Jenna Wilgenburg-Staff Writer
It became a game. Some sort of twisted game with a dangerous outcome.
If I lose more weight, my abs will grow quicker.
But those were not her abs. Those were hip bones protruding from a malnourished frame.
Lauren Zonnefeld, a junior elementary education major at Dordt, battled an eating disorder from the summer before her senior year in high school through part of her freshman year.
Zonnefeld believes the world promotes a distorted body image that proclaims “less is more,” and she continues to fight this image to this day.
Dordt’s Campus Health sees cases of individuals with eating disorders every year, said Arlene Heynen, a Campus Health counselor. One of the most common eating disorders is anorexia nervosa. Individuals suffering from anorexia have a preoccupation with restricting food intake in order to become more and more thin, leading to excessive weight loss. The other most common disorder is bulimia nervosa, a condition that involves binge eating, followed by feelings of guilt and then purging – self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics.
Zonnefeld was bullied growing up and remembers being called “fatso” in first grade. This hurtful nickname remained in the back of her mind for years. At the end of her junior year in high school, she broke her leg, became sick from the pain medication, and a result of that sickness she experienced weight loss. While losing weight, Zonnefeld received the attention of others and accumulated compliments about how great she looked.
“You don’t realize how empowering it is when people tell you that,” Zonnefeld said.
The thinner Zonnefeld became, the nicer the girls in her class treated her and the more they started including her.
To keep the positive feedback coming, Zonnefeld tried to lose more weight. By the summer before her senior year in high school, the eating disorder had consumed her life.
“I made it like a game,” she said.
Zonnefeld started working out more, running and then hitting the weight room after volleyball practice. She also started to eat healthier.
“You want to keep people happy with you, but want to have that secret side,” Zonnefeld said.
Eating less became an obsession – a sort of competition with herself to see if she could consume less than the day before.
She started out by challenging herself to eat less than 1,200 calories each day.
600 calories. Of course, no one likes to lose the game.
She started with a bowl of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. For lunch, she had spinach salad with fat-free Italian dressing and an 80-calorie container of yogurt. An apple in the afternoon was followed by a plain sweet potato and small piece of chicken for supper. Although the foods she consumed were healthy choices, Zonnefeld’s calorie intake remained dangerously low compared to the 2,000-calorie average women are recommended to intake in order to maintain their weight.
The scale proved this recommendation: Seventy pounds melted from Zonnefeld’s body.
She dropped from 190 to 120 pounds in one year.
The consequences of eating disorders go far beyond weight loss. For instance, they can lead to osteoporosis, which is decreased bone density. Kidney failure due to dehydration is also a threat, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Muscle loss and weakness occur and the risk of heart failure increases. Dry hair and skin, resulting in hair loss, is common.
An extreme eating disorder may even lead to death.
While in the middle of the disorder, Lauren criticized her own body. Oh, my legs are still bigger than my classmates’. And my mom’s still smaller than me.
Eating disorders, particularly anorexia, have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder, according to the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association.
Things gradually started to change for Zonnefeld, however.
She did not have an “aha moment” but instead began to notice how tired she felt and how weak her body had become. She came down with pneumonia twice.
With her loved ones scared about the direction she was headed, Zonnefeld started to fight the eating disorder.
Zonnefeld did not receive any professional help, but her mom supported her through the recovery process that stretched into her freshman year of college.
Things did not change overnight though. Three years have passed since Zonnefeld directed herself down a healthier lifestyle path and she is just now eating normal-sized portions of foods she would not have touched back then.
While in the midst of her eating disorder, Zonnefeld found weight loss to be empowering. She enjoyed it, and even found encouragement in her extreme self-control. When she started to recover, it became an emotional process. She struggled with the desire to return to her lowest weight. Tears welled up in her eyes as she did not like how she looked anymore.
Zonnefeld said it is strange to change one’s mindset that gaining weight is a good thing after being used to seeing low numbers on the scale for so long.
Zonnefeld may have lost the game of beating the scale to the lowest number, but she ultimately won the fight to overcome her eating disorder. Her fight for a positive body image continues.
While both men and women struggle with negative views of their bodies and eating disorders, these issues prove less impactful on some.
“I’ve always been joyful in who I am,” said Tessa Howerzyl, a sophomore and member of the Dordt softball team.
With negative views of body image and eating disorders pervading society, Howerzyl said we are turning away from what God would want for us.
“We just need more strong leadership, promoting strong exercise but also strength in God,” she said. “Your faith in the Lord is the most important thing.”
“Talk to someone,” Zonnefeld said.
She seeks to encourage those who struggle with their body image or an eating disorder.
“Just remember that the size of your jeans or the number on the scale doesn’t define who you are as a person.”
If you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder, you can seek help on campus by scheduling a session with one of the counselors in Campus Health. Call 722-6990 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.