By Shannon Grimes
I have always considered myself to be average in size. Growing up, I was always in the 90th percentile for height and the 50th percentile for weight at my pediatrician’s office. I was tall for my age and had long limbs, so I was usually the thinnest one in my friend groups. I was a picky eater in my early years, so my parents taught me a lot about nutrition and encouraged me to eat whole grains and to stay away from too much sugar.
As I reached the age of puberty, my body began to demand more calories and I became overly concerned that I was eating too much compared to my younger sisters. I have always struggled with comparing myself to others. I don’t remember exactly when I began to monitor my food intake, but it was around this time. I carefully watched what my 10-year-old sister was eating, and chose to only eat the same amounts as she did. Little did I realize that I had begun to eat less and less and was teaching myself to ignore my body’s cues regarding hunger. I was tall and thin for my age, so my parents didn’t notice at first – they assumed that I was fine. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that we realized that I had a deeper issue and that I desperately needed help.
The winter of my first year of high school I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder called Anorexia Nervosa, which is described in the dictionary as, “an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.” I was a 14-year-old girl who didn’t want to grow up. Subconsciously, I believe that I wanted my body to stay the same size. I definitely struggled with growing up, and my body changing was very scary because I did not like change at all – I still don’t! Unlike many people with Anorexia, I did not struggle with body image in the sense that I believed I was overweight. I wasn’t exposed to models in magazines or celebrities at that age, so I don’t think I intentionally starved myself or thought it would make me more attractive to be thinner.
I am a person who likes order and I tend to be a people pleaser. I have strong opinions, but I also want the approval of others. Those two traits were part of my struggle. In my middle school years, I found myself wanting to make my own choices regarding my clothes, screen time, bed time, friends, etc., but at the same time I still wanted to please my parents. Eating is one area where I felt I could have some control.
During the holidays, I had been sick with strep throat for weeks and couldn’t seem to get better despite the use of strong antibiotics. I had lost a lot of weight, but we initially assumed that it was because of my illness. During this time, I had developed specific foods that felt “safe” to eat and was exercising more than necessary. When I went to my pediatrician’s office one day in January, my parent’s worst fears were confirmed. I weighed just 79 pounds and my doctor informed us that she believed I had Anorexia. We left the office and immediately drove to Akron Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine. The doctor there was well known at the time for her successful approach to treating eating disorders. If left untreated, Anorexia can lead to the development of serious physical health problems, such as heart conditions or kidney failure. When the body is in starvation mode, the lack of nutrition can lead to death.
The staff at the hospital wanted to admit me at the hospital that day, but my parents begged them to let us attempt the treatment together at home before I had to be admitted. The nutritionist gave us some high calorie samples of food and drink and a caloric daily requirement that had to be met. If I did not gain 2 pounds over the weekend, I would start my stay at the hospital on Monday. With this new information, we knew we needed to be a team. My whole family was in shock to face this truth about my struggle. We rallied together, but ultimately it was up to me to fight through my tendencies and habits. I had to show them that I could do this, that I was not helpless. I did not want to be like the other girls with eating disorders at the hospital who looked so hopeless and angry. My need to please others – in this case, my parents and my doctors – is what saved me. I would not let them down. “I am Shannon Heather Grimes,” I thought to myself, “I am a fighter and I am brave.” I left the hospital that day with a new attitude. I gained 3 pounds in just two days. It wasn’t easy to force myself to consume the calories, but I knew it was necessary if I was ever going to lead a normal life. The staff agreed to let me continue my treatment at home.
With the help of my doctor, a counselor, and my family, things began to change in my life. I gained the weight I needed over a 6-month period. I went to the doctor every week and had weigh-ins and numerous talks with a nutritionist. I had gained over 30 pounds and I felt better than I had in a long time. The doctors and nurses joked with me about how I was the poster child for beating anorexia, but I always told them that I could not have done it without my family’s immense support. It was the scariest thing that I have ever been through. I did it for myself, my family and for my future. I wanted to get married and I wanted to have children. I knew that if I did not figure out how to take care of myself, that might not be a possibility for me. I was determined to be “normal” again.
That year of recovery was probably the hardest year of my life. I did not like to go out in public because people looked at me and whispered about me. It was hard to ignore that I was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and I desperately needed help. I looked like I was just skin and bones and I absolutely did not like who I was. I didn’t like being so thin, but I was also afraid to get bigger. I did not want to change, but I also did not want to stay the same. I was embarrassed of who I had become, but I was also terrified of who I would be when it was over.
After a very long year of hard work to maintain my new weight, I was finally allowed to exercise again. I started lifting weights and became confident with my new body. I learned that I am not defined by the way that I look and should never compare my appearance to those around me. I am uniquely me. I can remember a specific time in that journey where I was sitting on my bed thinking to myself, “I want to use my story to inspire others to be the best they can be.” I concluded that becoming a personal trainer would be the perfect option for me to help others be the best that they can be!
I want the girls and boys that I work with to grow up to be content with the way God made them and to realize that healthy people can be all shapes and sizes. I have developed a passion for people who struggle with body image because I have been there myself. I realize that my story is unique and that most people do not come out of an eating disorder the way that I have. I have to constantly remind myself, that I am enough. I am beautiful and I am perfect the way that God made me.
Everyone has a story to tell and this is mine. I plan to use the experiences of my life to inspire those around me to want to live long, happy, active lives.
help others struggling with the same issue, no matter what their age. At the present time, Shannon continues a healthy eating regimen and has even coached others about the importance of fitness and exercise as an intern with a local fitness facility.Editor’s Note: Shannon Grimes is a student at Malone University. She has offered to tell her story with the hope that it will help someone.
How to battle anorexia