The effects of eating disorders and the power of self-love.
Thump! 16-year-old Reyna rushed to the door after realizing her package had been delivered. She had just woken up. Swoosh! A light breeze swept her hair as she picked the big cardboard box up and closed the door. She went into her room and quickly grabbed her scissors. Swipe! She cut open the box and excitedly took out a brand new weighing scale…
Meanwhile, her brain has billions of working nerve cells, called neurons, arranged in different patterns to coordinate all her bodily functions, including her thoughts, emotions, behaviors, movements and sensations. One part of her brain, the amygdala, is working hard to produce her sheer excitement as she opens her package, much like how the creatures of a forest work together to maintain the ecosystem. Currently, the forest is bright and lively, mimicking the excitement Reyna feels.
After taking several healthcare courses, Reyna had become increasingly aware of her body and her health. She had yearned an accurate way to measure her weight and calculate her Body Mass Index (BMI). After all, she needed to ensure that her BMI stayed between 18.5 and 24.9! She stepped on the weighing scale.
“Not bad!” she exclaimed. She quickly calculated her BMI to be 22.3, perfectly in the recommended range.
Instantly, the forest in her head comes to life. The creatures are led to a glowing river, filled with a golden liquid. As the news of this new river spreads, more and more creatures come to share a drink in the river. This golden liquid is called serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of leadership, optimism, and confidence. As more serotonin is consumed, she builds more and more confidence in herself and her body.
She started to smile.
Suddenly, she looked at the clock and realized that she must leave for school to prevent being tardy. She walked to chemistry, her first period class, with this newfound confidence. Later, she ended up in the cafeteria to pick up her lunch.
Ha ha ha! She turned her head to see where all the laughter was coming from. She saw the beautiful Ivy, the most popular kid in school. Oh, how she wished she could be a part of that group! As she took her slice of pizza, she noticed the clothes Ivy was wearing: a mini skirt, crop top, and boots. She then looked at herself, wearing sweatpants and an oversized hoodie, and instantly began to feel self-conscious. She started comparing herself to Ivy, and at the same time, started wishing that she had a slimmer body, like Ivy. At that moment, she forgot about her healthy body and BMI and began to criticize her body shape. What good was a healthy BMI if she still looked overweight?
The forest trembles, as if an earthquake had hit. All the creatures go back into their respective homes, as a storm is headed their way. Dark, ominous clouds start to form in the once clear sky, and lightning strikes. Suddenly, a pitch-black liquid falls from the clouds like rain, but darker. As the black liquid touches the ground, the grass burns as if the liquid was acid. The name for this liquid is oxytocin, another hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for not only the pure emotion of love, but the wretched jealousy and schadenfreude. She can no longer control the forest. More and more oxytocin falls from the gloomy clouds.
Her smile dissipated as she ran away, leaving her slice of pizza behind. She was going to skip lunch today.
She went to sit in a corner of her school, alone.
Before she knew it, she found herself at home, standing on top of her weighing scale. 122 Pounds. This time, however, she was disappointed in herself for being so heavy.
Now, her forest is shaking harder than ever before. The creatures move to a safer location while the dark clouds now release a new liquid, silver in color. As the silver liquid touches the oxytocin from before, it morphs into the oxytocin, increasing the amounts of black ooze. This silver liquid is called cortisol, a hormone released when someone has an edge over you, causing feelings of dissatisfaction and comparison. The once beautiful grass of the forest is almost completely burnt.
Jealousy and dissatisfaction overwhelmed Reyna. She decided that she would take any steps possible to lower her weight, with her goal being to weigh less than 110 pounds.
Over the next few months, Reyna changed. She started doing the famous Master Cleanse diet, an all-liquid diet in which you only consume a concoction of water, maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. She constantly looked at her mirror, once in the morning and once in the evening, to check her appearance. She started to obsess over her shape and weight, constantly trying to find flaws with her body. She took upon excessive exercising, doing multiple workouts and running numerous miles everyday while not replenishing herself with the nutrients needed to maintain such a strenuous workout. She even withdrew herself from many social activities and never went to any social gatherings of any sort. She continuously rejected plans of eating out in an effort to avoid eating in front of others. She had a negative and distorted image of herself, lowering her self esteem and thus destroying any confidence she once had.
Her forest starts to wither as the lovely creatures start to die. Her amygdala has stopped functioning properly, and Reyna is overwhelmed. Right as her parents start picking up on the warning signs of her upcoming eating disorder, the forest dies, covered in the black ooze.
It was too late. Reyna was rushed to the hospital.
98 pounds… Incredibly underweight.
“Hurry! Hurry!” one of the doctors exclaimed in apprehension. DING! DING! DING! The ‘CODE BLUE’ bell in the hospital rung. This was considered a medical emergency, and Reyna needed immediate help. Needless to say, her parents were worried sick.
DING! DING! DING! The bells became louder and louder. The sound snapped Reyna out of her trance. She was trembling, and soon understood that she had been dreaming. She was still in the small corner of her school, alone. The bell was not to signify an emergency in the hospital, but rather to alert all students that lunch was over and the next period was starting.
Meanwhile, the forest in Reyna’s head was still covered in some black ooze, but not nearly as much as in her dream. However, the forest was now glazed with a blue liquid, called melatonin, a hormone responsible for her sleeping and dreaming.
As she went home that day, she started to comprehend the hidden message of her dream. She did not want her forest to die. She did not want to be stuck in a hospital, rather than achieving her goals. And most importantly, she did not want to be so self-conscious. Reyna did not want to reach a certain weight goal; she wanted to have confidence in her present weight.
Although it took a while, Reyna was finally able to wake up every morning with a smile on her face. She had struggled to get to this point, sometimes feeling waves of depression hit her, but she managed to stay strong. And her weighing scale? It was sitting on the top shelf of her room, only to be used when need be.
One morning, Reyna walked to the mirror and gave herself a big smile before going downstairs, something she had never done before.
Her forest was saved. The creatures came out of their hiding place as the sunshine dried the black oxytocin and cortisol ooze away. The creatures were finally able to drink out of the golden river once more, refueling Reyna with the serotonin that she needed.
Before starting to walk to school, Reyna took out her phone and positioned for a selfie. As she took the picture, she started to smile.