book reviews, healthcare

Repost: A review of Almost Anorexic, by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas…

Sorry… one more repost as I try to decide on today’s fresh content. I wrote this review for my original blog on August 30, 2016. It appears here as/is.

When I was younger, I went through some pretty disordered eating rituals.  I was obsessed with my weight and how it looked on me.  You’d never know it to look at me then or now, but I engaged in some behaviors consistent with eating disorders.  I was not really a binge eater or a purger, but I did sometimes stop eating.  There were a few times when I was younger that I’d actually stop eating for several days.  My weight would go up and down, along with my moods.  I could be funny, goofy, and almost manic, or very depressed and angry.  Some people thought I was so moody that more than one person asked me if I was bipolar.

It took many years, but I finally quit obsessing so much about my weight.  Sure, I’d love to be a lot thinner than I am now; but I no longer obsess about my weight.  I don’t starve myself or force myself to exercise more than I want to.  I do engage in some behaviors that might be considered disordered to some people, though, and that’s one reason why I decided to read Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? (The Almost Effect).  I also read this book because I myself have studied public health and social work and this book might be considered professionally relevant to me if I actually practiced.

Published in 2013, Almost Anorexic was written by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas, who is (or was) an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in the Department of Psychiatry, and Jenni Schaefer, a singer, songwriter, speaker, and author who suffered from eating disorders and managed to recover.  This book is the fourth in Harvard Medical School’s “Almost Effect” series.    

Dr. Thomas goes by the name Jenny, so in order to make things less confusing for readers, she is referred to as Dr. Thomas in this book.  Jenni Schaefer is referred to as Jenni.  My name is also Jenny, so I felt like I was part of the club!  In any case, Dr. Thomas and Jenni keep their writing conversational and personal as they explain why they wrote about a condition called “almost anorexia”.  Basically, what they mean is that there are many people out there who are eating disordered, but don’t quite qualify for a formal diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.  

The book is called Almost Anorexic, but it’s actually about a spectrum of eating disorders– everything from orthorexia (an obsession with clean, healthy eating) to binge eating disorder (binging on food, but not purging).  My guess is that they chose to call the book Almost Anorexic because anorexia is probably the most dramatic, the most recognizable, and is certainly the most lethal of recognized eating disorders.  I think it also has more of a fascination factor and less of an “ick” factor than, say, bulimia does.  

This book is for anyone who “flirts” with eating disorders.  The authors offer insight into what eating disordered behavior is.  Eventually, toward the end of the book, there are some strategies offered to help combat the behaviors that can lead to full blown eating disorders.  I got the sense that preventing full blown eating disorders was what the authors were really after, though they did recognize that many people suffer for years engaging in behaviors that make them miserable and can ruin their health.  

One thing that I appreciated was that the authors point out how eating disordered behaviors, even if they aren’t bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can do a lot of damage to a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Aside from that, life is short and obsessing about calories, food, exercising, what others look like and what you look like to others is a serious waste of precious time.  It truly doesn’t lead to anything but self-destruction and makes life much more difficult than it needs to be.  The authors recognize that their readers who might be struggling with disordered eating should strive for moving beyond those “almost anorexic” behaviors, but they also know that actually doing that is very difficult for most.  So they offer some good strategies and encouragement, along with anecdotes that make the reading more interesting.

I have read a lot of books about eating disorders over the years.  It started when I was a teenager and got to a fever pitch when I was a young adult.  Lately, I don’t read as much about eating disorders as I used to.  The topic just doesn’t interest me as much.  However, I did notice that the authors, particularly Dr. Thomas, whose voice seems to be the principal in this book, mention a lot of books that I’ve read.  I was really impressed when she mentioned Fasting Girls, which is a really great book about the history of eating disorders that I remember reading when I was a college freshman in 1990. She also mentions Cherry Boone O’Neill’s classic anorexia memoir, Starving For Attention, which I read for the first time in 1986.  

