How an attempt to slim down for a school dance turned into an obsession.
Abu Dhabi woman reveals heartache of bulimia struggle
ABU DHABI // What started as a drastic attempt to lose weight for her school dance quickly turned into "Mary's" obsession.
At 16 years old she was desperate to slim down for the event and decided to purge herself after meals.
What was meant to be a one-time thing, however, turned into a tragic cycle and before Mary knew it she was out of control.
An average weight for her age, Mary had led an active life and was a member of her high school's athletics team. She was never overweight or even chubby.
But growing up in Los Angeles and Lebanon, she said she was constantly surrounded by images and talk of the ideal body.
"In Lebanon all they talked about was weight. I always heard it around me," Mary said.
Her habit started off as a secret. "But soon my mum caught me because I was constantly going to the bathroom.
"I would turn on the tap to make it seem like I was in the shower, but she didn't believe that I would be showering eight or nine times a day."
Mary's mother took her to a counsellor but the teen did not want help.
"I remember trying to trick the counsellor and make her think everything was OK, because I was afraid if they found out they would stop me," she said.
When Mary left home for university, things became worse. Having more independence made it easier to hide her secret and she was surrounded by 10 girlfriends who all purged after they ate.
"I felt that if I could control everything it would all be OK," she said. "I would drive my day around where I could go to throw up."
When she arrived in Abu Dhabi for work, things spun further out of control.
With tears in her eyes, Mary, now 24, described how she sank into body dysmorphic disorder, imagining all sorts of physical defects that needed to be fixed.
"I'd look in the mirror and see things that were not there, like love handles and cellulite, and it freaked me out," she said. "I studied psychology so I knew something was wrong with me and that it was body dysmorphia."
Seeking help in Abu Dhabi proved a challenge, until she came across a new support programme.
"Back at home you'll find community centres, treatment facilities and support groups especially for people with eating disorders," Mary said. "Here, seeing a private psychologist is really the only way of help."
Being able to talk about her problem has given her a sense of relief, she says.
"I know this going to be a constant struggle and that I may never be cured, but I can get better," Mary said.