Struggle against the Scale

Heather Mangan

Heather Mangan

Eating is a human necessity, but for Dalyn Darrington, it became a battle.

From the time she was 12 years old, Darrington thought she was fat. She could only see herself as overweight even though she wasn’t – now she realizes her mind was playing tricks on her.

She began to crash diet by experimenting with diet pills and making herself vomit. She exercised frequently and only allowed herself to eat a certain number of food items a day.

“I didn’t think there was a problem,” said Darrington, a sophomore health promotion major from Waubay. “It wasn’t out of control.”

Eating disorders can flourish during college, because there is so much pressure placed on students, said LaQuita Simons-Olson, a counselor at Student Health and Counseling Services.

“This is the one time in their life they have to excel,” she said.

Simons-Olson, who leads a group that helps deal with distorted body image and eating disorders, said the problem stems from people who have a distorted body image.

“It’s not about the food – it’s about the perfection,” she said.

For Darrington, her eating habits began to spin out of control in high school. She was careful about what she ate, but every February she seemed to fall into a dark cycle, binging and purging at least once a week. Once summer came around, she went back to limiting what she ate.

No matter what she was always exercising.

“I never quit working out,” she said.

She exercised for two to three hours during an open period and then she would go to basketball practice. She then would go home and have supper with her family, which was usually her only meal of the day, and after dinner, she did ab workouts in her room for an hour.

She checked her body mass index and weight on a daily basis.

“That was what I went off of,” she said.

Darrington said she really wasn’t underweight but her body fat percentage was low, and she was mostly muscle.

Although Darrington was working out twice as much, she wasn’t eating, said her sister, Darah. She was very picky about what she ate — often only eating food she could throw up.

Secret comes out

She kept her secret hidden for a while.

“I didn’t know it until it was more noticeable,” said Darah, who is attending graduate school at the University of South Dakota.

Darah said she eventually could tell there was a problem because Darrington’s face was pale and her cheeks were sunken in.

Darrington’s boyfriend, Brad Kuecker, also noticed something was wrong.

“She always got bloody noses, she was never really eating and she was always sick,” said Kuecker, who goes to school at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown.

Darah tried to approach her about it, but Darrington became defensive.

“She denied it,” she said. “I think at the time, she didn’t realize she had a problem. I got frustrated because it didn’t matter what you said (to her).”

Kuecker also failed to get through to her.

“She didn’t really want to tell me,” he said. “She acted scared because she thought I might want to leave her. But it just made me want to hug her tighter.”

But Darrington didn’t think there was anything wrong.

“I thought throwing up was OK,” she said. “I wanted to ignore it because I didn’t think it was a problem.”

It was hard for her to admit there was a problem — especially to her parents.

“I didn’t want to disappoint them,” Darrington said. “I saw how worried my family was about me and it bothered me to see them worried.”

By the time she told her parents, they had already guessed something was wrong.

“They were going to talk to me anyway,” she said.

Road to Recovery

Darrington’s high school nurse encouraged her to attend a screening for eating disorders at Northern State University in Aberdeen. The screening indicated that she had a problem.

At her first doctor’s appointment, she was told her resting heart rate was 40 – a runner in good health has a resting heart rate of 60.

“If I would have reached my target heart rate, I would have had a heart attack,” Darrington said. “That scared me. That is what woke me up. I finally realized I needed help.”

Janet Mullen, director of Student Health and Counseling Services said that they use a team approach to battle the different types of eating disorders. Students who have eating problems visit with a doctor, a counselor and a dietician.

“It kind of runs the gamet from excessive eating to controlled undereating and a lot of variation in between,” she said. “Treatment needs to be individualized.”

Darrington met with a dietician, a doctor and a counselor. The doctors slowly increased her daily calorie intake and wouldn’t let her exercise.

However, her recovery wasn’t quick.

She quit seeing her doctors a few months later when she graduated from high school.

“I got sick of having to go to all of (those) appointments,” Darrington said. “After the meetings were done, then everything wasn’t just perfect. They didn’t really help me that much.”

Last fall, Darrington was a freshman at Dakota State University in Madison, and she began to eat regularly and didn’t exercise as much.

At semester time, she transferred to SDSU, and said she had some rough times during stressful parts of the semester, but she managed to work through them.

This semester, Darrington began going to an eating disorder counseling group offered through Student Health, which meets Thursdays from 4 to 5 p.m. in West Hall.

Darrington said the group is for anybody who has a distorted body image. Everyone is able to share their stories and the group is completely confidential.

The group has helped her stay on the right path.

“It’s enjoyable. I’ve opened up more there than I ever have,” Darrington said.

Healthier and Happier

Although Darrington is healthier now, she still lives with the eating disorder.

“It’s something you have to deal with everyday,” she said. “You have to make smart decisions. You have to pick what you eat and how it’s going to make you feel.”

Kuecker can still see her struggling.

“I could still see parts of it coming back every now and then but she is doing a hell of a lot better than she used to be,” he said.

But he can also see the change.

“She has changed probably 360 degrees,” he said. “She doesn’t really care what other people think of her anymore. She is her and that is all that I want her to be. It makes her a stronger person. She is one of the strongest people I know.”

Darah agrees. She said her sister smiles, goofs around and laughs again.

“She is definitely back to the old Dalyn,” she said.

Darrington wants to use her experience to help others realize they have a problem and can overcome it.

“I think it’s something she wants to help other people with and that helps her deal with it,” Darah said.

She tells people to remember they are not alone in this fight.

“Anyone who has recovered and is getting a relapse, don’t be afraid to get help,” she said. “Anyone who thinks they have the slightest problem, they probably do.”

#1.885660:2334271325.jpg:scale.jpg:Eating disorders are common among female college students because of the increased social pressures.:Mike Carlson