Molly Ahrens

From the time she was a little girl, Molly Ahrens wanted to be perfect. She always kept her room clean; she always did well at school; she tried to be happy and friendly all the time. This seemed to be good thing when she was a young child, but when she was a teenager, her desire to be perfect almost killed her.

When she was in Grade Three, Molly suddenly gained weight. She wasn’t really fat but she was certainly chubby. Other kids in her school teased her. They called her “hippo” and “elephant”. She felt ashamed. So she decided she was only going to eat good food. She lost a bit of weight, but she was still chubby, and her friends still teased her.

When Molly was in Grade Six, she suddenly grew several inches, and she lost all her baby fat. But she still didn’t feel thin. When she had a regular medical examination, she was told she weighed 43 kilograms. She was also told that this was the normal weight for her height, 142 centimeters. But, she says, she still felt as fat as a pig.

From that time on, Molly was obsessed with her weight. She started spending more and more time in front of a mirror. She stared at herself and pinched her stomach and thighs. She decided she would eat as little as possible. At school sometimes she didn’t have any lunch — or only half of it. At home, she had to eat a little because she didn’t want her parents to know what she was doing. But she didn’t eat much. She tried to fool her parents by just pushing her food around on her plate instead of putting it into her mouth.

Soon she weighed only 36 kilograms. Her parents started telling her she wasn’t eating enough. And they told her she looked “skinny”. They thought that would make her feel bad and make her start eating, but it made her feel happy. Most of the time, however, she still felt fat; and she thought she looked disgusting. By the time she had her thirteenth birthday, in April 1994, she weighed only 34 kilograms. One day Molly’s mother happened to come into the bathroom and saw her daughter naked. She was shocked. She cried out, “Oh God! What⁏s happened to you?” The next day, she took Molly to a doctor.

The doctor told Molly and her mother that she had a disease called ‘anorexia.’ As he explained, this is a mental disease: people who have it think they’re fat even though they’re extremely thin. They can’t stop dieting. Sometimes they eat so little that they die. (There are more than a million anorexics in the US. Most of them are females between 12 and 25. About ten percent are males.)

After going to the doctor, Molly went away to a summer camp. Even though she had been told she was anorexic and that anorexia was a dangerous illness, she still believed she was fat — and she continued her strict diet. After she had been in the camp for a few days, her parents came to visit her. By that time she weighed only 31 kilograms). Her hip bones were sticking out. Her cheeks were hollow. She had dark rings under her eyes. Her parents were very frightened. They took her home right away and immediately took her to a psychologist who told her that, if she didn’t start eating, she would have to go to a hospital. This frightened Molly and she began to eat more, but whenever she ate, she got worried about getting fat, and then she did a lot of exercise to lose weight.

The next time she went to a doctor for a checkup, she weighed 30 kilograms. She was sent to a special hospital for anorexic teenagers. The doctors there told her that if she kept losing weight, she might be dead in two weeks.

In the hospital Molly had to eat. If she didn’t, she lost privileges like getting phone calls and doing activities with other patients. She got her weight up to 35 kilograms. But after she left, she started to lose weight again. Soon she was back down to 33 kilograms. That was when Molly got really serious about fighting her anorexia. She went back to the hospital and promised herself that she wouldn’t leave until she weighed 41 kilograms. For six weeks she worked hard with nutritionists and psychologists and she reached her goal. After leaving the hospital, she gained 14 kilograms more. She felt much better about her life and her body. But although she was still thin, she sometimes felt disgusted when she looked in the mirror.

- information from: an article by Molly Ahrens and Laura Muha in “YM,”  97.10