National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: This is My Story

So here it goes. The big “weight loss journey” post. The one I’ve been dreading because I don’t like talking about this. I like joking about it. I like poking fun of it. I don’t like taking it seriously, because to do that I have to face some…seriously serious seriousness.

Okay, I’ll stop. It is a big deal, and not in a Ron Burgundy kind of way.

I have been putting off this post for a long time. In fact, it was originally titled “Modify Monday | Live Healthy,” and while it certainly is this week’s Modify Monday post, I don’t want that to be the focus here. I discovered that this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I feel it is important to vocalize these thoughts specifically under this banner.

Since I moved to Phoenix, I have been overweight. Actually, I think at some point during the first year I lived in Phoenix I was borderline obese for my size. I’ve since lost weight, but not enough. The past couple of years I’ve done my biometric screenings at work, I’ve been borderline overweight. I haven’t done mine yet this year (really got to get on that!), but I know I’ll see some different results because I’ve started down a healthier path. But before that…

I like food. I like food a lot. And there’s nothing wrong with liking food, in my opinion. It’s kind of problematic if you don’t like food. I’ve been there, too. My problem is with portion control. I never really learned how to eat healthy portions.

If you looked at me, you wouldn’t know that I struggled with eating disorders most of my life. Okay, actually, I think if some people looked at me they would think I struggled with binge eating. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that.

The first time I flirted with anorexia was when I was ten. I didn’t eat during lunch for about two weeks. It actually wasn’t that hard, and nobody ever noticed. Also, I wasn’t always a big weekday breakfast advocate growing up – I usually feel a little nauseated in the morning, so I tend to wait about two hours between when I wake up and when I actually eat. That strategy has actually been helping a lot lately; I eat breakfast when I get to work.

Anyway, after that I learned that it was super easy to be anorexic. I can’t make myself throw up, which I learned one time after I binge ate an entire family size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in high school and tried to make myself sick. Bulimia wasn’t an option, so anorexia was my disorder of choice.

I’m not sure how many people knew I was anorexic. I’m not sure if anyone knew, actually. I don’t remember talking to anyone about it. I remember talking about other friends who had eating disorders, but never about me. I’m not even sure if some of my best friends know these things about me.

I can be pretty good at presenting what I want people to see. So my mom would still make me lunches, and I’d give them away to people. I didn’t eat breakfast most mornings, so when I came home and ate dinner with my parents, that was pretty much the only meal of the day. If it was something I really loved (basically: pasta), I might have another serving. Totally normal. No red flags there, parents. If I stayed up late to work on homework, I might take a snack up.

What about at school? Oh, I had that covered. Those 100 calorie packs were freaking lifesavers. I’d just snack on those throughout the day because I was “hungry” and then I would be too full to eat when lunch actually rolled around. Totally normal. No red flags there, friends.

I’d eat when we’d go out to restaurants. Going out to eat and not eating? People will know.

I got a job at a restaurant my senior year (after IB exams were done and it wouldn’t affect my studies, of course). That made it even easier, because then I didn’t have to eat dinner at all. I worked the dinner shifts, so I wasn’t at home for my parents to see me eat. I rarely opted to take dinner from the restaurant home. Sometimes if I got really hungry at the end of the day, I would stop and get a salad somewhere at the end of the night. I mean, I’d probably only eaten like, 400 calories prior and been on my feet for five hours as a hostess, so a salad was okay.

The thing that really made it work is that I would do this in cycles. I’d severely reduce my eating to one real meal a day (either observed by others as “proof” or eaten in secret because I was ashamed) for a month or so, and then I’d be okay for a bit. Then the cycle would repeat. I’d never get too skinny – just slim enough to be okay to look in a mirror and not hate myself.

When I started college, it was really easy at first. I get really…socially anxious. And I knew maybe a handful of people through the grapevine at NU. I lived off Luna Bars for a while because I didn’t want to go down to our dining hall alone. I would just eat a Luna Bar if I got hungry, and that was it.

Of course, I ended up gaining the freshman fifteen somehow. Because I like food, remember? So here’s where I went from rarely eating to overeating constantly. Once I made friends and had people to join me in the dining hall, I was fine. No more anorexic tendencies. Instead, the “I don’t know what a healthy portion of anything is” factor kicked in.

I just ate.

And ate.

And ate.

When I went home after freshman year, I lost twenty pounds just from eating better (I think I went on one run that lasted about ten minutes) and making dinner myself almost every night. I was vegetarian then, and in the dorms that translated to bagels, pizza, french fries, and unlimited frozen yogurt with toppings (I don’t even have much of a sweet tooth, but DAMN I could make a mean fro yo mix). At home, that was juice and a breakfast bar, soup and salad, and tons of fresh veggies in stir fry, wraps, or pasta.

Sophomore year was a little better. I was working out more consistently, but there were still issues. I had a pretty rough break-up and it took a huge toll. When we were discussing what was going to happen, I was a wreck. I mean, I thought we had this amazing connection and we’d broken up and gotten back together (uh…) and then suddenly “I don’t know if I want to be in a relationship anymore.” Well, I couldn’t eat anything but this one particular roasted tomato soup. That was all I wanted, and that was like 200 calories total. I just dropped weight. If you look at pictures from that time, it’s scary.

