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A battle with bulimia: Photo editor was determined to show woman’s life through his viewfinder

  • 7:15 p.m.: The first course of her meal is ready: a wedge of lettuce with other veggies along with yogurt. The condiments were for later.

    7:15 p.m.: The first course of her meal is ready: a wedge of lettuce with other veggies along with yogurt. The condiments were for later.

  • 7:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin starts with yogurt.

    7:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin starts with yogurt.

  • 7: 27 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats lettuce with salad dressing.

    7: 27 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats lettuce with salad dressing.

  • 7:48 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats an ear of corn.

    7:48 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats an ear of corn.

  • 7:59 p.m.: Katherine Drouin pours out the mayo before starting to eat the chicken.

    7:59 p.m.: Katherine Drouin pours out the mayo before starting to eat the chicken.

  • 8:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats chicken on top of a bed of lettuce.

    8:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats chicken on top of a bed of lettuce.

  • 8:37 p.m.: A bowl of chili with a piece of bread.

    8:37 p.m.: A bowl of chili with a piece of bread.

  • 9:37 p.m.: What Katherine Drouin couldn't finish of the chili and bread is scraped together.

    9:37 p.m.: What Katherine Drouin couldn't finish of the chili and bread is scraped together.

  • 9:44 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats a Snickers bar to start off the dessert course.

    9:44 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats a Snickers bar to start off the dessert course.

  • 10:22 p.m.: Katherine Drouin shows her full stomach after eating for three hours. She was ready to purge.

    10:22 p.m.: Katherine Drouin shows her full stomach after eating for three hours. She was ready to purge.

  • Katherine purges after eating for three hours and 13 minutes.

    Katherine purges after eating for three hours and 13 minutes.

  • 7:15 p.m.: The first course of her meal is ready: a wedge of lettuce with other veggies along with yogurt. The condiments were for later.
  • 7:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin starts with yogurt.
  • 7: 27 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats lettuce with salad dressing.
  • 7:48 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats an ear of corn.
  • 7:59 p.m.: Katherine Drouin pours out the mayo before starting to eat the chicken.
  • 8:17 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats chicken on top of a bed of lettuce.
  • 8:37 p.m.: A bowl of chili with a piece of bread.
  • 9:37 p.m.: What Katherine Drouin couldn't finish of the chili and bread is scraped together.
  • 9:44 p.m.: Katherine Drouin eats a Snickers bar to start off the dessert course.
  • 10:22 p.m.: Katherine Drouin shows her full stomach after eating for three hours. She was ready to purge.
  • Katherine purges after eating for three hours and 13 minutes.

Monitor photo editor Geoff Forester knew he’d be shooting powerful images of Katherine Drouin, who has suffered from an eating disorder for more than 20 years.

But Forester underestimated just how much the photos would affect him.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in this business,” he said.

A veteran photojournalist who once worked at the Boston Globe, Forester repeated the same line often while we worked on the assignment: “We can’t sugarcoat this. We have to show what we saw.”

That’s why we chose these particular photos for today’s look at Drouin, a 36-year-old woman who graduated from Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton, where she ran cross country, earned good grades and prepared for a productive life.

Drouin gave us full access to a life of severe mental illness, addiction and fear. She let Forester fire off shot after shot while she prepared a seven-course meal, spent a little more than three hours eating nearly everything in sight and then vomited for two minutes straight, searching for relief.

“She lifted her shirt up to her chest to show us her stomach,” Forester wrote in an email, “not once, not twice, but three times to show how she looked before, during and after her binging. At first she didn’t want me to photograph her purge, but in the middle of her meal, she changed her mind. ‘I will leave the door open for you,’ she said.”

It was Drouin’s nightly routine. She said it ruled her life, forcing her to carve out a significant portion of time each day to satisfy her needs.

Forester took readers behind the scenes, to a place Drouin said no one had been before. Her honesty and bravery, Forester knew and Drouin hoped, might help others.

The photos Forester captured, of Drouin eating and eating and eating, of the glazed look in her eyes as it became obvious that food meant something different to Drouin than it did to the rest of us, of Drouin bent over the toilet, are disturbing.

Later, we discussed how far to go, what and what not to use, mindful of the public’s reaction to such a display.

In the end, Forester lobbied to have his work speak for itself, saying this was a slice of life, painful as it might have been to accept, that few have had the opportunity to show.

Editor Steve Leone agreed, and what you’re seeing in today’s edition is a raw, unfiltered look at the destructive power of bulimia.

We hope these photos help someone summon the courage needed to fight to get well.

Drouin was relieved to let her guard down in front of Forester’s lens. When she was finished in the bathroom, he held her hand and said, “You are a very brave person.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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