Dubai: She sat shaking in her room. Hot tears flowed down her cheeks. She would show him ... teach her father a lesson. She would become thin.

This is the story of a torturous journey, which ended in the quagmire called anorexia nervosa.

This is the story of my friend and the story of many young women desperate to be 'thin'.

This is the story of a friendly young woman by the name of A.L., a 20-year-old British expatriate based in Dubai.

Memories of A.L.'s childhood and teenage years are filled with heated arguments with her father.

He was disgusted with his overweight daughter.

"I had a very rocky relationship with my father, an army officer. He always criticised the way I looked ... comparing me to slimmer relatives, so I would lose weight," she said.

Fed up with his constant pressure, A.L. decided to spite her father by extreme weight loss as a form of retaliation against his image beliefs.

Costly rebellion

Her rebellion would cost her dearly.

Today, over half a decade later, she is an anorexia nervosa survivor who gets dizzy every time she stands up. "I went from being overweight, to having a normal weight, to becoming underweight and dropping below that," she said. In the days before the eating disorder took over her life, she was vibrant and vivacious. Today A.L. is nervous and edgy, obsessed with counting calories.

At the peak of her disorder, A.L. went on an all-protein diet and began to exercise frantically in order to burn invisible calories. She was doing 250 sit-ups a day along with free weights, on a daily diet of two cans of tuna and orange juice. A combination of illness, no energy and crippling exercise injuries forced her to stop.

A.L. turned to laxatives. But when they didn't work, she would become stressed because she felt as though the food was "trapped" in her stomach.She worked hard to keep up an external facade of normalness.

A.L. graduated and found employment in Dubai.

"After arriving, my self-abuse increased causing my stamina to plummet," she said. Barely able to arrive home from work, A.L. would collapse into bed from exhaustion. Basic housework and even standing up pushed her to the verge of blackouts.

A.L.'s social life became nonexistent. No matter how many times her friends would call, she just stopped picking up the phone.

"I've always been social, but I just stopped because when I go out, everyone asks me to taste something and I'd be thinking 'Oh no if I eat this, it has fat'," she said.

Fear of losing her job made her turn to caffeine in a bid to stay alert.

"I would drink up to 10 cups of coffee a day and as much diet soda as I could get."

The disorder caused her to have extreme mood swings. Something as simple as ordering food or being offered something would result in a shouting match.

Despite her mother's efforts to help A.L., she ignored her advice, convinced that it was all part of a conspiracy to make her fat.

"Sometimes my friends would bring chips, and I'd be like 'I hate them, they're just trying to make me fat'," she said.

One day, while walking down a street in Dubai, A.L. was hit with what she described as a "revelation". As she observed people around her, A.L. realised that everyone was caught up in their own world.

"I had tried being anorexic so I could look good but nobody really cared. It didn't make me happy. It was ruining my life," she said.

Five months ago, she turned her life around. She started eating healthily.

It's still a struggle because she is constantly fighting that inner voice, which says food is evil. She resists the idea of seeking professional help.

But, A.L. has gained weight, moving from 40kgs to 45kgs for her 163cm tall frame. She has to take supplements because of the damage her body has sustained. While still refusing to eat junk food, she doesn't punish herself for indulging in a slice of pizza.

Her mother has been at her side helping A.L. recover and their bond has grown stronger.

"I realised that everything my mother did and said was because she loves me," she added.

Today, A.L. has a new goal, to search for a pizza with a topping that she can call her own comfort food.

I've always been social, but I just stopped because when I go out, everyone asks me to taste something and I'd be thinking 'Oh no if I eat this, it has fat'. I would drink up to 10 cups of coffee a day."

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Your comments

I know it hurts when wanted some thing you cant get it and specialy health is the biggest gift given by Allah. I can feel this because my sister is going through the same problem from 2002. We have checked with all the doctors back in home country Pakistan and in Abu Dhabi but of no use every doctor is saying that she is medically OK. Sometime I feel like crying for her but then i also think that this exams is also by Allah. Please we request you if you can pray my sister as well just for two minutes.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: December 04, 2007, 11:04