“You’re such a skinny-minnie!”
“Your waist is so small! “
“You eat like a bird.”
“Why don’t you eat?”
For all of my life, I have been a tiny girl. Not short-tiny, mind you. Skinny-tiny.
Being vertically-challenged doesn’t bother me. It’s the horizontal bit that draws my ire.
I’ve been underweight for as long as I can remember, and I got tired of it really fast. When you’re a skinny girl, you don’t get a lot of help or sympathy for your particular weight problem. In fact, most girls can’t understand why you see it as a problem to begin with. “Don’t you want to be skinny?” They ask.
No. No, I don’t.
I don’t want to be excessively skinny. Skinniness sucks.
When you’re not very underweight, then it’s not a problem. You can blame your skinniness on genetics, biological factors, or other uncontrollable elements of your life. You look in-shape without even trying, and you don’t have to hold back from eating what you want because you’re supposed to be gaining weight. Being a little underweight is like being a little overweight; it’s completely natural, and you can still look and feel great despite of it.
However, being very underweight is not nearly as desirable. It gets in the way of a lot of things you want to do in life. Why? Because it wasn’t natural, and so your health suffers from it. I should know; I suffered from it, too.
Around high school, I completely lost my appetite. I hardly ate anything at all and, if I did eat, it would be an extremely small meal. I didn’t have an eating disorder like the ones they teach you about in high school health classes; I didn’t want to be skinnier, and I didn’t starve myself or count calories or do anything else to reduce food intake for the sheer purpose of being skinny. I just didn’t get hungry. I had no appetite, and I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that.
Instead, I just didn’t eat. On my best days, my mother would cook me a good dinner at home (which I would have to eat just to escape parental wrath) and I’d eat a hamburger at school for lunch. On the worst days, I would skip both breakfast and dinner and for lunch I would have 4-5 fruit snack gummies. The rest of the bag I gave to my friends for them to eat.
My family, friends, and teachers couldn’t tell at first that my eating habits had deteriorated so rapidly. When I chose to eat and how I chose to throw my food away made it difficult for the people around to keep track of how much I was actually consuming. Only after my health started failing–when I couldn’t help but faint in class or at cross country practices, and I had to sleep for 18+ hours on weekends just to get through them–did people start to notice. Even then, though, I didn’t have the motivation or the knowledge to actually change my habits, and the people around me couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just fix the problem myself.
After all, being skinny isn’t a real problem, right?
Turns out it is. Aside from more well-known eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, there are many other varieties that exist too. In addition, your lifestyle can affect what food you have access to and whether or not you can eat what you need. Finally, you could have a problem with your digestive system, pituitary glands, or other important internal systems that can impede your appetite. For me, my lack of appetite was a result of how my stomach processed food. Having not eaten much as a kid, my stomach developed in such a way that it doesn’t produce the digestive enzymes I need to break down foods quickly. As a result, I don’t feel hungry as often as I should and then I don’t eat.
I didn’t learn that in the nurses’ office at my high school, nor in the emergency room after fainting in class. I learned that when I came to Cornell University and found the Cornell Healthy Eating Program (C.H.E.P.). There, I finally saw a doctor and a nutritionist who helped me narrow down what was wrong. Although we couldn’t figure why the process started, we figured out why my digestive system doesn’t work as well now that I’m an adult and we figured out what I could do to reverse it. With a few digestive enzyme pills, I’m already seeing tremendous change in my appetite and I’m finally gaining some weight. To keep the progress up, I can participate in the programs group help session or continue to see their nutriotinist at an affordable rate.throughout my time here at Cornell. I greatly appreciate the help I’m receiving through this program, because finally I feel as if I have the motivation and knowledge about my specific condition to actually make changes in my eating habits.
I also realized that I was always extremely bitter about being skinny. I carried that bitterness into college. I used to feel like I couldn’t help being underweight or never feeling really hungru, and I resented anyone who tried to tell me that I should “try harder” to eat better. Being underweight forced me to stop running in high school–a sport and activity I loved dearly–and I lost the opportunity to be active and exercise in the ways I would have liked. Every time I got a dizzy spell from standing up after a lecture, every time I fell short of breathe walking around campus, every time I came close to fainting during work–I hated being skinny. And later on, I started to dislike having people call me skinny or telling me that they wanted to be skinnier. It made me very unhappy in some ways.
I’m not completely over being skinny. I still think being especially underweight is a drag, but finally I found to combat my appetitie problems in a way that made me feel like I had control over my situation. For that reason, I’m more optimistic than ever that I won’t have to be this skinny for very long and that my health will finally get better.
It’s why, for any student who may be struggling with a food issue, I greatly recommend checking out C.H.E.P.. Even if they can’t help you overcome your problem right away, simply the act of getting support and information for yourself can be very empowering. I’m glad that Cornell University chose to have this program available to students.