Maddie’s story

Student who lived with anorexia nervosa throughout most of her teens, CALIFORNIA


Throughout her childhood, Maddie, now aged 21, California, was plagued by low self-esteem and anxiety – mental health issues that were further intensified by her then grueling six-day-a-week gymnastics training schedule.  

In the Spring of eighth grade, Maddie began to restrict her food intake, convinced she was merely “going on a diet”. Her disordered eating behavior however, quickly spiraled out of control, and she was subsequently admitted to the children’s inpatient unit at her local hospital that summer, with bradycardia (a slower than normal heart rate).

While in hospital, Maddie, then aged 13, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa by an eating disorder specialist. For the ensuing five years, Maddie underwent various forms of treatment, often missing school and home.

At 18 years of age, having finally made strides on her recovery from anorexia nervosa, Maddie began struggling with a new behavior – binge eating.

Although she no longer receives treatment for her eating disorders today, Maddie nonetheless, remains mindful of food, exercise, and her relationship with her body.

By bravely sharing her story, Maddie wishes to offer hope to those living with an eating disorder.

This is Maddie’s story.  

Throughout childhood and into her early teens, Maddie was a competitive gymnast, training six-days-a-week. During this time, Maddie grew increasingly anxious and more self-conscious than her peers.

“Gymnastics places significant focus on your body shape and size.”

“I grew increasingly more self-conscious about my body through the sport, and never felt like I was good enough to succeed,” said Maddie.

In eighth grade, Maddie began to diet. That summer, her mental health and weight rapidly declined, and she was admitted to the children’s inpatient unit at her local hospital with bradycardia (slow heart rate).

While in hospital, Maddie was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa by an eating disorder specialist, just five months after initiating her food restricting behavior.

“I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was when I was admitted to hospital. I thought I was just on a diet.”

“Fortunately, when I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 13 years of age, I was still living at home with my parents, who were strong advocates in seeking help for me as soon as possible,” Maddie said.

As anorexia nervosa took hold, Maddie shed substantial weight, which left her feeling exhausted, weak, and fragile. Her hair fell out in large clumps, and her fingers routinely turned purple and blue, and bled, even in the mildest of weather.

“It often took all of my energy just to talk, yet I was making myself wake up every morning at six to run. My chest was constantly in pain due to my heart being strained, and I was so cold and dry to the touch,” said Maddie.

The severity of her physical and mental state, combined with the treatment she was undertaking, led to Maddie’s longstanding absenteeism from school, and home.

“For many years, anorexia nervosa caused me physical, mental, and emotional pain, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.  Every action I engaged in, was a debate between my eating disorder brain and my healthy self. Each movement I took was picked apart by the critical part of my brain that wanted to punish me for not being good enough.”

“Every bit of nutrition that entered my body, caused me to panic, and led to me fighting with my parents and my treatment team at almost every meal, and avoiding social outings with my friends,” Maddie said.

Between the ages of the 13 and 18, Maddie received various types of treatment for her anorexia nervosa, including multiple inpatient hospital stays, residential treatment programs, partial hospitalizations (PHP), and intensive outpatient programming (IOP).

Eventually, after overcoming her restrictive eating behavior, Maddie began to struggle with binge eating.

“I sometimes think of the binges as payback to my cruel restrictive voice that said I could never have what I wanted,” said Maddie.

Today Maddie is a strong believer that eating disorders are a combination of genes and the environment.

“Everyone has their own coping mechanisms and ways of dealing with stress. For those with a certain genetic disposition to an eating disorder, the extreme manipulation of food becomes a way of dealing with that stress.”

“In my own experience, and from observing those who are struggling around me, there are common traits that many of us share,” Maddie said.

Today Maddie is encouraging Americans aged 18 and over with first-hand experience of an eating disorder, to volunteer for the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) – the world’s largest genetic research study of eating disorders ever performed. The study aims to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.

“Identifying the underlying genes that contribute to the development of eating disorders could prove monumental to their prevention, while allowing those affected to receive tailored treatment and support as early as possible,” said Maddie.