When Dieting Spells Danger
"Mom, I'm so dizzy," Ben groaned. "I feel like I just can't make it."
For days I'd been brushing off my 15-year-old son's complaints of not feeling well. In the crunch of freshman finals, I suspected, he might be over-anxious or simply worn down from the frenzy of the school year.
But exams were over, summer was coming on, and Ben was worse. His skin felt coarse, and his hair and eyes looked dull. My normally strapping six-foot son suddenly looked fragile and frightened—on the verge of collapse. I knew I'd been wrong to brush his symptoms aside.
It had started in March with the high school chorus preparing for a competition aboard a cruise ship. Like everyone else, Ben was excited. Also like everyone else, he was nervous about wearing a bathing suit in front of friends. He wanted to look his best.
To Ben, that meant losing weight. Never mind that he was already handsome and charming and never lacked for female attention. But Ben compared himself to his two older brothers who were upperclassmen and also in chorus. He made no allowances for differences in age or body type. He just thought that if he tried hard enough, he could look like them.
So Ben decided to slim down. He joined a gym and worked out daily. He also began running laps around our five acres of land, going farther and faster each day. He spent evenings in his room sweating through hundreds of sit-ups.
We were amazed by Ben's dedication. Although he'd played football and joined the swim team, he quit them years before to concentrate on drama, music, and art. He'd always been enthusiastic about his pursuits, but we'd never seen him go after something so vigorously.
Now, as I packed him into the back seat, it suddenly seemed obvious: what his dad and I had perceived as self-discipline had somehow crossed over the line into obsession. At some point Ben's drive to control his weight had begun to control him.
That explained so much. Like why even as he quickly shed pounds and inches, Ben agonized that it wasn't enough. "Do I look thinner, Mom? I need to lose 20 more pounds. How long will that take me?"
It explained why after the cruise, instead of relaxing, Ben continued to make weight loss his No. 1 priority. It explained why in the middle of dinner we'd realize Ben had slipped away from the table (not hard to miss with ten children at the table) to exercise alone while we were still enjoying our meal.
As we rode to the doctor's office, Ben and I pieced together the rest of the puzzle. Dieting became easier as he went along because he soon lost the desire to eat. By the time exams came around, he knew he was in trouble. He couldn't concentrate and had headaches and dizziness all the time.