I’ve gone back and forth about writing this post because of its uncomfortable nature, but given that it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I ultimately decided that I should.
**Disclaimer: This post may contain content that is triggering to some readers.**
I have always been a firm believer that eating disorders are a 2 part disease. There is the (obviously) unhealthy relationship that one has with food (bingeing, purging, restricting, etc.); but there is also what I like to call the “self-loathing piece” (the cognitive stuff). The cognitive piece of the disease has been without a doubt the hardest part for me to overcome…and I’m still working on it. I began restricting and throwing up (the small amount I was eating) my food when I was in middle school. Looking back, I never really had an issue with my body or the way that it looked…I think it started as a form of control. I felt as if I had zero stability in my life and the only way I knew how to rectify that was to take control of something. Again, I was in middle school so the amount of things that I had control over were significantly limited (at least to me). So I decided that I would start restricting my calories (good move, B). I would skip lunch when I was at school and when it was time for dinner I would lie and say that I ate too much during the day and that I wasn’t hungry (typical excuse). I realized that what started as a desperate need for control was spiraling very much out of control. My unhealthy relationship with food continued for years until one day I woke up and realized that I was a skeleton of myself. I had always been a small girl (I was an athlete) but now I no longer looked strong, I looked emaciated. People started to take notice and it went from bad to worse. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding it, clearly I was not.
My soccer coach (God bless his soul) was the one that brought me in for a sit-down after someone went to him with concern about my increasingly smaller frame. He could see that I was terrified that I had been “found out” and he gave me every opportunity to get myself together. I don’t think he realized how deep in the disease I was, and how could he, he had only known me for 6 months; however somewhere deep down in my soul, I think I knew how far down the rabbit hole I had fallen. I gave him the same song and dance I gave to everyone else….“I eat, I’m just naturally thin,” or “I’m a dancer, It’s hard to put on weight.” I don’t necessarily think he believed me but he gave me a chance to turn things around. He had me keep a food diary and weighed me once a week to check my progress. Can you guess what happened next? I’m sure you can. I failed miserably. I lied on my food diary everyday (seriously, every single day) but was able to maintain my weight to help me get by for a few weeks. Of course that didn’t last very long, all good (in my mind) things must come to an end. I had a 5-7lb drop in my weight one week (after reporting that I ate spaghetti, fried chicken, etc.) and he lost it. He was so
angry disappointed in me. He yelled at me and a slew of my classmates could see the blow up through the glass window of the classroom we were in. I knew in that moment that things were about to get really uncomfortable. Between my sobs he told me that he was going to call my mom (I begged him not to – he did it anyway). I could tell that he was scared; he was fresh out of college and didn’t appear to have any practice with something like this (but who does?). I wasn’t angry at the way things happened; in hindsight, I should be thanking him.
I came home prepared to put on my leotard and head to dance class hoping that he forgot to call (he didn’t). My mom quickly swooped in and told me to have a seat and that I wouldn’t be attending class that evening. My heart sank to my stomach and was beating a million miles a minute; I knew she knew, and I wasn’t ready for the inevitable conversation we were about to have. We talked, there were tears, it was painful, and we decided that I needed to get some help. They thought keeping a closer eye on me would be sufficient, it wasn’t. I ate just enough to gain and maintain about 10 extra pounds, but was throwing most of my meals up when no one was looking. I vividly remember my best friend (shout out to MA) telling me that I looked emaciated and gross (bluntness has always been her strong suit), but I didn’t care. My sneaky and unhealthy behaviors (weighing lettuce, chewing food and then spitting it out, etc.) continued for a couple more years before I had to take the next step and really get myself together, I would have died otherwise. The disease that I brought into my life to ensure control and stability had betrayed me; it instead turned me into a person that was very out of control and that vehemently hated their body. I would give anything to go back in time and tell 12 year old me that it isn’t worth it. I feel so sad for my friends and family that had to see me that way, it’s certainly no way to live.
Fast forward almost 18 years later and I’m still trying to figure it all out. There have been times when my “eating disorder brain” has been relatively quiet, and then there have times when it’s been extremely loud. The last few
months years it’s been MUCH louder than I would like, but I suppose it’s all a part of the process. My motto has always been “progress not perfection” and I can tell you that progress has definitely taken place. There are days when I wish that I was further along in my recovery, but I guess I should count myself lucky to have experienced recovery at all. Not all eating disorders look the same, they don’t only affect women, and they don’t have to destroy you for the rest of your life. I want you to know that recovery is possible. It’s not easy and oftentimes it’s not as straightforward as we would like. There are days when I feel like I might not ever get there, but I choose to believe that it gets better; at some point, all of this hard work will pay off. I have stumbled many times before (especially with the self-loathing talk) and I’m sure that I will stumble again, but that’s okay. It isn’t a straight shot, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. So for now, I will take the progress I’ve made, hold on tightly, and use that to move forward in my recovery even further!
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. I urge you to reach out to someone; preferably a mental health counselor or the National Eating Disorder Association (1 (800) 931-2237), but anyone will do. It’s important to find a safe place to start a dialogue about what you’re feeling and going through. Not everyone will understand, and it’s not because they don’t care about you, but more so because it’s a complex disease to comprehend. While I am not a professional (despite getting a degree in psychology), I’d be happy to answer any in-depth questions about my experience and offer encouraging words and prayers to anyone who may need them!
Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep talking. It gets better.