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Bulimia Nervosa Health Center

Living With Bulimia: Kathy Benn

A mother describes her daughter's struggle with an eating disorder that finally ended in death.
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In her early teens, Shel was "discovered" by Warner Brothers Records. She had a beautiful singing voice, and what started out as playing around with a karaoke machine turned into recording sessions and demo tapes and then a multialbum contract at the age of 14.

She traveled all over the world, and I went with her, but I worried about how she almost seemed compelled to perform. I later learned that pleasing others is a big part of the picture for people who develop eating disorders. In fact, after her death I found that she'd been marking up a book of mine, the Eating Disorders Sourcebook, underlining things like "desire for respect and admiration," "need for escape and a safe place to go," and "lack of trust in self and in others."

As Shelby got more involved with music, she started to wear only flannel shirts and baggy pants. We interpreted it as Shel dressing "grunge," because the Seattle sound was big in the music industry then. We didn't make the connection that she was hiding under her clothes.

Changes in Behavior

Then she started spending much more time by herself, and we noticed that she would leave the dinner table a lot. It became apparent that she was very uncomfortable staying at the table, and when we tried to keep her from leaving, she took to mincing her food, cutting and cutting and cutting it, and her posture became peculiar. She was almost acting like a squirrel at the table.

Then at Easter time in 2001, I noticed bright red splatters all over the toilet bowl in her bathroom. I recognized the color of the Swedish fish she'd gotten in her Easter basket. I spoke to her about it, and she got so angry that she didn't speak to me for a few days. Then she came to me in the kitchen in tears, and said, "Mom, I didn't want to admit that this was going on. I thought when you pointed the finger at me about the throwing up that I would just stop, and I can't and I don't know what to do." And she just sobbed. We found out that Shelby had gotten down to 100 pounds and was throwing up as much as 14 times a day.

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