I have been debating whether or not to write about this topic as it’s just an uncomfortable subject, but given that it is National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I thought that I should.
**Disclaimer: This may contain content that is triggering for some.**
I have always been a firm believer that eating disorders are a 2 part disease. There is obviously the unhealthy relationship 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 at 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 just start restricting my calories. I would skip lunch and lie when I got home and say that I ate too much so I wasn’t hungry (typical excuse). I realized that what started as a desperate need for control was spiraling very much out of control. I was an athlete, so while I had a muscular build, I was still relatively small. Then all of a sudden, I woke up and realized I was a skeleton of myself. 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 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 or I knew how severe my disease had gotten at that point and of course, I couldn’t stop. I was told to keep a food diary and I was being weighed every 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 but I was able to maintain my weight for a few weeks so things were okay. Of course that didn’t last very long, 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 with me. He yelled at me and a slew of my classmates could see the blow up through the glass window of the room we were in. I knew at 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 anyways). 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 it a step further and really get some help. 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 felt so sad and awful for my friends and family that had to see me that way.
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 are times when it is extremely loud. The last few
months years it has 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 process, 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 effect 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 work will pay off. I have faltered many times (especially with the self-loathing talk) and I am sure that I will falter 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 what progress I have made and hold on tightly and use that to push 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 are 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 would be happy to answer any questions about my experience and offer encouraging words and prayers for anyone who may need them!