Living With Anorexia: Denise Demers
By Denise Myers Demers
Weight has always been an issue for me. In my high school yearbook I wrote
as my goal, "Stay 105," which is pretty sad when you think of it.
In the summer of 2004, I was about to turn 45, and I decided I wanted to
meet that goal. The goal became my focus, because so many other things felt too
hard to deal with. There were so many aspects of my life I couldn't control:
being a partner with a busy spouse, working full time in a high school, the
stress of keeping going, being a mother to three girls.
I'd get up every single morning at 3:30 am, through 20-below Vermont
winters, and run for an hour and a half before going to work. At breakfast, I'd
allow myself one whole-grain cookie, which I could nibble on and make last an
hour. Then I wouldn't eat again until after work, when I'd allow myself another
At dinner, it would be a challenge to sit at the table and pass the food I
liked on to my daughter and not take any of it, eating only vegetables, and
leaving the table with that gnaw of hunger in my stomach. Those were highs for
me, successes, doable challenges.
My family could see what was going on, but I'm such a strong-willed person
that they didn't have the courage to confront me. At work, the school nurse and
the social worker, who had become good friends, kept talking to me, trying to
get me to realize that the train had run away. At that point I had gotten down
to 87 pounds.
It was at a faculty meeting that it finally hit me. The principal was
talking about the well-being of our school community, and it felt like she was
talking directly to me. I thought, "Here I am a counselor, trying to help
adolescents, and wearing my own problems so prominently in my life. I need
An eating disorders counselor I had worked with for a short time many years
ago told my husband and me, "If it were my daughter, I would want her to go
to the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia." I was just so depleted that I said
I spent two months there, from December 2004 to January 2005. It helped me
understand more about the culture and the media and the diet-conscious society
we live in.
It's really a fallacy: Dieting is not a healthy way of living, losing weight
is not an accomplishment to be proud of. What's more important is the
connection that I have with other people, with my family. That's where I can
get satisfaction in my life. I'm also on an SSRI antidepressant -- I resisted
that, but it's really helped. And I'm still doing regular couples therapy with
my husband to help rebuild our relationship.
It's still a daily struggle for me to eat. I feel uncomfortable eating in
front of others, at social gatherings. The high that I get from not eating
lures me like a seductive phantom, telling me that I'll feel better if I don't
eat, but I know the opposite is true. I have more power as a person when I do
Some days are better than others, but I feel like I could never go back to
where I was before. I don't want to go back there. I want to keep going toward
Published on Aug. 11, 2005.