Day 2: Hungering for release (Causes and care)

Anne Broache

Amy Proger has a theory about women?s progress: Financially and professionally, women have made significant advancements, but in other areas they are becoming less sure of themselves.

Take, for example, body image.

?The more progress they?ve made, at the same time, eating disorders have become a lot more prevalent,? Proger said. ?There?s this need to become more androgynous, more like a man.?

Body image is a topic close to Proger, who said she has grappled with and mostly recovered from anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Through that struggle, the Education junior said she has arrived at a sense of self-realization that most people never reach.

?I am so much more in touch with myself,? she said, ?and I have such a better understanding of myself than I ever have in my entire life.?

Weight and appearance were always important in her life, Proger said. In third grade she went on her first ?diet,? an arbitrary set of rules dictating how much fat her snacks could contain.

Although her early experimentation might sound trivial, it did not stay that way.

?I was a pretty happy kid,? she said. ?It wasn?t really until high school when things started to take root a little more.?

Proger said that in ninth and tenth grades she sometimes experimented with starving herself. But eleventh grade was a tougher-than-usual year for her, she said. A foot surgery and subsequent weight gain ? caused by her immobility ? led to a period of unhappiness that lasted through senior-year college applications and witnessing her best friend date her twin brother.

?There was really nothing so bad going on,? Proger said, ?but I was still kind of reeling from that general unhappiness that I had throughout high school, which I never really addressed.?

So she launched ?one of those weeks? of starvation. It soon spiraled into an intense, extended routine. Proger said she typically ate nothing all day and then indulged her parents with a small dinner in their presence.

By November of her senior year, her friends and family, unbeknownst to her, had begun worrying about her weight loss. One evening Proger was doing homework at her desk when her mother approached her. Proger said she denied having an eating disorder but saw her doctor anyway. When her weight reached its lowest point, Proger entered an outpatient treatment program near home, but that was not the end of the problem.

?I was really in denial about it, and I didn?t do what they told me to do,? Proger said.

She took her medication irregularly, lied to her nutritionist and stockpiled cans of Ensure, a dietary supplement drink, in her locker, she said.

Her parents were hesitant to let her leave for Northwestern in fall 2000, but Proger said she needed the freedom.

?I had every intention of coming here and starving and not doing anything else,? she said.

She stayed at NU for five weeks, in which time she reverted to her original low weight. Then she nearly passed out at a session with her Evanston therapist.

Proger?s mother flew out to take her home. Shortly afterward, Proger began a month of residential treatment at the Renfrew Center, a nationally renowned eating-disorder clinic in Philadelphia.

?It was not the kind of life that an 18-year-old girl should be living,? Proger said. ?I felt so much like an infant, and I was treated like that.?

Proger said she credits the 12 hours of therapy per day for helping to stifle urges to starve. After being released from the program, she spent the rest of the year working at home.

But recovery eluded her. Her life, she said, became consumed with food, and she would purge three or four times per day. She said she felt isolated and overcome with emptiness.

?The food was kind of like a metaphor,? Proger said. ?No matter how much I ate, I never felt full. I never felt satisfied.?

She knew she had to return to school, despite her parents? hesitance. So Proger started over as a freshman Fall Quarter 2001. She joined a sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, during Winter Quarter, where she said she has made many good friends.

Although Proger isolated herself and purged at times that year, she reduced the frequency of those practices, thanks to a combination of medication and therapy, Proger said. ?At times I felt really hopeless, but I never gave up on myself.?

Proger spent a rocky summer in Evanston by herself after freshman year. She grew increasingly depressed, purged frequently and would spend all day in bed.

A new antidepressant helped, and by sophomore year her condition had hit another upswing.

This past summer, the social policy major interned at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where she researched early-childhood programs. Welfare and child issues as well as family policy issues pique her interest, Proger said, and she hopes to get a doctorate and become a researcher and professor.

?And then when I retire from that, I want to open a knitting store,? she said, noting that her latest projects have been baby sweaters for new-mother friends and co-workers.

Proger said she purged only a few times this summer, and since being back at school, she has continued to keep the behavior under control.

She meets with a therapist once a week and plans to keep seeing her until at least the end of college, she said. ?Every time I go in there, I get something out of it,? she said.

Being healthy is about understanding your body, Proger said, and listening when it says it is hungry or full.

?Once you learn to eat like that, you don?t really want to eat junk food all day anyway,? she said. ?If you really let yourself, just really tune into what you want, your body doesn?t work like that.?