Starving for Perfection: Darlene

"I'm Just a Disease"

"At the age of 47, I was diagnosed with anorexia," says 58-year-old Darlene, who's 5'2" and weighs 60 pounds. "When I go to the

doctor, they say, ‘You're at a death weight.'"


"I first noticed Darlene's eating disorder when she was undressing. Her bones were protruding from her skin. I couldn't believe it," says Marlene, Darlene's twin sister and best friend. For the last two years, Marlene has tried to get Darlene to go into treatment, but Darlene says she doesn't trust treatment centers.


Darlene's distorted view of food began when she was a child. "At the age of 5, I was

put on diets," she explains. "My father controlled my weight. He would restrict food that he thought would make us fat. I wanted to please him, so I stayed thin." She remembers her dad's comments when they would see a heavier woman. "He would say, 'Look at that fat ass on that woman,'" she recalls. 


Marlene also remembers their father's wrath. "My father would make comments if he thought we were too heavy," she says. "Darlene would say, ‘I'm going to show you how strong I am, and I'm not going to eat.'"


Darlene admits to being a perfectionist. "As the anorexia gets worse, I increase my obsessive-compu

lsive behavior. It's like I've got to walk," she says. Every day she starts walking at 6:00 a.m. and walks for five-and-a-half to six hours, covering 20 miles. "When I'm walking, I feel free. I don't have to worry about eating. I've had EKGs, my heart's fine. The only health issue is that I'm starving to death," she says. During her walk, she stops for coffee for that extra boost. "People ask me why I use a straw, so I don't have to bend my head back, and I can keep walking." After her walk, Darlene does five sets of 100 crunches and six sets of 600 leg lifts so she can burn more calories, while watching the Food Channel. "I like to watch the food on TV because it looks good to me even though I won't eat it. I get the satisfaction if I had eaten, but I haven't."

Darlene admits to having a fear of food. "I have a handful of my bran cereal. That's my breakfast/lunch. For my dinner, I have two cups of popcorn.

That's pretty much what I've been eating for the last year," she says. She measures everything she eats. "My total food bill a month is probably $50, if that."


"I feel angry at Darlene. If she could just be moderate, but it's always the extreme; walking so much, eating so little," says Marlene. "She's very controlling of everything that happens in her life."


"She's frustrated that I'm killing myself. We're very connected, but now that connection is gone, and that's what I'm really sorry has happened," Darlene shares. "My anorexia is my comfort zone. I can cry on its shoulder. It doesn't yell at me."


"I can't keep watching her slowly die in front of my eyes," Marlene says through tears. "A walking skeleton, that's what she looks like. It's really hard to look at her, actually."


Matter-of-factly Darlene says, "If I die, I die. If I don't, I don't ... I feel like I'm just a disease. I'm not a person. I'm just a disease."


"Tell me why that's so hard for you to watch," Dr. Phil says to a tearful Darlene.

"The hardest part is because I'm hurting my sister, and I'm putting more stress in her life and I don't want to do that," Darlene says.

"You know that you're going to start shutting down systems here, and you are in jeopardy. You can die here, specifically from this disease causing system shut down," Dr. Phil tells her. 


"I don't think of that though," Darlene says.

Dr. Phil continues. "At a logic level, do you understand what's going on as not being healthy? Do you understand that you look

emaciated to the rest of the world?" he asks.

"No," Darlene replies. "I would say in the last month, I've become more aware. I've always thought they were staring at my leg, but now I know it's about my weight. So intellectually, I do know."


"At one point in your interview you said, 'Basically, I'm normal.' But then in the next breath you say, 'I'm not a person. I'm a disease,'" Dr. Phil says. "Does that seem logically, intellectually sound?"


"No," Darlene says.

"You recognize the contradictions, and you recognize that what you're do

ing, at an intellectual level, is not in your best interest," Dr. Phil says.

"Correct," Darlene says.

"Does that intellect carry you enough that you can say, ‘I've got to at least be open to trying to do something about this?" Dr. Phil probes. "You've said, ‘I'm too old to help. I'm just waiting to die.'"

"That's how I feel," Darlene says, explaining that she has been in treatment, and she hasn't changed from it. "I felt like I had failed again, and I don't want to feel like I fail anymore, so I don't want treatment.""You don't want treatment because why?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Because I'm tired of having the same results. Nothing has helped me," Darlene says.

"If you're waiting to die, what else have you got to do?" Dr. Phil quips.

"It's too hard to get treatment. Once you're in treatment, it takes a lot of energy emotionally. And I feel like I'm so weary from doing this for so long that I don't care if I die," Darlene explains.

"Do you think it takes more energy than walking 20 miles a day and doing 1,000 sit-ups and crunches?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Yes, it does," Darlene replies.

"Because it's emotional energy," Dr. Phil points out and Darlene agrees.

Dr. Phil asks Marlene, "What do you want to see happen?"

"I want Darlene to be able to realize, and maybe you can help her realize that she's worth taking another chance at an eating disorder clinic, and that she deserves to live," Marlene says. "I'll help her any way that I can, but she has to make a commitment to herself for herself."

"Why do you think you're not worth the trouble?" Dr. Phil

asks Darlene. 

Darlene explains that she used to be very active until she suffered a debilitating leg injury, and she is now on permanent disability. "I feel like I don't have a purpose," she says. "I just feel like I'm a burden to everybody, so if I was gone, it would hurt maybe for a short time, but then, you know, life goes on." 

"Do you think it's going to be easy on your sister to stand in the graveyard beside your grave and bury you? Do you think she's not going to be haunted by thoughts after that? ‘I could have done one more thing. I could have pushed one more time. I could have tried. I could have, I should have.'"  Dr. Phil asks.

"No, but I know it's not easy now," Darlene says.


Dr. Phil points out that it's Darlene's choice. "You can keep her from having that guilt burden later, and you can lighten the load now by taking some responsibility for your own disease," he says.

Dr. Phil points to a drawing that Darlene made of how she sees herself. "Your explanation of this was that you feel disconnected from your body," he says.

"Because of my leg, I don't feel like a whole person. The anorexia is in my head, so I feel like I'm just really in my head, that my body is somewhere else," Darlene explains, noting that her leg

won't bend and she can't do the things she used to, like jog and ski. 

"Your purpose in this world wasn't to be a jogger and a skier," Dr. Phil says. "Maybe, part of your meaning and your purpose is being here right now, using your life for millions of people to see, to understand what can happen if these eating disorders spin out of control." He tells her that she can't quit on herself. He explains that her brain is telling her something that isn't true. "This comes from a long way back," he says, referring to her difficult childhood. "You were treated cruelly and viciously and that causes you to devalue yourself."


Dr. Phil mentions that Marlene and Darlene's dad recently died. "It was on that deathbed for the first time that he told you he loved you. Maybe it's time to stop letting him choose who you are and what you think and claim it back for yourself," he says to her. He asks her to think about it.

"People tell me that they do love me, and Marlene loves me to death, but if I don't believe it myself, it doesn't matter, and that's where I'm stuck," Darlene says. "I don't love myself. I hate myself, and that's why I'm destructive."

Dr. Phil reiterates that Darlene must listen to her logic telling her it's not right. "If you saw your sister doing this, would you stop her?" he asks.

"Yes," Darlene says. "I'd try to help her."