So, not only has Dr. Thomas got a lot of professional experience and training, she’s also read some of the best books.  But she also includes a lot of the latest research in a way that will speak to younger readers… the ones who are addicted to pro-ana or pro-mia Web sites or refer to their eating disorders as “Ed” or some other name.  “Ed” is the little voice in your head telling you you’re too fat or that you look awful in your favorite jeans.  “Ed” is the voice that tells you to engage in unhealthy and obsessive behaviors.  Dr. Thomas and Jenni explain strategies as to how to get “Ed” to shut up and go away, even as they acknowledge how difficult and scary it is to do that.

A lot of people struggle with “eating disorder not otherwise specified” or EDNOS.  That is essentially what “almost anorexic” refers to– having subclinical signs of an eating disorder that don’t quite qualify for a diagnosis.  Not being full blown anorexic or bulimic doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering or doing damage to your health.  That’s really what this book is about, as well as encouraging readers to take care of themselves and get healthy.  I think it’s an excellent read for a lot of people… many of whom never talk about “Ed”, but hear from “Ed” every day.  I give it five stars and a hearty recommendation, especially for those actually suffering.  I think it’s slightly less helpful for family members and friends, though it’s probably worth a read by them, too.

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book reviews, celebrities, mental health, music

Repost: Judy Collins shares her thoughts on Cravings…

And here’s a repost that was originally written May 13, 2017. It appears as/is.

I have loved Judy Collins’ beautiful music since I was about 18 years old.  She’s recorded so many beautiful songs over the years and inspired others as well.  Although I knew she’d had trouble with alcohol and eating disorders, I didn’t know the extent of her problems until I picked up her latest book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food.

Published on February 28, 2017, Cravings offers readers insight into what may have caused Judy Collins’ issues with booze and food.  Collins’ theories may also be helpful to other readers.  The book is also about Judy Collins’ life, so if you read it, it helps to also be interested in her life story.  I suspect a lot of younger people may not be fans of Judy Collins’ music, although I think they should be.  I should also mention that this is the first book I’ve read by Judy Collins, so I wasn’t perturbed to read about her life.  Others who have read her earlier memoirs might feel like parts of this book are reruns.

Here Judy sings “Someday Soon” with Stephen Stills, who famously penned “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” in her honor.

Collins writes that when she was growing up, she loved all things made of flour, sugar, wheat, and corn.  She was addicted to sugar and would eat sweet things constantly.  That sugar obsession later turned to unsightly pounds and a neverending compulsion to eat more.  She eventually went on to become bulimic and would binge and purge to the point of developing a vocal cord hemangioma.  It almost destroyed her voice.

And one of my favorite versions. I love the piano player on this. They made a wonderful live album from the Wildflower Festival.

As she got older, Collins took up drinking and smoking.  She became an alcoholic and, for many years, would even drink heavily before and after taking the stage.  Although she indulged in self-destructive behavior, Collins somehow knew that what she was doing was dangerous.  She sought help from doctors, most of whom told her she didn’t have a problem.

Eventually, Collins realized that there was a link between her cravings for sugar, flour, wheat, and corn and her addiction to alcohol.  She eliminated the problem foods from her diet and adopted what looks to me to be a paleo diet.  She says now her weight is stable and she know longer has such intense cravings for unhealthy foods or booze.  She also credits spending time in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and employing the Grey Sheet Diet Plan for helping her to stop the insanity.

“Suite Judy Blue Eyes”

Aside from explaining her secrets to eating and drinking success, Collins writes about her son, Clark Taylor, who sadly died after committing suicide.  Collins herself attempted suicide, although she doesn’t delve too much into her experiences with suicidal ideation.  Before he passed, Clark fathered Judy Collins’ only grandchild, Hollis, who is now herself a mother.  I enjoyed reading about Judy’s family and can tell that she loves them very much.  She writes that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about and miss her son.

I also enjoyed reading about Collins’ musical training.  Originally, she was trained as a pianist and she studied great and challenging classical works.  I never knew Judy Collins was once being groomed for the classical music world.  As she became a teenager, she was lured into folk music.  She picked up a guitar, learned how to play, and began to sing.  I was astonished to read that she once had a very limited vocal range.  Work with an excellent voice teacher eventually stretched her range to about three octaves, quite respectable for a singer.  I have always liked her voice for its ethereal quality.  I think my own style is kind of like hers.

