In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week last week, I feel I am confident enough in my own skin to speak about a topic that has affected my life for the last 8 years.
I suffered from multiple eating disorders throughout junior high and high school. Eating disorders are more than cutting calories and obsessing over what you drink and eat. Eating disorders are paralyzing and life-threatening. My intent with this is not to be triggering or be exaggerative– everything I will speak about is simply my experience. I’m sharing my experience to give insight of how eating disorders affect all aspects of life– mental, emotional, social, physical, and can alter perception of reality.
To those who have suffered with an eating disorder, I empathize with your pain. Below is my experience and in no way is my experience the only way someone can suffer with an eating disorder.
1. My eating disorders crept up on me and consumed my life.
Eating disorders trap you and belittle you before you have the chance to fight back. I first engaged in food restriction that dramatically effected my weight in seventh grade through ninth grade, and again junior to senior year. I was not aware of the dangerous habits I was developing until I was already drowning.
2. Eating disorders have changed my food experience.
Eating disorders have altered the way I look at food. Before recovery, food was no longer a necessity or an enjoyment– it was the enemy. I would feel happy and worthy if I didn't consume more than 400 calories a day– but would feel broken, disgusting, and unworthy, if I consumed one calorie over my limit. Food became numbers, and the numbers became my obsession. Today, I am currently a vegetarian. The real reason I adapted a vegetarian lifestyle isn’t because I simply didn’t enjoy meat anymore (which is what I typically tell people), it’s because I enjoyed it too much. I couldn’t trust myself to not binge on meat, so I removed it from my diet completely.
3. Eating disorders compromised my health.
I was typically in two sports at the same time in high school, yet I wouldn’t eat at all throughout the day before practices, meets, performances, or games. Fueling my body and taking care of myself was not my priority. My priority was making sure I looked skinny in my uniforms. A common symptom of anorexia is amenorrhea, which is the loss of one's menstrual cycle. I lost my period for a solid four years, and did not regularly get it back until last year. Shortness of breath, dizziness, and occasionally passing out had become normal feelings and occurrences. Blacking out was also a normal experience– once even causing me to get a concussion.
4. Eating disorders fueled my desire to wake up in the middle of the night to run on a treadmill while everyone was still asleep.
Working out became an obsession and top priority. It could have been ab workouts in the middle of the night, constantly doing wii workout programs, or running up and down my stairs a million times– I was always try to stay moving, and usually in the middle of the night, so no one knew what I was doing. I had back surgery junior year of high school and was instructed to not do anything more strenuous than walking for six months; but, my fear of gaining weight caused me to respect those instructions for only two months. I was running for an hour a night less than three months post surgery– along with eating a limited amount of calories. The instructions of my surgeon and doctors for protecting my back and health was not as important to me as staying thin.
5. Mirrors were not my friend.
Body dysmorphia is real and lives inside your mind and the reflection of a mirror. I would shower with the lights off to avoid looking in the mirror. I kicked and broke a mirror in junior high because my hip bones were not as obvious as I wanted them to be. Clothing shopping and fitting rooms became something I avoided at all costs. Even today, I have to give myself pep talks before clothing shopping and going into fitting rooms. It's still an uphill struggle.
6. My mental state deteriorated.
Eating disorders have caused me to experience and worsen anxiety and depression– along with feelings of anger, shame, and disgust. I would constantly feel tired and run down physically– but I would feel high from the gratification of restricting myself.
7. Eating disorders affected my social life.
An eating disorder can become your only friend and full time job. I put relationships with family and friends after it. I would lash out and cut communication with people who would try to help me or voice their concerns– I didn’t want anyone between me and my obsession. Luckily for me, I have one of the best friends who stood by me and didn't ask questions. She stood by me through mood swings and phases of being a terrible friend– she deserves the world.
8. My life was full of secrets.
My behaviors were shameful to me. I was completely ashamed of myself when I would engage in the toxic behaviors, but I was so addicted to the results that I could not stop. I developed tricks and habits that would help me maintain my behaviors. In junior high, I would gorge myself with water before going to the doctor in hopes that the few pounds of water weight would be a distraction from my shrinking body. I also developed the habit of chewing food and then spitting it into a napkin when no one was looking. It was all about trying to be sneaky so I would never being confronted about my behaviors.
9. People looked at me with sad eyes.
I believe some people saw my behaviors and suffering, but didn't know what to do about it. There was a time freshman year of high school I was called into the nurse's office along with my guidance counselor to discuss my eating habits after several concerns were reported to them. I played it off and was luckily at a semi-normal weight, so in the words of my guidance counselor, "It doesn't look like you have a problem, so you are fine." But little did she know how triggering that was. That meant that I looked "healthy", which at the time meant fat to me, which was not how I wanted to look. It also has caused family members to make sly comments and judgements about me. Eating disorders have also been subjects of punch lines for jokes when people want to hurt me. It was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about.
10. Eating disorders break you every single day.
Eating disorders had caused me to randomly break down. It could have been immediately in the morning after waking up not satisfied with how I looked. In high school, I would pretend to be sick some days because of how ashamed I was with my body and I didn't want to face people at school. During some sports, I would pretend to be sick or injured because of how uncomfortable and ashamed of how I looked in the uniform– sorry Coach. There were also nights were I would stay up all night panicking and crying because of how unhappy I was with my appearance and body. I have a video on my phone of myself during a panic attack about my body as a reminder of how much pain I was in and how important it is for me to stay strong so I don't relapse.
11. Eating disorders affected my sleep patterns.
Anorexia specifically can cause you to experience insomnia. Your body is lacking energy from food, so your body will work against your sleep cycle to keep you up during the night. Your body then uses the energy from being awake to fuel itself and so it doesn't shut down. More frequently than not I wouldn't be able to sleep. I think in junior high, I rearranged my room a million times during the night out of boredom. In high school, I would either do some sort of workout, typically on a treadmill, or stare blankly at a wall. I was so emotionally drained that I was numb.
12. Eating disorders made me hate myself.
Every time I would look in a mirror and not like what I saw, a feeling of rage and sadness would overcome me. Every time I would eat something I shouldn't have, I would break down and punish myself. If I didn't meet a goal physically or hit the weight I wanted, it was like the world was ending. I would be so ashamed and enraged with myself for failing, I would shut down and beat myself up. I hope no one can relate to this one– and if you can, you have my empathy.
13. Recovery and relapse is real.
In my opinion, recovery is extremely hard to achieve. Relapse is common and too easy to fall back into. There are always good days and bad days. Good days can be when I feel confident and can go out of my comfort zone by eating something I wouldn't normally eat, or wearing something I am not 100% comfortable in, but owning it anyways. Bad days are when negative thoughts slip back into my mind and I am just completely unhappy with how I look. I will look at old pictures of myself and sometimes wish I could be that thin again. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don't criticize myself or obsess over what I am eating; however, I remind myself of the pain and unhappiness I felt, which can pull me back to reality and healthy thoughts.
14. Suffering changed me for the better.
Anyone that has suffered from an eating disorder can agree that they are hell. My heart breaks for anyone else that has had to suffer the reality and pain of one. However, anyone that has overcome eating disorders may also agree that you come out a stronger person. After you hit that low that you didn’t think you would make it back from, you see life differently. I did not think I was strong enough to break the cycles of my eating disorders– but somehow, I did. This has made me realize I am stronger than the thoughts inside my head.