When I adopted her in May 2005, she was twelve and a half years old and weighed only 72 pounds. During the required medical exam in Moscow, I was in the room and was shocked to see all her ribs perfectly defined under her skin. She was so very tiny. That was the first time I had seen her undressed.
When we were first out in public in Russia, she was very tentative with food at first. She was very undecided when we ate out in restaurants, but if we took her to a shop, she would buy whatever she could and then hide it when we got back to the hotel. One of mymost vivid memories was when we were leaving Kemerovo to fly to Moscow. She had a long string of sausages around her neck. I told her she could not take them on the plane with her. Being the great delegater she is, she first tried to talk my brother into taking them for her. I explained that they would not allow any of us to wear a sausage necklace onto the plane, and suggested she leave them in the tiny room fridge for the hotel staff. But hours later , as I added one last forgotten thing to my suitcase, there were the string of sausages, neatly packed and hidden under all a layer of clothes.
Once home, the gorging started. I had read about it, and I spoke to her doctor about it early on. He suggested I just let her find her own way with food, and not to limit her or she might overcompensate. Even with that tiny 72 pound frame, she managed to eat an entire bunch of bananas (6) in one sitting that first morning. Then, later that week, it was an entire crate of clementines. Where was this food hiding in her little body? Thankfully, she had little interest in sweets and junk food. She wanted fruit. The more the better.
She slowly stopped gorging after the first six months, but still continued to gain weight steadily. She still tended to check the fridge twenty times a day, just to make sure there was food available to her. For the first year home, she would pack extra food to bring with her whenever she left the house. Her school backpack was loaded with snacks she would never eat. Just having them made her feel safe.
The biggest downturn occurred during the first month of seventh grade. The nurse at her school wrote me a letter about her concern for Anastasia's weight gain. She weighed 110. At 5'1". Not a problem in my book. I went and spoke to her in person, reminding her Anastasia was in her normal weight range and that her doctor and I were handling her food issues.
This lovely nurse obviously did not like my answer. Later that week, she called my daughter into her office and, in front of other students, told her she was fat and needed to lose weight! Like any good mother, I stormed into that school, went to her office, slammed the door behind me and threatened her and shamed her in every way I could think of. " You are NEVER to speak to my daughter again. EVER. Understand?" That was how I ended the conversation.
Now, you might think that was harsh, but you didn't experience Anastasia's devastating reaction to this name-calling. When I picked her up at school early that day (they had called for me to pick her up at lunch, because she was 'uncontrollable.') She got in the car and started banging her head against the window as hard as she could. I had to pull over to make her stop. She was hysterical and crying. At home she ran to her room and locked the door. When I picked the lock, she was in there tearing her clothes off and threatening to kill herself. "I hate America! America made me fat! I'm fat! I'm ugly. I want to die!" she screamed. How could an adult, in a position on power over a child KNOWN to have issues, known to lash out - how could this woman make such a stupid choice?
It took weeks for Anastasia to recover from this incident. She refused to go back to school for several days, try as I might to get her there. I arranged a meeting with the head of school and made sure she understood that this nurse was to have NO contact with my daughter anymore. Not only had she told my daughter she was fat, she did this in front of two other children, and poked her in the belly. This was witnessed by two other 7th graders . "Geez, you're really packing on the pounds there, Anastasia.." were the words she chose to use with my daughter that day. How this woman ever got a job at a school I'll never know.
Anastasia starved herself for days afterwards . I met with her doctor, and consulted with therapists. I begged, I pleaded. Finally, within a few weeks, she had settled down, but to this day she still recounts this story with tears, even though it happened over two years ago.
Food issues still remain, but Anastasia doesn't hoard food in her room anymore. She does, however, still have a very difficult time monitoring her own food intake. She eats healthy, but more than she should. When she is overeating, I will suggest that maybe what she really needs is some love, and most times she will accept a twenty-minute cuddle instead of eating three bananas in a row. It's a slow process. I think it's more important that I be sensitive to her feelings than insist she eat only what I allow. It may take longer, but it's less stressful for her.
The stress of school caused alot of emotional eating. Now that we are unschooling, food has become less of an issue. She is more aware of what she is eating, and she's more likely to limit her intake. She knows now that her metabolism was used to working in starvation mode, and now that she is eating normally, her body needed time to adjust. She is at 135 now, and perhaps needs to lose a few pounds to be at an ideal weight healthwise, but I am not worried. Her emotional health is so much more important right now. She will have a lifetime to learn how to manage her eating, and she is learning.
Funny side note: while I was typing this, Anastasia came in and asked if we could make a trip to the Russian food store, a few towns over. She didn't even know I was writing about food issues...lol. So, that's where we're headed. We haven't been in over a month. I know she will purchase pickled tomatoes, sausages, pelmeni, halva (a pate made from sunflower seeds), cyliodka (a kind of big, smoked sardine), condensed milk, and dark russian bread. If she makes an effort to speak Russian to the shop owners, she may get a special treat. They usually treat her with russian candy or blini or something sweet if she uses Russian with them. They are as determined as I am to keep her fluent. I'm glad for the help.