Anyway… I thought Cravings was well-written and engaging.  It didn’t take forever to finish.  Because I haven’t read Collins’ other books, the material and new for me.  It’s also relevant for me personally on many levels.  I liked that she drew in interesting examples from history to backup her theories about diet, drinking, and health.  I learned something new in those passages.  And, given that Judy was born in 1939 and is still making albums and writing books, I figure she must be doing something right.  I recommend her book to those who are thinking about reading it.

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complaints, condescending twatbags, healthcare, rants

Where is Richard Simmons when we need him?

Yesterday, I read an article in The New York Times entitled “Breaking Down the ‘Wellness-Industrial Complex,’ an Episode at a Time“. It was a surprisingly interesting and disheartening read. I wasn’t attracted to it because of the title, though. I decided to read it because of a quote that was used to draw attention to the article.

A man named Scott Cave, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains region of Virginia and has a doctorate in history, is a regular listener of the podcast, “Maintenance Phase”. The popular podcast, which has existed for about a year, is named after the concept of maintaining weight loss after a successful diet. The hosts, Aubrey Gordon, and Michael Hobbes, “spend each episode exploring what they call the “wellness-industrial complex,” debunking health fads and nutritional advice.” Gordon got started because she collects vintage diet books, and realized that a lot of them were full of ridiculous ideas that ultimately don’t work in keeping people slim and fit.

Cave says he listens to “Maintenance Phase” because “he appreciates the way the podcast examines and evaluates primary sources in a way that’s fun.” He also relates to some of the topics, since he himself has a weight problem. One time, “Maintenance Phase” did a show about how people who are overweight or obese are more likely to avoid seeing healthcare professionals. Cave identified with that, as once he visited an urgent care practice because he thought he’d broken his finger. He was told, “We don’t think your finger is broken. It might be, but you’re very fat, so you should probably deal with that.”

Mortified by the shaming comment about his weight, Cave ignored signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease for a long time. He didn’t want to deal with more negative stigma about his size. So he suffered in silence with his swollen finger, and felt ashamed. That negative comment, while based in truth, dealt a terrible blow to Cave’s self-regard and trust in the medical care system.

I can relate to Cave’s reluctance to visit doctors. I haven’t seen one myself in about eleven years. In my case, it’s partly due to not wanting to be lectured about my size or my bad habits. It’s also due to some legitimate trauma I experienced at the hands of an OB-GYN who physically hurt me as she examined me, then fat shamed me.

This doctor’s pelvic exam was so painful that I cried out, and she basically told me to shut up as she stuck me with another, smaller speculum that also hurt. I bit my lip and gutted through the rest of the exam, hoping I wouldn’t pass out. I had to complete the exam so I could join the Peace Corps. Afterwards, the doctor told me I was too fat and would gain weight in Armenia. Then she basically shamed me because she wasn’t able to get a “good look down there”. She claimed I wasn’t “cooperative”. She offered me birth control, even though I was a virgin at the time. I left her office feeling completely violated, humiliated, and frankly, like I had just been assaulted.

It took twelve years for me to have another gynecological exam by a much kinder, more understanding, and professional physician’s assistant. She let me cry, and heard my explanation about why I was so upset and anxious. Then, when she did the exam, it didn’t hurt at all. I remember being so relieved that I wasn’t in pain. Then I was very angry, because the doctor who had done my first exam had hurt me without reason. I hadn’t thought to complain about her. I now wish I had.

I was so upset and stressed out during that second exam that the P.A. thought I had high blood pressure. I ended up having to visit her several more times before she was convinced that I had white coat hypertension. Sadly, we had to move out of the area. The P.A. also changed her practice, and now only works with cardiology patients. So even if we had stayed in the D.C. area, I wouldn’t have been her patient for long.

I last saw a doctor in 2011 at Bill’s insistence, because I thought my gall bladder was giving me issues. It’s probably full of stones. But the ultrasound didn’t show that the gallbladder was so inflamed that it needed to come out just then. And then we moved a bunch of times…

So no, I don’t go to doctors. I know I should, but I don’t. Aside from mycophobia (fear of mushrooms), I also have a touch of iatrophobia (fear of doctors). And I can understand why Cave doesn’t go to doctors, either. The experience is often demoralizing, expensive (for those who don’t have Tricare), and just plain awful.

