Young overcomer ends self-starvation through treatment and faith

Posted by Lucy Luginbill on September 4, 2013 

Some people eat to live . . . and some people live to eat. But there are some people who do not eat enough to live.

“When I went into treatment,” Kimberly Cantley remembers, “they thought I should be dead because of my low heart rate.”

Suffering with anorexia nervosa, the now 26-year-old entered an eating disorders program at the Moore Center in Bellevue, Wash., two years ago. Her decision to seek help saved her life.

“Now I look at pictures of me back then and I looked like crap,” the Kennewick woman says with a grimace. “I looked like a skeleton. I looked like death.”

But for years, starting as a young adolescent, that isn’t the body image Kimberly saw when she looked in the mirror, but rather one that wasn’t quite thin enough.

That feeling of being “too fat” is common in 50 percent to 60 percent of teenage girls. Yet in reality, only 15 percent to 20 percent actually are overweight says a U.S. News & World Reports Health online report. “Around age 12, I started restricting,” Kimberly recalls about the beginnings of her eating disorder. “I wouldn’t eat lunch and then only eat a little dinner, enough so my parents wouldn't question.”

But it was her church youth director, a woman who had been anorexic at one time, who recognized how the teen was using food as a control mechanism. Yet, despite their one-on-one talks and alerting Kimberly’s parents to the situation, the teenager continued on the unhealthy path, even denying it.

“I’d talk to her (the youth director) and then when my parents asked me about it,” Kimberly confesses, “I’d say, ‘I don’t know what she’s talking about.’”

Hiding her eating disorder from her family didn’t stop the effect the self-starvation and over-exercise was having on the developing young woman’s body.

“I think what’s often missed is the seriousness of it,” says Dr. Neeru Bakshi of the Moore Center. “They think it’s just about losing weight or looking a certain way, but it’s a medical illness and what we have to take into consideration is what’s happening to the whole body.”

Because anorexia robs the body of the fuel it needs, other problems such as loss of bone and muscle mass can occur. Kimberly admits that her struggle with anorexia has robbed her of at least an inch of her height.

“Nobody is going to get help with a disorder until they want it,” reflects the former Starbucks barista about her life-threatening weight loss. “It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I needed help.”

Kimberly’s epiphany came when she fainted one day at work. She could easily have become one of the statistics with a premature death from anorexia nervosa. In the U.S., deaths (natural and unnatural) of anorexic youth between ages 15 to 24 are five times more than what is expected of young people in that age group.

With her parents’ assistance, Kimberly was admitted to the Moore Center where she began to heal. A multi-disciplinary team of professionals—medical, psychiatric, psychological, nutritional—were available to intervene.

“My therapist . . . oh my gosh! She’s like an angel from heaven,” Kimberly enthuses about Dr. Jenna Flagg and feeling safe in the new environment. “I was able to tell the truth and not be afraid or feel guilty.”

Kimberly’s trust in her treatment team and her confidence in God’s strength to overcome anorexia helped with her recovery. Scheduled days in residential care offered a variety of sessions, including meditation.

“I believe faith overcomes fear,” Kimberly comments thoughtfully, “and even though I was scared, I felt God would lead me all the way—and he did.”

At the end of her successful six-month stay at the Moore Center, Kimberly returned home knowing there were still challenges ahead, but assured of continued support.

“Recovery is a journey, not a destination; sort of like cancer in remission,” says Dr. Bakshi about the future for someone with an eating disorder.

For Kim, changing her mindset — and having a balanced lifestyle — has been a choice. And these days, she chooses to eat ... to live.

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