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When I Was 17 I Invented Bulimia

By Judey Kalchik Published 3 years ago 4 min read
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

When I was 15, my boyfriend told me I was beautiful. When I was 16, my parents explained that I was fat. When I was 17, I invented bulimia.

Let me explain.

I met Josh in 1974, there's a photo of us at the bottom of this page. He was everything new to me. Brilliant. Funny. Kind. Gentle. Quirky. Yes, we broke up, but he has always been my first real love. He thought I was beautiful. He told me I was beautiful. He treated me like I was beautiful. And I believed him. I felt beautiful.

Then I went to Summer Camp.

(Please, understand this. We were not Summer Camp people. Our biggest vacation ever had been two days camping. With five children and an uneven income things like Summer Camp just didn’t happen. We were play-in-the-backyard kids. We were walk-outside-in-the-morning-and-be-back for lunch kids. This was two-week church camp, and then conducting Summer Bible classes in different neighborhoods for two months. It was great, and it gave me a chance to learn that that teaching was something right for me.)

So, the next year I wanted to do it again. And my parents said sure. As long as I lost 20 pounds first. In three months. Because I was fat. And I believed them.

Please, understand this, now. I weighed the same as I did the year before. You know, back when I was beautiful. But now? Now I am fat. Undeserving until I changed to meet their goal for me. Why did they do it? Because I was growing up? Because I was chubby? Because I had had a boyfriend? Because they could?

• So, I stopped eating lunch.

• And ran around and around the school yard every day during lunch.

• And I ate one dinner roll and a carton of skim milk for breakfast.

• And I did sit ups in my room at night.

• And I weighed myself every day.

• And I lost the weight.

• And I went to camp.

• And I was thin.

But I knew I wasn't beautiful. I had just fooled everyone: inside I was the same person. Different on the outside because I had found that motivation, but now I knew I was a fat and ugly person.

Fat on the inside. Fat where you couldn’t see. Fat far enough inside that people could miss it. It worried me and I knew I was going to be caught in all my fatness and ugliness.

Please, understand this: the thing about not eating? Eventually you need to eat something. The good news was I found out it didn't need to stay eaten. Without knowing it I invented bulimia.

It worked great! I stayed thin. On the outside. I always knew I was fat on the inside. I always knew I was not beautiful. Now that I am an adult I understand that girl a lot better. Classic oldest child. Volatile family life. Nothing really that I could control. Living out ‘imposter syndrome’ before it hit the textbooks.

Except, I learned I could control me. So I did. I controlled me with an iron will, and punished myself for being hungry. Punished myself for believing I was beautiful when I knew that I was just pretending.

I set myself up for yo-yo dieting and a battle with bulimia that went on for years. While my marriage fell apart, I would throw up when the kids fell asleep. Never binging and purging, just purging. As time went on and I realized divorce was coming, I stopped eating everything but a hard pretzel and diet Coke. Once a day, eating small bites to make it last just as I had made that roll last in high school. And to make it easier to get rid of later. Because I was punishing myself. And I believed I deserved the punishment since I was a failure as a wife. That ugliness must have become visible, and I deserved to be alone. At least, that’s what I believed.

It's been years since I’ve last given in to the ‘urge to purge’. I still work hard to avoid the carbs like a bowl of very lightly-sauced pasta or cheesy rice, those things that used to be my "trigger foods" when I get stressed. I know how terribly damaging such an eating disorder can be physically: to my heart, my esophagus, my teeth. To my soul. To my spirit.

As an adult woman there are things I now understand: who I am does not depend on what other people say that I am. Who I am is more than what you can see. Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder; some days I feel beautiful, most days I don’t. I would love to be the same size I was the first time my parents told me I was fat!

I now know that the thing that I ‘invented’ had a name and that I certainly wasn’t the first girl to use bulimia to control and punish herself. I’m not the first to feel the slow shame of keeping what I did a secret, one that burned my spirit as surely as my thrusting finger burned my throat. I also know that confession, that sharing a secret can be healing. It can be a beautiful thing. I believe.


If you are struggling with an eating disorder you can get help through NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) by through chat/text/call.

And if this story clicked for you please click on the heart below. If you are curious about my other articles you can check them out here.

This is me and Josh, in 1975, the year I believed I was beautiful.

Teenage years

About the Creator

Judey Kalchik

It's my time to find and use my voice.

Poetry, short stories, memories, and a lot of things I think and wish I'd known a long time ago.

You can also find me on Medium

And please follow me on Threads, too!

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Comments (1)

  • Mackenzie Davisabout a year ago

    Thank you for sharing this; what a powerful story. 🤯😫 I'm so sorry this happened to you, but I'm also very happy you've healed from it. ❤️ I can't believe anybody ever told you you were fat! You're gorgeous! Also, this is a beautiful read. So glad I saw it posted on Discord today.

Judey Kalchik Written by Judey Kalchik

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