As you might have guessed, after I read the article, I read some of the comments. Naturally, they were full of people who hadn’t bothered to read the article. Some were very unkind and lacking in empathy. One guy wrote that the article was “stupid” because it was full of people “making excuses”. In his comment he wrote that “all I see” are people justifying being fat. Then he added that he’d lost 100 pounds.

He got some blowback for that comment, including from yours truly. I wrote, “All I see is a guy who is a judgmental jerk. Congratulations on your weight loss. Looks like you also lost your ability to empathize.”

I got many likes for that. The original commenter came back and wrote that he DOES empathize, but Americans are all eating their way into diabetes. And I wrote that while it’s true that obesity leads to a lot of health problems, it’s not helpful to accuse people of “making excuses”, particularly if you’re a total stranger. I didn’t see any “kindness” or actual concern in his comments, only judgment. And then I wrote…

“If you truly do empathize and want to help people, you should be kinder and more empathetic. Instead of insulting and judging, you could be encouraging and enthusiastic. You could learn a lot from Richard Simmons on how to motivate people. Richard Simmons used to be fat, and like you, he lost a lot of weight. But instead of being mean to people, he encourages them. He actually CARES about them.” Of course, I wrote that taking the commenter at his word that he’s really trying to “help”. A lot of people who make comments about “personal responsibility” and concern troll the overweight are really just getting off by acting superior and being jerks.

As I wrote that comment, I couldn’t help but remember an old episode of Fame I recently watched. The character, dance teacher Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen), decides to teach an exercise class for some extra money. She thinks it’s going to be a “piece of cake”, since these were just middle aged women trying to get into a new dress. But when she teaches, using her usual demanding style, she finds that the women in the class aren’t successful. One woman in particular, name of Renee, is about to give up because Lydia is just too demanding.

But then Richard Simmons interrupts and shows Lydia how it’s done. He asks Renee if he could have this dance. Renee nods and the two proceed to work out. Richard is encouraging, enthusiastic, and kind, and Renee responds in kind. And not only does she complete the workout, but she also leaves with a big smile on her face!

Lydia says there’s no way Renee can meet her “impossible” goal of losing twelve pounds in two weeks. So Richard says, “That’s okay. Let her lose six pounds!” I think that makes a lot of sense, don’t you? There’s nothing that says Renee can’t meet part of her goal and take a bit longer to get where she wants to be.

I’m not saying I love Richard Simmons. In fact, I used to cringe when I saw his ads for Deal-A-Meal and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies”. And I laughed when I read about how he slapped some guy who mocked him at the airport. I did like his 80s era talk show, but it was always on when I was at school.

I just think that when it comes to motivating people to lose weight, Richard is onto something that actually works. Fat people are people, too. Just like everyone else, fat people want to be valued and accepted. Nobody enjoys being insulted, shamed, and judged, especially by total strangers! Moreover, nobody wants to PAY for that experience, especially when the doctor dismisses the patient and says all of their health problems are brought on by a lack of discipline and willpower. And while the commenter on the New York Times piece may actually empathize and care about others, he has a really shitty and off-putting way of showing it.

I got another comment from another person who praised the first commenter for promoting “personal responsibility”. I think personal responsibility is all well and good. But you don’t know why someone is fat. You don’t know what their story is, or if they’ve actually done anything to lose weight. What if that overweight stranger you see has actually been losing weight? What if they’re out and about for the first time in weeks because they’ve lost twenty pounds? How do you think they would feel if you lectured them about personal responsibility and admonished them to slim down? Do you think those words would motivate them to keep going? Or is it more likely that they’d get depressed, say “what’s the use?” and go out for a double cheeseburger?

Besides being cruel and rude, fat shaming people is potentially very damaging. And a person’s weight is also none of your business.

Lydia Grant gets some tough love from Richard Simmons.

