I am not a licensed physician.
I am not a psychologist.
I am not a registered dietician or a nutritionist.
I am just a young woman who has struggled to live a normal life because I can’t seem to eat food for the sole purpose of feeling good, prolonging my life, and being the best version of myself.
Please keep in mind that this essay shares details of my personal experience with disordered eating (which has evolved into many forms through out the past 8 years). Everyone who experiences an ED or disordered relationship with food has a unique story to tell.
The reason I seek to share my story is not to garner attention and have you feel pity for me. Believe me, that’s the opposite of what I want. The prideful ego voice in my head tells me often that if I wasn’t so weak I wouldn’t have these problems in the first place.
What I want is to share my story in the hopes that it will influence others to seek help. For years I thought that my problems were not bad enough to warrant professional help, or that I was a weakling for needing it. My friends, this could not be farther from the truth. If I had taken my problems seriously when I was a 16, or 17, or 18, or 19 year old, I would not be a married woman of 25 who continues to engage in self-destructive behaviors and debilitating anxiety around a very normal aspect of life.
I wish to have children someday, and the last thing I want is to project ANY semblance of disordered thinking around food onto them. My mother did a fantastic job with me and my three siblings. My hope is to heal enough that I can do the same with my own.
Now, if you have never struggled with an Eating Disorder, you might be thinking,
“…Heal? From what? Eating Disorders aren’t a real illness.”
And that’s why eating disorders (specifically anorexia) are the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents…and 20 percent of these teens do not seek any treatment. That means that they are continuing into adulthood with eating disorders. Sound familiar, perhaps?
Eating Disorders (EDs) prey on people of all ages, races, religions, societal classes, shapes and sizes.
The commonality among us ED folks is that we are obsessed with being “the best”. They are obsessed with being able to have a perfectly curated life. Exactly how THEY design it to be.
EDs are not simply a disease of the body. They are — primarily — a disease of the mind. And for the love of all that is good, Eating Disorders are not a “vain” mental illness or unworthy of professional help.
We can blame social media for causing this behavior in much of the world’s population, but society in general does not offer much support for those of us trying to recover.
Most people pay this illness no mind if the sufferer looks as he or she should look. When people lose weight, we applaud them without paying any mind to the struggles that might have caused the loss in the first place. Just to clear the air from the onset, having an eating disorder is not the opposite of body positivity. Which is what social media would like you to think.
Not all of us folks with eating disorders are there because we hate the way we look. We are here because we hate not being able to control the way that we look.
My story begins…
Back in my sophomore year of high school, I discovered that I could have complete reign over the shape of my own body by paying attention to the foods I ate and exercising. Which is an empowering notion…until it becomes an obsession. And dinners out with friends or family become the cause of anxiety. Eating two cookies instead of one warrants some sort of “compensation” in the form of starvation, exercise, or self-induced vomiting. And yes, I’m very ashamed to say I’ve tried all of these successfully since I was the ripe age of 16. I then spent the next 2 years of high school in a state of constant orthorexia (which wasn’t even recognized as an actual eating disorder when I was in high school), mixed with a handful of binging/purging episodes.
I remember when I first attempted to “eat mindfully”. I was coming fresh out of graduating from college, after struggling for the past four years with portion control and binging (no purging anymore, which is a small amount of progress). I was fed up with constantly going to bed feeling uncomfortably full, which is extremely reasonable.
I decided to start giving mindful eating a shot. I told myself I was going to be diligent about only eating when I was “truly hungry”, and stopping at 80% full. It started out very successfully. I was LOVING this journey I was on. I had decided to use intermittent fasting as a tool to “help” me stay on track. However — just like nutrition and health experts all over the place say — too much of anything is never good.
About month into this journey, I started to become obsessed with fasting. I was a “hunger addict” as I like to call it. I would hold daily competitions with myself to see how little I could eat in a given day. I remember my first 24 Hour, One Meal A Day (OMAD) fast— I felt amazing. My head was so clear. I had so much energy, I was light as a feather. The adrenaline high that I got from being able to stave off my hunger for an entire day was amazing.
Things were [obviously] starting to get out of hand/ I started to feel terribly weak. I could barely go on walks without getting exhausted. But, the insidious thing about these eating disorders — especially in today’s society — the exhaustion is addicting. The general feeling of constant hunger is a sign that you’re doing well. Plus, the weight was melting off. With maybe 10 pounds to lose, I lost 20 pounds in a month and a half. People were noticing my weight loss, and complimenting me on it! As long as I kept ignoring my body’s pleas for adequate fuel, I was able to maintain this new lifestyle.
As you continue to ignore your body, your body gets mad. And it begins to fight back.
You might lose your period.
You might be unable to control yourself when food is presented to you in surplus.
You might experience severe stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation, or even vomiting as a result of eating “heavier” foods.
You might find yourself unable to get restful sleep.
You might experience heightened anxiety and stress with regards to normal social situations like going to eat at a friend’s house or having your partner cook dinner instead of you.
You might, slowly but surely, turn into a thin shell of who you once were. Unable to hold conversations/social interactions with even those closest to you.
I know this is all possible because I lived through it, and it still took almost 2 years after these symptoms manifested themselves to realize that I had developed a new, and much more serious eating disorder.
Your ED will do whatever it can to retain control of your mind. It will convince you that it’s not worth it to get better. It’s not worth it to have your period, or to get through a day without feeling lightheaded when you stand up. It’s not worth it to gain the weight, even though you’ll gain so much energy and LIFE back. It’s not worth it to get help. And it’s definitely not worth it to lose that control you’ve worked so hard to maintain.
Your ED is a liar.
As is much of the language that exists in diet culture.
Eating can be simple. It can be functional. But it can also be FUN.
Yes, food is fuel, but food has been a source of enjoyment across all cultures, continents, and creatures of the Earth. It does not have to be complex, filled with rules of what, when, and how to eat. Contrary to what many zealots of the nutrition/diet industry will tell you, eating carbs will not make you fat, eating fat will definitely not make you fat, and chances are you can eat more calories than you think and still not gain a pound.
What experts don’t tell you is that the stress that you cause yourself agonizing over every calorie, over the fact that you had that extra sweet last night is actually more likely to cause weight gain than the delicious treat itself.
As I said in the beginning, I am no expert.
I don’t have any credentials to tell you how to get better. Heck, I’m still in my own process of getting better each day. Some days I feel like I’ve conquered my ED. Others, I feel like I regressed further behind where I ever was before. Recovery isn’t easy, and it’s not instant. It’s hard work, and it involves challenging a voice in your head that has been ingrained into your very psyche for a Very. Long. Time. It’s hard to silence that voice, just like it’s hard to quit any bad habit. But what you need to know is that life without that voice is SO MUCH BETTER. Life without that voice is paradise compared to life with that voice, despite what it will try to tell you.
So my final advice in this ramble of an essay is this: Get the help that you NEED and you DESERVE. Surround yourself with a support system that will help you fight off the negative thoughts and your own ED voice. And don’t be afraid to have two cookies instead of one.