Local doctor shows, speaks of anorexia
summit daily news
Dr. Julie Colliton has been recovering from anorexia through treatment centers, nutritional education, structured meals and group and individual therapy for years. But it wasn’t until she began drawing nude bodies – hers and others’ – that she realized how drastically altered her body had become from the eating disorder.
One drawing, of her lower thigh, knee and calf, depicts a long, concave line down the side. Where others would have more flesh, she could see a bluish vein next to her bone. Along her knee joint, bones protrude. She ended up adding a lot of shading to portray the thin leg and explained how illustrating other people’s demands brighter colors because they are more fleshy.
Colliton always liked to draw, but it wasn’t until she broke through her denial about having anorexia that she considered focusing on drawing anatomy. She knew sometimes art helped people with psychological disorders, so she thought she’d give it a try.
The artistic process proved to be powerful. It forced her to look at the damage the disease caused. One charcoal piece depicts her sitting with arms wrapped around her knees, hiding from everyone and everything.
“It reminds me of the loneliness of the disease and all the secrets I kept to protect my ability to continue in the disease,” she said.
Normally, she hides her body, even from herself, by the clothes she wears. But drawing self portraits caused her to slow down and truly study her thin anatomy.
“It forces me to face the reality of it,” she said.
The reality is that Colliton’s disease stripped her 5-foot-8-inch frame down to a mere skeleton, well under 100 pounds at her lowest point.
She began restricting her food intake at 17, when she’d eat a meager breakfast and study through lunch, all because she knew she’d have to eat dinner with her family. As she looks back, she sees a compilation of events that led up to punishing herself by not eating. She didn’t experience sexual or physical abuse like many who suffer from anorexia have; rather, she believes one of the root causes was her fractured self-esteem.
“I didn’t feel that I was good enough just as I am, and as a result I wasn’t worthy of food,” she said, adding she had stacked up external accolades by excelling as a medical student in an Ivy League school.
She remained relatively stable with her weight in college and in medical school, but when she started her residency, it triggered the disease again.
“All of the sudden, I was going to be in charge of human lives, in charge of their well-being, and that was daunting to me,” she said.
Friends and family became concerned about her weight loss and placed her in an eight-week treatment program for eating disorders. At first she resisted, but she eventually gained weight and returned to her residency. Upon completion, she got married, moved to Summit County and started her practice.
But when she gave birth to her daughter in 1999, the food restriction pattern reemerged. She competed with herself, seeing how long she could go without eating anything, all the while, exercising daily.
She became more distant from her husband of 10 years, and they divorced in 2004, which caused her disease to spiral out of control.
By May 2005, she had experienced lightheadedness and vision loss. Her professional peers became concerned and forced her into treatment. At first, she felt misunderstood and met them with resistance, but she eventually started intensive treatment in Denver. For the first time, she is concentrating on getting better for herself, instead of someone else.
She hopes to help at least one person by displaying her artwork at Teal Art Gallery’s Body Language show, which runs through Sept. 19.
While some of her drawings depict her overly thin, angular body, others represent bodies she drew at Lisa Rivard’s ongoing Life Drawing class. Illustrating other bodies allowed Colliton to not only see, but also feel a difference.
“I realized how different it physically felt to draw beautiful curves,” she said. “They were so much more fun than the stark, angular feel of my body, and it’s helped me realize how ravaged my body has become through this disease and to be motivated to change it. I see the comfort (the nude models) have in their own bodies. I hope to get to that same point.
“The art and the honesty with myself has helped me create more of a hatred of the disease than I ever have had before. It’s helped me realize it’s my decision whether or not I want to change, and nobody can do it for me.”
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