The fact that fat people have to work up the gumption to see doctors is a serious issue. I recently read a horrifying story about a 27 year old woman in Los Angeles named Amanda Lee who visited a doctor because she had lost 35 pounds, was having abdominal pain, and couldn’t eat. Instead of getting to the bottom of why Lee was losing weight and experiencing pain, the doctor said that maybe it was a good thing she was in pain and couldn’t eat. He continued the horror by saying that only being able to eat things like pureed apples was a “blessing”. And he added that she didn’t look “malnourished”. I would add that according to the photos and videos I’ve seen, she doesn’t appear to be that overweight, either. But then, it is Los Angeles. In any case, the doctor refused to do any testing on Lee, and she left his office in tears.

@mandapaints

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing” not a time to joke.

♬ original sound – Amanda Lee

After her appointment, the mortified young woman recorded a TikTok video in her car. She was sobbing hysterically as she recounted what had happened during her appointment. Commenters encouraged her to see another doctor, so she did. That doctor did a colonoscopy on Amanda Lee and discovered a large tumor. She had surgery to remove it, and was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer!

As of June, she was receiving chemotherapy. I hope she also looks into suing that first doctor for malpractice! I’m grateful that the commenters on her video were kind, rather than fat shaming. I’m also glad she shared her story, because I think it will help a lot of people on many different levels.

Well… that about does it for today’s fresh content. We didn’t go out yesterday, so I suspect Bill will want to do something this afternoon. Enjoy your Sunday.

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book reviews, YouTube

Repost: My review of Catherine: interesting book about a British woman with anorexia nervosa…

I wrote this review for Epinions.com on June 16, 2013. It appears here as/is.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to stumble across a pro-ana blog. Pro-ana, for those who don’t know, is a movement that sees eating disorders as “lifestyles”.  The author of the blog had posted a list of books and films she’d used for “thinspiration”; that is, she’d read or watch these books and movies to inspire herself to engage in anorexic eating habits.  I noticed her list of films and she’d included a film called Catherine, which was a made for TV film on BBC in the 1980s.  Someone posted Catherine on YouTube.  I watched it, then discovered that the film had been based on a book published in 1986 by Maureen Dunbar, Catherine’s mother.  The book, Catherine: The Story of a Young Girl Who Died of Anorexia Nervosa, was based on the true story of Catherine Dunbar’s seven year struggle with eating disorders at a time when a lot of people didn’t know much about eating disorders.

Fascinating British movie about Catherine Dunbar, who died of anorexia nervosa.

Catherine’s story

Maureen Dunbar begins by writing about how her 15 year old older daughter, Catherine, was sent home from boarding school in 1977 because her headmistress was very concerned about her.  Catherine had stopped eating and lost a lot of weight.  Catherine was accompanied by her younger sister, Anna, who was still healthy.

Maureen Dunbar explains that she had four children, two older sons and two younger daughters.  She had weaned Catherine early from breastfeeding because her kids were all born close together.  She was exhausted trying to keep the breastmilk flowing.  From that time on, Catherine was a difficult eater, though she was basically normal and healthy until she hit her teen years.  It sounded a little like she blamed herself for her daughter’s troubles, which was kind of sad to me.

When Catherine came home from school that day, Maureen Dunbar had no idea of the seven year nightmare that was to follow.  Over the ensuing years, she would see her beautiful daughter lose weight until she became emaciated.  Catherine would be sectioned under Britain’s Mental Health Act more than once.  She would run away from hospitals and refuse to cooperate with health care providers and family members.  Eventually, she would get to the point at which she just gave up on life and waited to die.

Catherine Dunbar died at the age of 22 on January 2, 1984.  She weighed about 50 pounds.

My thoughts

This book is based on Catherine Dunbar’s diary and her mother’s own memories.  It’s a very frank discussion of anorexia nervosa, with some family drama thrown in.  Maureen Dunbar was a more permissive parent, while her husband, John, was much more stern.  The two often butted heads over raising their children with John wishing to be stricter with Catherine, especially about her eating.  The Dunbars had marital problems, which were both exacerbated by and played into Catherine’s illness.

Maureen Dunbar mostly seems extraordinarily dedicated, except for one period in which she left home because she couldn’t deal with the stress of being at home and her marital problems.  She eventually came back to tend to Catherine, who was both trying to launch an independent life and dealing with her severe eating disorder.

