In middle school I started losing a lot of weight. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t change my diet. I wasn’t exercising any more than I always had. To be honest, I probably spent most of my time on the couch watching TV. Still, I lost about 20 pounds in only a month. I was always a chubby kid—healthy, but I was never skinny. Then all of a sudden I just magically started losing weight. I went from a size 5 to a size 1. I was pretty excited about it, as anyone would be. I was so pleased with it that it was pretty easy to ignore the symptoms that had begun popping up. Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, all of these symptoms and I ignored them for so long. Maybe ignoring it was a form of denial or maybe I was just scared, but I know that the effect it had on physical appearance had some influence on my reluctance to fix whatever it was that was wrong with me. People would comment on my weight loss, and always positively. Because it’s a good thing to lose weight, right? It’s a good thing to be skinny. People assume you’re trying to better yourself, which is great, and that definitely deserves encouragement. I don’t blame any of them of course; they had no idea what was going on. It’s just so bizarre to think about how I probably looked great, maybe better than ever, on the outside, but inside I was anything but great, but was actually slowly deteriorating. And it’s even more bizarre how okay I was with ignoring the latter part.
Eventually the symptoms became so severe that I had to go to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is a type of IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease. It’s also an autoimmune disease as the inflammation is caused by the immune system attacking the digestive tract. I remember the doctor being surprised at how severe the disease was, and looking back I wonder if it was my hesitation of seeking treatment that let it become so bad. One of the effects Crohn’s has on the body is that you don’t absorb nutrients as well as you should. It’s through digestion that you get all of the nutrients, and Crohn’s messes all of that up. So my weight loss was not only attributed to my loss of appetite, but I was actually malnourished, which is terrifying if you think about it. Here I was so thrilled to be losing weight and it was because my body was actually lacking in what it needed to maintain a normal body weight. I still have to take vitamins today to insure I get all the nutrients I need. A major part of my recovery was gaining weight. An easy indicator of whether I was still sick was if I was unable to gain weight. With help from medications, I did gain weight. I gained back every pound I lost while I was sick. I was put on a drug called Prednisone to treat the inflammation caused by the Crohn’s disease. One of the side effects of it was called moon face, which causes your face to swell to a round, or moon, shape. It was a really emotional time for me. My previously sky-high body confidence had shattered to a million pieces. It took a long time, I’d say nearly a year, before I was really healthy again.
Today I’m a size 8, and I’m really happy about that. I actually hope I’m never a size 1 again. The last time I was a size 1 was the worst time of life. Size 1 me was not healthy me. Now as a size 8, I’m happy and healthy, and I couldn’t care less how much I weigh, or whether people think I’m fat or skinny, as long as I feel good.
Danielle Frekot is a freshman at Syracuse University. She is studying Art History in the College of Arts & Sciences. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2009 and hopes to support those going through similar struggles, both physically and mentally. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.