Living With Anorexia: Melissa Román

Restricting her diet from her teenage years to college finally led to collapse and recovery at a clinic.

4 min read

Melissa Román

I come from a very Catholic family in which everything has to be picture perfect, even if it's an illusion, like in "Desperate Housewives."

I was always thin, while my sister was the overweight one -- my mother put her on Weight Watchers when she was 12. Early on, I got the message from my mother that if you're thin, you get loved.

When I was in the ninth grade, we moved back to Nicaragua from Honduras, because democracy had been restored. All the girls in my new high school were so into dieting. I started restricting what I would eat and throwing up at the same time. My father caught me with laxatives once, but my family thought I just wanted attention. They didn't notice I wasn't getting my period.

Then I went to college at Louisiana State University. I looked at it as freedom, my ticket to salvation. I joined a sorority and there was much more pressure: LSU had a Latin community, but Latin girls didn't join the sororities, so I was the "different" one. Still, I made an incredibly close group of friends. My parents blame my eating disorder on the sorority, but they don't understand I would have had the same issues anywhere.

When they came for my graduation, they hadn't seen me in several months. They were shocked at how much weight I'd lost. They took me back to Nicaragua, where they took my passport away and wouldn't let me leave the country. But I couldn't get any real therapy there. I saw about seven therapists; one told me anorexia could be cured by pills, and another told me if I took vitamins I'd be fine.

I had no clear path ahead, and was just living at home with my parents. I was just going more and more downhill, and really depressed. The number on the scale was never good enough, no matter how low it got. In September of 2000 I finally told my dad, "If I don't get help, I'm going to die."

Within two days, my bags were packed and I came to Miami, where I eventually went into the residential program at Renfrew's Coconut Creek location. I won't write my lowest weight, because I don't want to trigger someone else, but it was very dangerous. During my first few weeks in Miami, I went to the ER four or five times because I kept getting dizzy and falling down, fainting and banging my head on the TV, things like that. And I still had no period.

I switched between inpatient care and day treatment a few times. My total time at Renfrew was probably three to four months before I got back up to a healthy weight. I also learned to use my voice -- instead of using my body -- to express how I felt. It got me into practicing communications skills. Now that I'm on my own, I still see my therapist twice a week, and my nutritionist every other week. Every day, I email my nutritionist what I ate that day as well as how I felt while I was eating.

I think about five years ago, how miserable I was, and how much it hurt-and how different it is now. I remember all my meals and the counting of fat and calories, how many times I weighed myself, measuring my whole body with a measuring tape. I remember that my friends didn't want to be with me because I was so consumed with food and the eating disorder.

I've come so far, but I still struggle with my body image and I still miss that false sense of security. But I know it's not real: You think you're in control, but in reality you're so out of control that you can't even eat a meal.

A year and a half ago, I had a relapse and almost had to go back to Renfrew. I'm still dealing with something that's a huge factor in my anorexia, which is that I'm a survivor of sexual abuse. Talking about that is a huge taboo in my family, as with many Latin families. So I've had to struggle with this on my own.

I think part of why I lost the weight was the smaller I got, the safer I felt; I was literally wearing kids' clothes to avoid dealing with my body and sexuality. I won't be able to completely recover until I can let go of that. I have to let go and move on, and that's the work I'm doing now in therapy.

Published on Aug. 11, 2005.