This is a fairly short book.  I read it in a matter of hours while the power was out the other day.  Dunbar includes photos of her family and includes shots of Catherine, who was extremely thin toward the time of her death.  I managed to find a used copy of Amazon.com, though they may be hard to come by.  The book is now out of print. Someone has posted the film version on YouTube and it’s somewhat close to the book’s version of events.  I will warn American readers that it helps to be familiar with British slang; otherwise, you may not understand everything.

Overall

Catherine is a very British book, in terms of how it’s written.  It’s been out for many years so it may be hard to find.  But if you are interested in true stories of people who have suffered from eating disorders, it may be worth tracking down a copy of Catherine.  This account is wrenching; I really came away with an idea of how helpless Catherine’s family must have felt as they watched their loved one wither away into nothing.

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athletes, celebrities, mental health, psychology, tragedies, YouTube

Partial repost: Christy Henrich and Karen Carpenter, and discovering Dr. Todd Grande…

Recently, I watched a video done about Karen Carpenter by YouTube shrink, Dr. Todd Grande. Dr. Grande does videos about mental health topics in a trademark “flat” kind of way. When I first encountered him on YouTube, I didn’t like his videos that much because his delivery was so dry. But I kept coming back, because he chose interesting topics. After awhile, I realized that I enjoy his videos and even his “flat” style… especially when he throws shade in kind of a bland way. In the video he made about Karen Carpenter, Dr. Grande remarked that in terms of her musical talent, Karen was “like a Ferrari stuck on a go cart track”. He implied that she was much more talented than her brother, Richard, is. I got a kick out of that observation.

Karen Carpenter… Dr. Grande implies that her wings were clipped by her brother… Frankly, I think her mother was more of a wing clipper.

Personally, I disagree with Dr. Grande that Karen’s talent was that much more impressive than Richard’s is. They had strengths in different areas. Richard is a fantastic pianist, and he’s a great arranger. He knew what songs went best with Karen’s vocals. Karen was a magnificent singer and drummer. Together, they worked well. Both of them worked apart with somewhat less success. I do think that Karen and Richard had a very controlling mother, and personally, I think if anyone should be blamed for what happened to Karen Carpenter, it could be her mom that deserves the most shade. Agnes Carpenter was overbearing and overreaching… and she didn’t want her children to be independent adults. Moreover, she obviously favored Richard, which probably took a toll on Karen’s self esteem. Maybe that had to do with her development of anorexia nervosa. I don’t know.

Anyway… I enjoyed watching Dr. Grande’s video about Karen Carpenter and realized he’d done a bunch of similar videos about other celebrities. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on Christy Henrich, a brilliant 80s era gymnast who famously perished from anorexia nervosa in 1994. So I left him a comment. Maybe he’ll read and heed it. I really think it would be interesting to hear Dr. Todd Grande’s deadpan views about Christy’s public struggle with anorexia. She had a tremendous work ethic, which extended to her illness. At one point, Christy’s weight fell to 47 pounds. It’s not that I admire her for being that emaciated. It’s more of a comment on her sheer will power and relentless pursuit of her goals, self-destructive as they were. I’m sure a mental health expert would have a lot to say about her.

A video a YouTuber made about Christy Henrich.

In the meantime, below is a repost of an article I wrote in February 2014 about Christy Henrich for my original blog. It was inspired because Bill and I went on a “hop” to Spain and Portugal in January of that year. On the way back to Texas, we landed in Missouri and drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri. I thought of her as I realized how much Missouri reminds me of Virginia. As usual, the repost appears “as/is”.

Remembering Christy Henrich

Back in the late 1980s, I had a brief but intense obsession with watching gymnastics.  I would catch meets on ESPN or Home Team Sports.  In those days, ESPN only had one channel and I believe HTS is now defunct.  I remember seeing very old footage of Shannon Miller when she was just 12 years old.  I remember watching Brandy Johnson and Phoebe Mills.  I could never so much as turn a cartwheel myself, but I really enjoyed watching the tiny girls compete.  I admired them for being so tough and strong.  I was into horses myself, though.

