to St. Louis Children’s Hospital where she regained a healthier body. Nurses gave her three meals per day with two snacks, and she had to train her mind to push away negative thoughts about her body image. Specialists told her if she continued to skip meals, she would die.

“It was really scary for me because I knew I had to eat, but I was really terrified to gain all the weight back, and I liked the new body I was in,” Joseph said. “[Rehab] was a struggle because I was just sitting there convinced that I was not good enough and eating was going to make me fat and disgusting.”

After her hospital stay, Joseph was admitted to McCallum Place Eating Disorder Center in Webster Groves, where she stayed for five months. At the treatment center she was assigned a therapist, dietitian and psychologist. Joseph was in a hypermetabolic state, meaning her body burned anything it could find at a faster rate. She said the helpings of food given to her seemed overwhelmingly large, and greater portions were added to her meal plan each week until she was eating 5,000-6,000 calories per day. The new weight she had gained gathered around her vital organs, and then it was distributed to her arms and legs later, Joseph said. There were other patients with similar conditions, so she said she did not feel alone. A few of her friends, such as sophomore Bella Borbonus, came to the treatment center to visit.

“I was glad to see her again, but it was [sad] to see her in such an unhappy and unhealthy state and knowing there was nothing in my power I could do to help her,” Borbonus said. “I noticed a change in her body, but also in her temperament, and it was really difficult to see her like that.”

In her final days at the treatment center, Joseph said she was still unhappy with her body and a small part of her wished she had never gained the weight back. Joseph said she was driven away from her family. She would argue with them about eating and feel awful when her relatives mentioned dieting, weight or her body.

Returning to school after five months was an overwhelming shift in routine according to Joseph, and required her to ignore gossip and stares from classmates as well as catch up on five months of missed material. Joseph said even smelling the air at KHS brought back terrifying memories of when she looked in the mirror and congratulated herself, not knowing the troublesome path ahead of her.

Joseph said when she came back to school, she realized people do not know that words have the power to hurt the way someone views themselves. According to Joseph, eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and do not always look like the stereotype associated with them.

“The classic picture [of eating disorders] is a gaunt, underweight white female with ribs and pelvis showing, but I’ve never seen that,” Dr. Neil Rebbe, SSM physician pediatrician, said.

Rebbe said anorexia and other eating disorders are often not recognizable, and misusing the term “anorexic” and can unknowingly harm someone’s self-image. Joseph said it is impossible to know what someone sees in their reflection when they look in the mirror.

“Today I still struggle with seeing that my weight is healthy and that being too skinny would damage my body,” Joseph said.

Read the original story here. 

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