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
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 www.raynijoan.com for information about The Skinny:
Recollections of America's First Bulimic.)