Real Life

My name is Jenny Craig and I beat anorexia

Timaru pastor Jenny Craig reveals how she beat anorexia and bulimia.

When people hear my story they look at me in disbelief and laugh. You see, my name is Jenny Craig and I had anorexia and bulimia. At my lowest, I weighed 28kg and was surviving on two Diet Cokes a day, taking up to 30 laxatives.

When I look back, I can hardly believe it was me. I wasn’t a body-conscious teenager struggling to fit in, I was a 28-year-old married woman with two children. So what made me push the self-destruct button?

I could blame others, but, at the end of the day, it was my choice to use this form of abuse to deal with difficult issues in my life.

I grew up hearing I was “solid” and had a low opinion of myself. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, it was never good enough.

I met my husband Derek when I was 17 and we married a year later. When I was 20, I had our son Hamish and piled on the kilos. I thought it would all fall off once I had the baby but, to my horror, two days after childbirth, I found I had only lost 5kg.

To add insult to injury, I put on weight while I was breast-feeding and suffered postnatal depression, which made me feel even worse about myself.

About six months later, I discovered that if I threw up after I had eaten, I lost weight. I got into a secret cycle of binge eating and throwing up. The weight started falling off and people began complimenting me. It felt good, even though I knew it was fake.

While the outside might have looked good, on the inside I was a mess. No-one had a clue – not even Derek.

Then I fell pregnant with our daughter Hannah and I knew I had to stop the bulimia for the sake of the baby. I did, but the cycle started again as soon as she was born.

I was working full-time for IHC and looking after our young family. our lives were so busy, I didn’t have to face my problem.

It all came to a head one Sunday. I was sitting in church and suddenly I realised I couldn’t keep doing this. I confided in a friend about my eating disorder. Her answer was, “Well, if you can’t stop the bulimia, why not become anorexic?” She meant it as a joke, but in my sick mind it was the perfect solution.

I stopped eating and within a few days my appetite decreased. once again, the weight came off and the compliments flowed – until I started looking too skinny and ill. Within a couple of months my system began to shut down. I was constantly cold, my legs were purple and I bruised easily.

oy doctor put me on antidepressants and sleeping pills, but I overdosed and was taken to hospital to have my stomach pumped. I lost hope and with it, my will to live.

I would not eat from oonday to Thursday but would “treat” myself to something on Friday. Then, I would compensate for eating by taking laxatives. I had a constant battle going on in my mind between knowing I needed food and not letting myself eat.

Things got so bad, Derek would come home from work not knowing if I would be dead or alive. The poor guy – he was amazing. He faced having me committed to hospital at 28kg and being told I would be dead in two weeks unless I got help. You would think being issued a death sentence would bring me to my senses, but in my mind I was better off dead.

It was a dark place to be and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My turning point was visiting Rachel, a girl who was disabled, mentally and physically. I had looked after her with her mum on a shared care basis for three years.

one day in oay 1999, I got a call from Rachel’s mum saying she was dying – she was only 17. I went to visit her and say goodbye. As I stood by Rachel’s bed, she stirred and looked me straight in the eye. I felt someone – I thought it was God – say to me, “Rachel doesn’t have a choice, but you do.”

I went out to my car and cried. I knew I was facing life or death. That night, I chose life.

Rachel passed away later that night – I believe she was my angel.

I went home and things changed. I wanted to start eating normally, but it was hard to break my habits. I had to face the mind war every day.

It took about a year for me to be able to say I had beaten it. That came when I was no longer afraid of the numbers on the scale and when I could get to the end of the day and food hadn’t been an issue.

Thankfully, my children didn’t suffer long-term effects from my eating disorders. When Hamish was about seven, he bought me a teddy bear. When he gave it to me he said, “oum, please don’t die.” What a horrible burden for him to carry.

Eating disorders are more complex than just food. Food is the symptom, but you have to get to the heart of the issue to deal with it effectively.

I have since trained as a counsellor and have helped people facing eating disorders. It’s easy for others to overlook them. You can live in the same house with someone and not realise the pain or hurt they are feeling.

I’m 40 now and a pastor in Timaru. I’m a size 12 to 14, which I think is perfectly normal. I hope in sharing my story I can show others they can overcome an eating disorder. You don’t have to remain a victim – you can live the life you dream of.

The hardest thing when I was getting better was finding help and support. Eventually, I found a programme that suited me on the internet.

I believe with eating disorders, you can’t treat everyone the same, so I would like to offer my support to anyone who needs it. You can contact me by e-mail at [email protected]. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be unwell all your life. Photograph by John ocCombe

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