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Mind, body & spirit: Thriving after anorexia

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Sheryl Boldt shares her personal story of survival and freedom from eating disorders

By NICOLE ZEMA
nzema@thewakullanews.net

Sheryl Boldt’s goal was to weigh zero pounds.
The aspiration spoke volumes on how she saw herself.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 21 through Feb. 27. To further awareness of the issue, Wakulla News columnist Sheryl Boldt shared her personal story of struggle, redemption and triumph over eating disorders.
Boldt was only 15 when she saw a unflattering reflection of herself in a window while painting the house with family. The warped image marked the atrophy of her self esteem.
“I saw that and thought, how can they even love me?” Boldt said. “How can they love someone so fat?”
Boldt recalled what was happening in her teenage brain.
“I had dreams of running, and wishing I could skip a meal and lose weight,” Boldt said. “I was always thinking about how fat I was, but my weight was really nothing like I thought.”
Eventually Boldt married and got pregnant.
“The morning sickness was so bad that I lost a lot of weight,” Boldt said. “After having the baby, I weighed 10 to 15 pounds less than before. I thought, ‘that’s pretty neat.’ I didn’t want to gain back the weight, so I gradually started eating less and less. I got pregnant with a second one, and I didn’t want to gain too much weight. The consciousness of my weight increased from there.”
Boldt’s battered self-esteem, need for control and desire to be thin collided.
“My husband said something that hurt me,” Boldt said. “I looked at the kitchen and thought, ‘Why did I eat lunch?’”
At the time, Boldt did not know eating disorders existed.
“I wasn’t labeling it, because I didn’t know anything about it,” Boldt said. She started engaging even more restrictive behavior.
“Once I made myself (a meal) I loved, but I stopped eating it,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let myself eat it. I knew that meant something. I was starting to put rules on myself, and started restricting more and more.”
Control is key when it comes to eating disorders, said Elena Reyes, a licensed mental health counselor with Time to Change in Wakulla and Tallahassee. She has experience counseling numerous clients with eating disorders.
“It feels like they can’t control anything in life, expect their weight,” Reyes said.
Boldt’s mother-in-law noticed the unhealthy weight loss.
“She had this talk with me – she was on me for months, saying ‘I think you have a disorder, this thing called anorexia nervosa.’”
Boldt remembers a “not me” sense of denial.
“I thought she was just overly concerned,” Boldt said. “She gave me an article to read, and I could relate to almost everything this person was saying. But that’s when I found out about purging.”
The article educated Boldt on new techniques, though it was not the author’s intention. There is a phenomenon of the digital age referred to as “pro-ana” or “pro-anorexia.” Anorexics and bulimics post images and words of encouragement online to promote eating disorders, share techniques to advance weight loss, and demand respect for the “lifestyle choice.”
Boldt is a tall lady – almost 6 feet. At her lowest she weighed 117 pounds. According to the body mass index calculator, Boldt was seriously underweight.
Reyes said being underweight damages the heart and wrecks havoc on the metabolic system. The lack of nutrients leads to hair loss, dry skin and weakness.
The behavior is as destructive on the mind as it is on the body.
“I became competitive with myself,” Boldt said. “I had to lose a pound everyday.”
She competed with her mother’s lowest weight too. At 6’2”, Boldt’s mother weighed 98 pounds.
“I did the math all the time, knowing I was nowhere near what I needed to be,” she said. When someone explained it was impossible to weigh zero, “I thought I should weigh 85 at the most,” she said.
Reyes said she has witnessed similar competitive behaviors in patients. In therapy and group support, clinicians avoid using numerical figures to describe weight, so patients cannot compare those numbers.
“I was always a failure for not losing more,” Boldt said. “My entire self esteem was wrapped up in weight and losing weight. I was successful if I was the thinnest person in the room.”
Avoiding food was the one thing she could control. But still, Boldt would go on mental lockdown in some social situations, like the greeting time at Sunday morning worship.
“When someone gave me a hug, I would be mortified because they would feel so much fat,” Boldt said. “Instead of enjoying the fellowship and greetings, I would be absorbed in the thoughts: ‘They know I’m fat and horrible.’ There was no way I could convince myself otherwise.”
That’s the thing about eating disorders or habits, Boldt said – self-absorption. The obsession, behaviors and control become “an addiction” of sorts.
“As a person who loved God deeply and was born again… I would feel the guilt,” Boldt said. “I wanted to go to God in prayer, but I loved my behavior more than I loved Him.”
While the root of Boldt’s problem was mental, “It became a sin issue,” she said. “I knew I could lay it at Jesus’ feet and repent, but my desire to be thin outweighed my desire to please Him.”
