Patient With Eating Disorders: “I was Secretive. I had a World that Others Weren’t Aware of.”

She was an adolescent and her body was changing. She didn’t feel accepted. That may have been the beginning of Kristina Denton’s declining health that eventually led her to IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders.

She could say she was bullied. She could say she pushed her food around on her plate. She could say her weight was a target number.

But because Kristina Denton has been a patient with eating disorders, she knows the triggers. She knows that some people look at those target numbers, those behaviors and habits as a way to measure and compare the degree of their illness.

“Numbers and weight are tricky for people in recovery. My eating disorder mind became so insidious that it picked up on everything. It all felt so related to my eating disorder goal,” said Denton. She prefers to focus on the realization that she had health issues and how she recovered.

She grew up in a Southern Indiana community filled with German heritage. Her grandmother taught her to speak German as a child and she spent time visiting in the Black Forest region of Western Germany.

At about the age of 12 she began gaining weight and was going through the growing pains of adolescence that included wearing glasses and braces.

“Not only was my body changing but there were stressors at home that I was coming to terms with and I’m a very sensitive and emoting person. I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that I wasn’t accepted by my peers,” said Denton. “I didn’t wear name brand clothing. My mom worked at K-Mart and my dad worked at a factory. I was awkward and other kids bullied me because of that. One kid pulled my hair and broke my glasses on the bus,” said Denton. She remembers making herself vomit to avoid school.

“My logic was ‘if I’m sick I don’t have to go to school I can stay home and read and create a world where it is easier to cope,’” said Denton. By high school she was at her highest weight and decided she would decrease eating and increase exercise.

After graduation she left her southern Indiana town and headed to Muncie where she met a close- knit group of friends at Ball State. From the outside her life seemed fulfilled. She was enjoying her newfound independence and studying to be a social worker. But privately she had vowed not to gain the “freshman 15,” and fixated on her weight.

“I was secretive. It was like living in a world with rules and values others weren’t aware of. I would lie about whether or not I’d eaten,” said Denton. “I would exercise obsessively for hours on end. I would make excuses when eating with my friends to attempt to explain why I wasn’t eating. I was socially withdrawn to the point my eating disorder was my whole world.”

It was her junior year when her friends sat her down. Speaking through tears they told her she needed help and they would go with her.

“My motivation to lose weight became greater than my motivation to appease my friends and the people I surrounded myself with,” said Denton.

She first went to a therapist close to campus who referred to IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders. She was enrolled in therapeutic programming in 2012 and again in 2013. In 2017 she was enrolled in a partial hospitalization program.

At her worst, her blood pressure and blood sugar levels dropped so low she would pass out. She developed pre-osteoporosis and her skin was covered in lanugo hair.

“In 2012 when I did the intensive outpatient program it made me aware that my eating disorder was a problem. In 2013, when I did the program a second time, I realized how I contribute to the problem and by 2017 I was ready for a solution. It was something I never want to do again,” said Denton.

The programs involved group and individual therapy including expressive therapy such as art and movement. Counselors helped her focus on trauma and how to understand and express her emotions.

As part of the program at the Charis Center, patients learn about issues that can contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorders such as perfectionism, cultural pressures and relationship issues. They are educated about physical and nutritional consequences and how to develop healthy coping strategies. A dietitian works with patients to help them plan healthy, nutritious meals and snacks. The programs run on set schedules ranging from six to eight weeks, but patients’ timetables may vary based on their individual treatment plans.. The program involves treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other related disorders.

Denton’s diagnosis was anorexia, but the diagnosis shifted over the years. When she first walked into Charis Center she was struggling with binging and purging.

Not long after she enrolled in therapy, her mother was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. She was diagnosed in February of 2014 and she died in August. At the age of 26, Denton left her job in Muncie and moved back to southern Indiana to care for her ailing her mom.

“It’s part of my personality to take care of other people’s needs and worry about others. I spent most of my life caring for others and through my work at Charis Center I learned about how to take care of myself, said Denton. “I have discovered who I fully am as a strong, confident woman. I found my voice. The past year and half has been about learning to accept my body and learning to step into my power. I am no longer afraid to advocate for myself and others who have experienced similar struggles.” As part of that advocacy she has helped plan the National Eating Disorder Association Walk.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders (ANAD) at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from some type of eating disorder.

Denton has learned several myths about eating disorders.

First, eating disorders have little to do with a person’s body weight. She has been in treatment with people of all shapes and sizes. Second, eating disorders aren’t limited to people of a certain age, race, or culture. She’s met a diverse group of people who suffer from eating disorders. Third, eating disorders are not about food. It’s more about an underlying emotion.

“My advice to others is don’t be afraid to ask for help and when you ask, try to be as honest as you can during recovery,” said Denton. “There’s a lot of shame and a lot of people react to shame by hiding or lying. People who are trying to help you can’t fully help you unless you tell the truth.”

Anther thing Denton has learned is that “intention” is a verb.

“If I set my intention on recovery and eating, I have to take that intention. I have to decide every day I’m going to pack my lunch, eat dinner and take snacks for my day. There are days I don’t have the energy and they don’t go so well but I’m constantly trying and intention is an ongoing process.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email