The Accidental Bulimic
By Rayni Joan

When I was twelve or maybe ten -- I can't remember -- I accidentally discovered bingeing and purging. It was some time around 1952. I had never heard the words "binge"or "purge," and "bulimia" as a term was years away from the pop vernacular.

Although I was thirty pounds overweight when it started and I quickly slimmed down as bingeing and purging took over my life, throwing up my meals wasn't meant as a dieting technique. I was an unhappy kid in an unhappy home before bulimia, and I was even more unhappy afterwards -- except for rejoicing in the secretive daily weigh-in and tape measuring I couldn't live without.

Before and after my obsessive eating disorder began, my warring parents were so busy scrounging to make ends meet they had no time to notice what was going on with me. We shared a house with my maternal grandma and grandpa who loved each other and modeled a peaceful relationship. He was fat and she was fat, and they were both happy that way. Grandma felt beautiful. Grandpa adored her. In Grandma's kitchen, food equaled love. To them, being fat meant mostly that they finally had enough to eat. They felt prosperous, and they were happy to show it by carrying extra weight. I never threw up my happy Grandma's food, only my unhappy mother's. Years later, my Freudian therapist would have a field day with that one.

In my novel The Skinny: Recollections of America's First Bulimic, I describe many experiences from my life. People have asked me why I chose to write a novel instead of a memoir. It is mostly a memoir, but since I felt free to run the memories through my imagination before I put them down on paper, and since James Frey's controversial book was in the process of being dragged through the wringer for his creative improvements in what actually happened, I decided to call The Skinny a novel.

Integrity has always figured large in my life, ironic since the twenty-five years when bulimia ruled me were loaded with secrecy. There's no way a bulimic can be open except maybe when she's proselytizing -- something I did only with my mom. Bingeing and purging seemed like a brilliant idea to her, but she hated vomiting so she felt doomed to a dowdy, fat life. She worried about having a fat daughter and cheered my originality. When my proselytizing didn't take, I clammed up and hid myself and my addiction in the water closet. Denial possessed mom as bulimia possessed me. And so my teenage years passed….

(See for information about The Skinny: Recollections of America's First Bulimic.)