IT HAPPENED TO ME: Years of Anorexia Caused Me to Develop Osteoporosis at Just 19 Years Old

If I sneeze too violently, I could break my ribcage.
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If I sneeze too violently, I could break my ribcage.
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If I sneeze too violently, I could break my ribcage.

If I trip on the sidewalk (why are they so damn uneven?!), I could break my leg.

Struggling with anorexia for the past 10 years gave me osteoporosis, and now I’m not even skinny anymore to show for it.

I became noticeably sick when I was only 11 years old. That summer, I went through two inpatient hospital settings. I came out at the lowest acceptable BMI (18.5) and was determined to stay that way. All through high school and up until now, I did.

In fact, instead of starving myself, I also morphed into “the runner.” This became my new obsession. It was perfect because it gave me an excuse as to why I can’t go out on Friday night and eat pizza. Because “I have a long run scheduled tomorrow morning.”

I planned my life around running: morning runs, recovery runs, threshold runs, tempo runs, long runs. Running even dictated my hair style; I couldn’t get the trendy straight-across bangs I loved because they are impossible to put into a ponytail and would get sweaty when I ran.

Last Christmas, I visited my oldest sister in Texas. The only thing I really remember from that week is that I really hated running on the cement all the time -- it hurt my knees. People who didn’t know me well admired my dedication and willpower.

I honestly thought I was healthy, and had beaten my eating disorder. But, during this entire time, from 11 to 19-and-a-half years old, I never once had a period. My poor body simply didn’t have the energy. Come to find out, periods are essential to building strong bones.

My first year of college, I joined the cross country and track team. I didn’t think it would be a big deal since I already ran as much as they did. But when I first met the team, I immediately started comparing myself to the other girls, just to double-check that I wasn’t the fattest.

While the other girls would run in just their sports bar and compression shorts, I always made sure to wear a black T-shirt, even when it was 100 degrees outside, because I was self-conscious about the fact that I was the only one on the team who did not have defined abs. In fact, my belly was always super bloated. (When undernourished, the body stores fat around the midsection, where the essential organs are located. This is what was happening to me because I had been in an energy-deficit state for so long.)

So, I kept running and ate even “cleaner” to get rid of that stubborn belly fat. I got up to 85.25 miles per week before my body started breaking down. I wanted to sleep all the time; I could never get enough sleep. I would skip class just to sleep.

It was around this time that my doctor made me take a bone density scan just as “a precaution” since I was 19 and still had not started my period. My endocrinologist said everything was probably fine.

My bone density score came in at a -3 z-score, placing me firmly within the osteoporosis range. In my college statistics class, we are learning about z-scores; a -3 score means that 99.7% of people my age have a higher bone density than I do, or that I am in the bottom 0.3% of the population. This score, -3, empirically told me that my bones are incredibly fragile and porous, and that I am not nearly as healthy as I was trying to be.

My point with all of this is to help anybody who is struggling with recovering from an eating disorder and/or over-exercising. Honestly, I don’t even know how osteoporosis will affect my future. I hope it doesn’t. But I have to be realistic and know that there is a chance I won’t ever be able to have kids, and that I will always have to be extra-careful about not falling down.

Right now, I am trying my best to recover fully. This means no running for a while, as I have multiple stress fractures and a torn tendon from overuse.

My whole situation frustrates me no end. How could I have GIVEN myself osteoporosis? Starving and over-exerting myself was a choice I made. Now I have to live with the consequences. God, how could I be so vain and stupid?

I know that's not really how it works. Anorexia is a serious mental illness. It’s not a choice any more than depression or the flu is a choice. What I do get to choose though, is to recover. Even though I am still struggling, especially with body-image, my hope is that this Christmas, I will be able to enjoy and actually remember the time spent with my family in Texas.