I also remember Christy Henrich, who was less than a month younger than me.  When I first saw her, she reminded me a bit of a soccer player.  Short and muscular without an ounce of fat on her, she didn’t have the long, graceful limbs of the Russian or Romanian gymnasts.  But she was very strong and had an amazing work ethic.  Her coach, Al Fong, even called her E.T. for extra tough. Sometimes, that extra tough work ethic worked against her, as you can see in the video below.

This may have even been the first meet I ever saw Christy in… This performance was not very good. The commentators say she “looks tired” and “doesn’t look right”. They also mention that she was warming up way before everyone else was.

Not being privy to anything going on in gymnastics that wasn’t aired on TV, I didn’t know about Christy Henrich’s eventual slide into anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Back in those days, I had a bit of an obsession about eating disorders, too.  I knew a lot about them and even flirted with them.  If I had known about Christy, I might have even admired her for her anorexia.  That’s how dumb I was at 16.

Christy Henrich at 17

I remember watching the very intense 1988 Summer Olympics gymnastics trials.  I was kind of rooting for Kristie Phillips, an adorable strawberry blonde who had seemed poised for gymnastics stardom.  A growth spurt and weight gain had sidelined her in 1987 and she was back to try to win a spot on the team.  She placed 8th and was named a second alternate.  She would not be going to Seoul unless someone got hurt.  Christy Henrich missed the team altogether by .0118 of a point.  There was no hope for her at all, unless she set her sights on 1992 in Barcelona.

About Kristie Phillips, who also suffered from an eating disorder.
Kristie Phillips was on Oprah, along with Christy’s mom and boyfriend. Here, she talks about her suicidal ideation after she missed the Olympic team.

In 1990, a judge supposedly told Christy Henrich after a meet in Budapest, Hungary that in order to be a serious contender for the Olympics, she would need to lose weight.  At 4’11” and 93 pounds, Christy didn’t have much weight to lose.  But she took the judge’s words to heart and went on a serious diet, quickly shedding five pounds.  She was praised for the weight loss at first, but then she slid headlong into a battle that would eventually cost her her life.

Christy Henrich in 1990

By January 1991, she had lost so much weight that her coach, Al Fong, kicked her out of the gym.  A week after he kicked her out, she came in to tell him she was quitting the sport.  Though she had a loving family and a boyfriend who wanted to marry her, the eating disorders had taken hold of her.  On July 26, 1994, she died of multiple organ failure.  She had just turned 22 years old and she weighed less than 60 pounds.  At one point, her weight was just 47 pounds.

A clip from a 1995 episode of Oprah in which Christy’s mother and boyfriend talk about her struggles with eating disorders.  

I remember reading Joan Ryan’s book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  In fact, I read an excerpt of it in the Washington Post just days before I left the country for Armenia to serve in the Peace Corps.  When I got home in 1997, I bought the book and read it.  It was about female gymnasts and figure skaters.  In 2000, Ryan updated the book, including discussion about Dominique Moceanu’s desire to be emancipated from her parents because her father was spending her money. 

I don’t know what made me think of Christy today.  It’s not her birthday or the anniversary of her death, though in July of this year, she will have been dead for 20 years.  That amazes me.  It seems like yesterday, we were 22 years old.  The older you get, the faster time flies.

Last month, as Bill and I worked our way back to Texas from our trip abroad, we drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.  We stayed a night in Kansas City, which is where Christy died.  For some reason, I even thought about Christy’s mother as we passed through.  It was frigid during our brief time there and, looking around, it didn’t look like the kind of place that would excite me.  On the other hand, I did notice how nice and folksy everyone seemed to be.  It seems like the kind of place you could get to know your neighbors.

Christy Henrich in 1987.

I’m sure that the last twenty years have been tough for all who knew and loved Christy Henrich.  What happened to her was just gruesome.  I still like watching gymnastics today, but remember Christy’s story reminds me that the sport has a bit of a dark side.  To read more about Christy Henrich, I recommend the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  

An eye opening read.

Edited to add: in 2014, I still had no idea how dark gymnastics can be… that was before we knew about John Geddert and Larry Nassar.

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