Community helps local woman recover from eating disorder
By Jim Shilander
She hears the snickers.
Rachael Farrokh was the literal picture of health a few years ago. Now, she weighs less than a young child might—approximately 55 pounds.
Anorexia nervosa, and other health issues, brought on by attempts to bring her weight back up to something resembling normal, has taken a toll on her body.
“I get made fun of by people in the street all the time,” Farrokh said. “I get a lot of, ‘Hey, look at that,’ or ‘Why don’t you lay off the heroin, you crack whore.’ Just the rudest things.”
Farrokh has been severely ill for the last 18 months, though she’s suffered from anorexia for several years. Her current maladies start with a bezoar—a fibrous mass of indigestible material that has built up in her stomach—that makes it extremely difficult and painful to digest solid food. Doctors are now trying to figure out what to do.
Farrokh met her husband Rod Edmonson at San Clemente Gym 11 years ago. Edmonson, a personal trainer, said he and others noticed her immediately.
“She was the one who would work out and everybody would stop their workout to watch,” he said. “She was very dynamic. There aren’t many clients that push the trainer, but she did. It became a perfect storm. She would try to get her body a certain way, but it became excessive and the trauma overtook her body.”
In Farrokh’s experience, anorexia came as a result of trauma in her life. It wasn’t just about being thin, she said.
“It’s a cry for help, someone’s usually being hurt in some way, shape or form, and they internalize it,” she said. “People, instead of asking what’s wrong, avoid you. That’s what everyone else in my life did. It’s the most difficult psychological disease to get over.”
As much as she could, Farrokh tried to hide what was happening, but said many simply did not ask what was at the root cause of her illness, which was abuse.
Road to Recovery a Bumpy One
Edmonson has spent countless nights sleeping in a hospital chair to help his wife through treatment. But it’s the psychological aspect of the illness that makes the treatment more fraught.
“Nurses would do or say the wrong things and it would trigger an eating disorder to go south inadvertently,” he said.
Treatments with fluids to get her weight back up sometimes made things worse. Even if her weight was dangerously low, comments about “how big she’d gotten,” fueled the disorder, Farrokh said. Coupled with the weight gain making her appear “lumpy,” although that eventually went away, treatments faltered.
One attempt to put on weight actually made some health problems worse. At one point, Farrokh’s blood sugar dropped into the 20s. A subsequent emergency room visit led to an attempt to add fluids to increase her blood sugar.
“I noticed her left foot was super swollen,” Edmonson said. “Her heart and her kidneys couldn’t keep up.” Doctors even talked about potential burial options.
“I wasn’t supposed to survive,” Farrokh said.
Due to the bezoar, which “enables” the disorder even more, Farrokh said she’s currently at the smallest she’s ever been. But, she’s now beginning to see the value she has to other people, which is key to making a recovery—both physically and psychologically.
That’s good, because her current condition makes recovery from a bezoar difficult, she said.
Typically, if a healthy person were to develop a bezoar, it could be removed surgically. Farrokh’s low body weight largely eliminates that option, since it’s not clear she would survive the procedure. Another option could be to break up the bezoar with a tube inserted down her throat. But the anesthetic required likely eliminates that option until she puts on weight.
“People say ‘eat a cheeseburger,’” Farrokh said. “If I eat a cheeseburger, it could kill me, because my body’s metabolism will speed up so much, it will burn it so fast I’ll drop even more weight.”
Simply ingesting more won’t help her either, she said, since her body has essentially gone “hyper metabolic.”
Ideally, Farrokh said, she should be ingesting 5,000 to 6,000 kilocalories per day, mostly in foods that take time to digest.
“When I get liquids, it comes out,” she said. “I just have to suffer through the pain and keep doing it.”
Helping Hands in Recovery
Farrokh and Edmonson say the support of the community they’ve built at San Clemente Gym has been important to her recovery.
“They’ve always had my back, whether its prayers or support,” Farrokh said of the people at the gym. “They’ve just believed in me and never judged me.”
The gym has been raising awareness of her condition and keeping members updated as to how she’s doing, as well as visiting her during her hospitalizations.
“I didn’t think they’d want to be affiliated with me,” Farrokh said. “They told me, ‘We’re not ashamed of you at all.’ I couldn’t believe the overwhelming response and the love and support that they gave me. I’m their little miracle. I’m finally feeling like people actually care. They’re the only ones who look at me and don’t see a monster.”
Farrokh is working on a documentary to educate people about the illness and has begun helping others in recovery.
San Clemente Gym owner Eric Lucy and his family have been busy ministering for the last year in Cozumel, Mexico, as part of 7 Day Hero ministries, where his church has set up an orphanage, halfway house, farms and other improvements for the area.
About six months ago, he said, he began getting frequent emails from Farrokh about how things were going. He said he was struck by her passion for the gym and his work in Mexico, which is supported by the gym.
“She has a passion for the orphanage and all we’re doing,” Lucy said. “I saw such excitement. She has her heart and her faith. I believe that what she’s doing at the gym will help her. She’s not hiding.”
Farrokh, who has a background in marketing and sales, will, along with Rod, be part of the team that will lead the gym when he returns to ministry, although with increased competition locally, the gym has had to reinvent itself and move back to its roots.
“It’s a good thing having her here,” Lucy said. “People are in process. We’re here to take care of people. I believe that’s what we’re called to do.”
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders has a helpline, which can be reached at 630.577.1330