Boldt was hospitalized a total of 28 times. She would get better, and then slip back into the old behaviors. The marriage was stressful, which was exacerbated by her food issues.
“(My ex-husband) got so angry with my eating disorder,​ which I  could understand why​,” she said.
Boldt was rattled by the death of the famous singer Karen Carpenter in 1983, who died of complications related to anorexia.
“I was once again going back to it, and I ​hadn’t told my husband yet,” Boldt said. “But I knew it wouldn’t be long for him to figure out.”
By this time, Boldt​ was having trouble keeping up with her four little ones ​because she was growing weaker physically and emotionally. ​​She reached her breaking point,​ and pleaded with her truck driver husband to stay home with the kids.
“I can’t do this anymore​ unless you get a different job and stay home more​,” she recalls saying to him. “Unfortunately, the decision was made for us to separate instead. My last morning with the kids, I helped them get ready for the day, but couldn’t bring myself to tell them what was happening – that I was leaving.”
Her oldest was only 5 years old at the time.
“I still cry when I think about it,” Boldt said.​ “It was horrible for ​me – and must have been horrible for the children when they found out mom moved out.”
Her illness in combination with her ex’s negative comments made it worse, she said.
“I kept in touch and saw them when I could,” Boldt said. “But I didn’t get to raise my children.”
She had custody every other weekend. The goodbyes​ at the end of each visit​ were devastating.
“They would grab my leg​ and hold onto my hand​ when they knew the time was coming, hide or scream,” Boldt said. “The neighbors would put down their windows.”
Boldt said she did not abandon her children. They needed her, and she loved them so much, but it was not healthy for them to be in the proximity of her profound illness.
“​As painful as the goodbyes were, I knew it was very important for me to keep seeing them every other weekend,” Boldt said. “I wanted them to know that although I wasn’t able to raise them, that I loved them and haven’t abandoned them.”
The years ticked by. Suicidal impulses emerged, and her doctors were “throwing up their hands.”
“I was almost 48, heading toward the state hospital,” Boldt said. “I went through years of begging God to deliver me and feeling as if everyone – even He – was disappointed in me. Then one day I prayed, ‘I don’t think I can live up to anyone’s expectations, including my own. So from this day on, Lord, if I never please anybody else, I want to keep my eyes on You and please You.’”
The moment marked a positive turning point.
“​A short time later, when I was getting help at the Apalachee Center,​ I stuttered out that I needed to try something different,​” Boldt said. “They are very good people, but they didn’t know how to help me anymore, so ​during a roundtable ​I told them that I need to find my significance in Christ.”
The roundtable agreed it was a good start.
She took it one day at a time.
“Every thought of temptation I overcame with God’s help,” Boldt said, quoting Second Corinthians 10:5, “And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
“I spoke the truth,” she said, “instead of giving in to throw up, to not eat, or to cut myself. God loves me and I am not a farrier to that kind of stuff. I started imitating stable people, praying and believing and meditating on scripture.”  
She slowly came off her medications.
“Why didn’t this happen sooner?” Boldt asked. “Of course I prayed all those times in the hospital. I guess I don’t have to understand it, but I rejoice that I am free today! I want to help others and show compassion for those who are still struggling. I am thankful for where the Lord has brought me.”
Now Boldt is 60, married to Bert Boldt, and is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and sales executive at Wave 94. She enjoys a great relationship with her kids and four grandchildren. She is also at a healthy weight.
Getting well does not mean her life is perfect. Boldt’s health was negatively impacted through her years as an anorexic.
“I do have consequences like low blood sugar, lupus, my bones aren’t healthy, and my metabolism is so bad,” Boldt said. Long-term medical implications can also include brain shrinkage, osteoporosis, heart failure, infertility and death.
Reyes added, “Most people think it’s female disorder, but it’s truly not, you see it in men, and even in young boys,” Reyes said.
Boldt’s doctor recently said it would be advisable if she did lose some weight.
“God delivered me, plus 20 pounds more than I wanted,” Boldt said, laughing. “But it’s good that I can laugh! I do struggle now at the weight I am, wanting to feel attractive. But now after 12 and a half years… I don’t fear going back. I’m wise enough to know that the devil will trip me up again. I take captive those thoughts, and choose not to fall into those behaviors again.”
For anyone experiencing a similar struggle, Boldt said she is there for support. Just email her: sherylhboldt.wave94@gmail.com. A Time to Change can be reached at 926-1900.

Feb. 21-27 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. To read facts, warning signs and statistics, visit: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org