Sophomore fights back from eating disorder

Sports were everything for sophomore Tanner Tangen. He loved to be on the field kicking a ball, and he loved to be outside running for miles.

“Soccer is my dream job. My everything,” Tangen said. He wanted to be faster and better at sports and he was very determined.

That’s what he thought he was doing when he lost 40 pounds in one month, improving his athletic ability, but then he soon discovered that  “My eating disorder ruined my dreams and part of my life for me. I will never get my athletic abilities caught up to what they were going to be, and that makes me mad at myself,” Tangen said.

Tanner never thought that in a few months he would be admitted into the University of Iowa Hospital Child Psychology Unit for an eating disorder as he weighed just 95.6 pounds(months before being admitted weighing 134 pounds). “I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. Being a guy doesn’t matter. I wanted to lose weight to get faster, and then losing weight became way out of control,” Tanner said.

Tanner’s parents didn’t realize what he was doing at first. They didn’t realize he was hurting himself. It wasn’t until his soccer ability changed and he started cutting out major food groups.  “He started out cutting junk food, potato chips, candy, pop and watching his calories. I was not concerned,” Tanner’s mom Lenette said. “When he started cutting out food groups and obsessing the calories and fat in his foods and monitoring everything he ate,  I knew we had a serious problem.”

Tanner thought he would benefit from the loss of a few pounds, but his soccer career suffered.  Tanner’s dad Dominick noticed the struggles too. “Throughout the summer of 2015, he never ate more than 1,200 calories, but he was still practicing soccer three hours per day. I had no idea this was going on, but I did notice he was no longer the most dominant athlete on the soccer field. He was always the fastest and strongest kid on the field with the best ball skills. He was now spending all his time picking himself up off the ground and trailing behind the play.”

After comments from relatives and stories from other parents, the Tangen’s set out for help. They found the  University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, but were put on a waiting list, and after many weeks of agony and a loss of eight pounds, Tanner finally got in.

Once Tanner got into the eating disorder clinic weighing just 95.6 pounds, he was told that he was a couple days away from being dead, and Lenette said that “Tanner was the worst anorexic patient they have seen admitted. He was so weak and fragile, his heart rate was very low and his speech was slurred. When leaving him that first day I felt so awful walking out, but I knew he was safe now.”

His hospitalization was such  a relief for his parents, eating disorders were new for them even after doing research it was hard to deal with Tanner. “We were struggling trying to help him at home so going to the hospital took some weight off us all,” Lenette said.

Tanner’s dad still remembers the day he was admitted, how angry and irritated he was.  “My entire day was filled with negotiations, manipulation and name calling. It’s funny now, but one way Tan would negotiate is to challenge me to eat some 4,000 calorie meal, and then he would be willing to eat a grape. He did this daily.

“Tanner became very irritable and angry. An anorexic is not happy unless they are unhappy and starving to death. He called me names. Meals were hour long negotiations over what to prepare and then we negotiated over portion size for another 20 minutes. He threw food across the room if he didn’t like the amount. I can not put into words how horrible this was. He wore me out, and I can only imagine how worn out he was from this,” Dominick said.

As much as it was a relief for his parents that Tanner was hospitalized, it was a struggle for Tanner. “I was stubborn and rude to the staff,” he said. “Some of the time I felt like I wanted to die.”

His parents came and visited a few times a week, but it all depended on how Tanner was doing and how he was feeling.

When Tanner was in the hospital, he had very specific rules and boundaries. He had to move up through the levels to get more privileges. Moving up a level was based on his attitude and weight. Tanner wasn’t able to reach level three, which is when one meets 80 percent of his or her goal weight. This meant he wasn’t allowed to go outside or go off site for five weeks.

To help encourage Tanner and other patients, his mom made periwinkle-colored bracelets that said hope, faith and love. The color periwinkle represents eating disorder awareness. It started as a little thing for friends and family and eclipsed into a huge thing as everyone began asking for them.

When Tanner was released for the first time in January 2015, he returned to school, but he struggled to keep the weight on and was admitted back into the hospital again after 10 weeks. When he was admitted back to the hospital, he only weighed 99 pounds. And it was a lot harder to get him in the second time, although he was in better shape. Dominick said, “When we went for his admission the second time, we sat in a room full of doctors and caseworkers, and he negotiated with them for an hour. Finally a doctor stepped in and said, ‘I’m going to take that off the table.  You are staying here even if we have to get a judge to step in.’ He negotiated all day long.”

After a lot of support from family and friends and hard work on Tanner’s part, he left the hospital for good in July weighing 133 pounds.

“Well, I just finally decided that I’m done with this sh**. I started to satisfy my hunger. I feel good, and as long as it keeps my mom happy, I’ll continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle for her,” Tanner said.

That’s what kept Tanner going, his family. All of the visits from his mom and the thought of her in worry. It kept him going and wanting to do better.

Tanner spent 204 days in the hospital trying to become positive and become a healthy weight again, but his journey to recovery didn’t stop there. He visits the hospital monthly so they can monitor his weight, and he takes anxiety pills. He now weighs 140 pounds and said he is at his happiest.

Tanner’s family and friends continue to sport him through his YouTube channel. His channel started out as a way to show his shoes, but transformed into a place to talk about anorexia and his struggle.

On Tanner’s channel (Tanner Tangen), he tells people to reach out, and know that “someone is there.” After he created his channel, it became a distraction. Instead of thinking about what the scale said, he thought about what his viewers said and how many people were watching his blogs.

This fall, Tanner started his sophomore year at the high school and even attended the homecoming dance. Tanner is now regaining his strength and is back to his sports and is trying his hardest to be the athlete he was before.

“My biggest struggle currently is that I am not as good at soccer as I was back before this happened,” Tanner said.

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