At one point, anorexia sufferer Danielle Powers weighed less than 67 pounds. Contributed photo.
Danielle Powers was weak. She began to lose her hair and she couldn’t pick up a 12-pack of soda. She had a heart rate of 30 and couldn’t walk up stairs with a backpack full of books.
A fear would go through her mother when she went to wake her up in the morning. She was afraid she would find Danielle dead.
Danielle has anorexia. At her lowest, she weighed less than 67 pounds.
“When I would get out of the shower and look in the mirror, being able to count my ribs, I thought that was like the coolest thing ever,” she said. “I was so small that I got in the car and I couldn’t even turn the air bag light on.”
This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and anorexia nervosa is one of three main eating disorders. The other two classified eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
According to Kathy Benedetto, senior vice president of Tennessee Children’s Services for Frontier Health, people affected by anorexia have an obsession with their weight, eating and food. People will weigh themselves repeatedly, eat small portions of certain food and will exercise constantly.
Danielle would do all of those things. She constantly weighed herself, ran until she couldn’t run any more and only ate a small cup of cereal as her entire meal for the day.
Some of the signs and symptoms of anorexia include extreme thinness, intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, lack of menstruation among girls and women and extremely restricted eating.
Over time, an anorexic person can experience thinning of bones, brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, muscle wasting and weakness, low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse, among others.
Bulimia nervosa is when a person has recurrent or frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food and then doing something to compensate for the eating, such as forced vomiting, use of laxatives, excessive exercise or a combination of these behaviors, Benedetto said.
Some of the symptoms include chronically sore throat and acid reflux disorder among many others.
The third classified eating disorder is binge-eating disorder. Benedetto said a lot of attention has been given to this disorder over the last few years with obesity. People with binge-eating disorder lose control over how much they eat but unlike bulimia, they do not purge their bodies of the food or do excessive exercise, which leaves the people affected by it overweight.
Danielle was not always anorexic. She was a healthy eater growing up. But one day, she was eating with a friend who was on a diet. She had ordered three sides of macaroni and her friend told her the calories in those three sides of macaroni contained as many calories as she needed in a day.
So she began counting calories. Even then, it wasn’t bad. She was eating 1,200 calories a day. But when a boyfriend cheated on her, Danielle got it in her mind that she was too fat for him and that’s why he cheated.
Things went downhill from there.
“When I went to the doctor, the first time I ever went, I was 91 pounds,” she said. “Then I got down to where I only ate a cup of cereal or a cup of yogurt a day and exercised like crazy.”
Danielle’s parents watched her going through this and couldn’t do anything. When they would bring it up or try and talk to her about her weight problem, Danielle would become enraged. Her father cried, watching his daughter slowly waste away.
Eventually, Danielle sought help because her hair had begun to fall out. She found a nutritionist in Jonesborough that she started going to. But at first, she still did not want to help herself.
“We would go out in public and people would ask if I was a drug user or if I had cancer because all my hair was falling out,” Danielle said. “It made me feel horrible. Still in my mind, I thought I was beautiful and that people were just jealous.”
One day, her nutritionist sat her down and told Danielle she was going to die and if she wasn’t going to help herself, the nutritionist was giving up on her. She began to notice that other people would talk about her.
Danielle cried that day and decided to get healthy again. It was slow going and sometimes Danielle would binge eat until she made herself sick. Then she would feel terrible about it and use laxatives to compensate for the calories.
But she kept fighting. Every 10 pounds, her parents would reward her with something. She wasn’t allowed to weigh herself or exercise for a while. When she hit 100 pounds, her mom started jumping up and down with joy.
Now, Danielle weighs 134 pounds, a healthy weight for a woman 5 feet 6 inches tall. She has started exercising again, but is learning to take days off and using the exercise to gain muscle weight.
She may have done permanent damage to herself. Danielle’s heart rate will never be the same and she may never be able to carry a child.
She is working to raise awareness in the area about eating disorders and has already talked at a local high school. She hopes to begin a platform to raise awareness and begin speaking at more schools.
She still struggles with the mindset of an anorexic person.
“In my mind, I still think I’ll battle every day,” Danielle said. “Every day, I still try to get it off my mind, but it’s nearly impossible.”