National Eating Disorders Association

Stories of Hope

Swallowed Whole
By Laurin Penn

As a child, I had the seemingly perfect life. Happy and confident, I was considered pretty and popular. I materially wanted for nothing. Soon, however, my world turned upside down, as I began struggling with my self-image and my body. I was never good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. I thought I had to be perfect. My family life was in in turmoil and the only way I knew how to control my inner constant, swirling criticism and anxiety was through food restriction. But my calorie counting became obsessive and dieting became like an addiction. Initially after losing weight, I felt empowered, special, worthy. Though the one thing I desired more than all - happiness- completely eluded me. What started out as a harmless effort to feel more confident, turned into a raging battle with anorexia. Although anorexia initially comforted me, it also isolated me. The resulting lack of support contributed to a deep and dark depression over which I had no control. It was a vicious cycle— My depression fed off my anorexia, and my anorexia fed off my depression. Tired of restricting and constantly ruminating over food, I turned to the bizarre and ugly ritual of chewing and spitting out most of my food. My days became filled with secrets and with spitting. For over twenty years I suffered silently, feeling alone, as I had never heard of this disorder until recently. More light needs to be shed upon this very shameful illness. I believe many thousands more suffer silently like I did, and are unaware of material or reading that covers this subject. I could never find a resource for help and felt too ashamed to tell anyone because I considered myself a freak— after all my disorder was unclassified. So, I finally wrote a book about it— the book that I searched for to no avail for so many years. Not a clinical dissertation, but an authentic story of suffering and ultimately of healing. My memoir is called "Swallowed Whole", and is available through Amazon and now. It is being published in paperback in September. My breakthrough came after a failed suicide attempt. I finally grew tired of the prison that was my illness. I desired joy more than I desired to be perfect. In order to heal, I created healthier relationships and altered self-defeating habits. I surrounded myself with healthy, strong women who gave me strength and hope. It took many years, but I am whole— no longer swallowed whole by my disease. It's difficult to write in a short story how I healed because my process was lengthy and progressive, occurring over several years. It is imperative in any healing journey to understand that abstinence does not mean full recovery. I needed to learn how to control my anxiety and my irrational thoughts, not just abstain from spitting out my food. I stopped looking for others to fix me and started taking responsibility for my own actions. I had to stop saying "yes" to people when I really needed to say "no". Most of all I had to find balance with food. I studied nutrition in my spare time and learned that eating can be pleasurable and healthful, not the shameful ritual it once was. Now I live day by day, no longer ashamed of my past, no longer in fear of my future. I am grateful for every ray of sunshine and every drop of rain. I finally feel alive and with purpose, and am now married and blessed with three children. Please help shed more light on the scary and shameful eating disorder of chewing and spitting which overtook my life and nearly killed me. My hope is through my book, I can help others, blow the lid off this disturbing ritual and maybe even hopefully save someones life. If I can do any of these, all my years of suffering will have been worth it. In love and peace- Author Laurin Penn Back to top