Overcoming Bulimia: A Black Woman’s Struggle For Perfection
At age 12, Monqueescha didn’t know what having an eating disorder meant. She only knew that binging on her favorite comfort foods and purging immediately afterwards made her feel good.
She got the idea after watching the 1996 drama, Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story, a film about a world-class runner who let bulimia and anorexia threaten her Olympic dreams and marriage.
“In junior high, of course, you start developing and I was not happy about it,” says Monqueescha, 44, reminiscing on her pre-teen tomboyish figure. As she watched Pena get thinner and thinner in the movie, Monqueescha thought her method was worth a try.
“At lunch time, I was at school. So really the binging and purging happened at night during dinner time,” Monqueescha recalls. “I would eat as much as they thought was appropriate for me to eat and then I would go to the restroom, turn on the water faucet and I would purge.”
Bulimia is a life-threatening eating disorder that involves regular binging. Then, to prevent weight gain, a bulimia patient will over-exercise and purge through vomiting or using laxatives.
The psychiatric illness is usually associated with depression, which Monqueescha was diagnosed with at an early age.
“I was always thin and just getting that woman body, growing into that woman body, it depressed me,” Monqueescha says. “I didn’t want to have that figure. I still wanted to be skinny.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, bulimia affects 1 to 2 percent of adolescent and young adult women. About 80 percent of bulimia patients are female.
Eating disorders, for the most part, have always been thought of as an upper to middle-class, white, Judeo-Christian, female disease, according to Pam Cleland of Eating Recovery Center (ERC). But that’s far from the truth. People of different genders and ethnicities are suffering from the illness.
“It’s happening all over,” Cleland says. “It used to be 1 in 10 men. Now it’s about 1.5 to 2 men. It’s really pervasive. It is really a pervasive problem.”
Since age 12, Monqueescha’s mind would trigger this need to maintain her weight every three years. So, she’d eat, purge and drink water or Gatorade – to replace the electrolytes lost through vomiting.