What was scarier was that I liked super skinny Justice. And when I noticed weight creeping back on, I knew I didn’t have the option of “not eating” anymore. It would be too obvious because I kept regular meals with people. I was also in a new relationship, and it would be pretty weird to go out to eat and not eat. I was never a fan of those people. I mean, I was one of those people, just not publicly. There was a difference, hello.

I went to a new drug of choice. Yes, an actual drug: diet pills. Lots of them. I hid the ones I needed on a daily basis in my desk so I could access them quickly when my roommate stepped out. The extra boxes I kept in my suitcase.

Diet pills are scary things. Diet pills are especially scary things when you’re taking multiple different kinds to really kill off that fat. I remember one night I had a little tiff with my roommate and I actually responded by just downing diet pills when she went to brush her teeth. I chased it with an entire can of Diet Coke and then I just left. I went and drove around and I was basically manic because I was pumped full of caffeine.

There was one time when I was found out. I came home and my mom saw the diet pills in my suitcase and was worried. The frightening thing was I crazy thin and I wasn’t even taking them. I was binge eating like no one’s business because I wasn’t gaining weight. I would eat meals of at least 3000 calories in one sitting (alone) and nothing would happen. As it turns out, when I’m experiencing a personal tragedy (there was a death in the family, and it hit me very hard – I was at home for the funeral) my body just shreds calories. I told my mom they were from a while ago and I wasn’t using them and that was that.

I would go back, though. It would be too obvious to go back to my anorexic tendencies. I still couldn’t be bulimic (every so often I would try and discover I still couldn’t make myself throw up). If I needed to lose a ton of weight, I would just try diet pills. However, I couldn’t go back to that manic night from sophomore year. It was too scary. I would limit myself to only two different kinds of diet pills at once. Of course, since it wasn’t a caffeine cocktail I wouldn’t see the same results as I had before.

When senior year rolled around, I was a hot mess. I had binge eating tendencies and I worked out periodically, so the weight gain was gradual. When I basically stopped working out and let my eating habits take over, it was bad. I had to buy new clothes for graduation during senior week because the dresses I had bought a few months ago were nowhere close to fitting, not even with the Spanx I’d purchased earlier in the spring. Oh, and since it was senior week I was pretty much eating out (a ton) for every meal, plus drinking to celebrate graduation. When my parents came for graduation weekend, we went out to insane dinners with crazy rich food. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I topped tens of thousands of calories for graduation dinners alone.

And did I mention I was trying the diet pills again? Since I had the added bonus of alcohol in my system, it was making me crazy sick.

Now, what happens when you move to a new city and suddenly find yourself borderline obese but definitely overweight and you’re also pretty socially anxious and you think people are probably definitely judging you because now you’re the “fat girl” and you used to be better at this whole “keeping it together on the outside” thing?

It’s been a rough few years, personally. And I would often turn to food for comfort. It was so good. Man, when I first moved out to Phoenix I could eat an entire large pizza and some cheesesticks and still be hungry. I could get two meals from the Asian place or the Thai place and eat both in one night. I could order sushi for me and find four pairs of chopsticks in the takeout bag – you know, because normally that kind of meal would be split amongst FOUR PEOPLE.

And chips and salsa? Come at me, bro. I could eat you under the table.

(Actually, I could probably still eat you under the table with chips and salsa if I wanted to do so. Chips and salsa is my stress snack, but I am slowly learning how to make this a healthy relationship.)

For me, a healthy lunch was a footlong veggie sub from Subway, plus chips and a massive Diet Coke. Also: crunchy salads. I used to buy those bagged salads and eat the entire thing (there are multiple servings; you are not supposed to eat the whole thing) on a huge dinner plate. Sometimes I would have a “cup” (read: bowl) of soup as well. I’d try to make healthy decisions, but that gosh darn portion control would get me.

And working out? Yeah, I’d be okay and maybe exercise a few days – then nothing for months. I’d even try yoga or fitness classes and then just stop going because I would get stressed or overwhelmed or just decide I didn’t like it. Inevitably, it’d be one class that would do me in – the one class where I was the “fat one.” I couldn’t keep up with the routine. I couldn’t do the poses.

Find your breath? Find the door.

Make it work? Make excuses.

I just so badly did not want to go back to that unhealthy lifestyle before, and I traded one eating disorder for another. I knew that how I had been living in high school and college was not okay, and I didn’t want to repeat that ever again. It got to the point where if I was too busy at work to eat lunch and I missed a meal, I would end up crying on my way home from work because it was the first event in a cycle that would be so easy to repeat.

I’d buy supplements that were essentially diet pills without the label, take them for a day or so and then just throw them in the trash.

I went for so many “easy” solutions because I was stressed out or didn’t have time (or both). What I don’t need or want anymore is the “easy” path. I don’t want to be some skinny bitch whose body image is based off of withholding or secrecy. I want to have a healthy lifestyle. I want my relationship with food to be positive, symbiotic. I want to work out and be active – I actually enjoy select forms of exercise, though by no means would I describe myself as a fitness addict.

And I want to keep talking about this.

Granted, talking about this hasn’t always gone well in the past. I was told “Sometimes you just have to accept your natural body shape,” when I shared my concerns about starting a healthy lifestyle by exercising and not binge eating. And yes, I can be a pretty awkward person sometimes; if you just walk up to me and start talking about my eating disorder with no precursor, then I will be weird. You’ve been warned.

But…I will keep talking about eating disorders. It might be hard at first, but it needs to happen.

One of my oldest friends, Ashley, posts regularly at A Recipe for Sanity about all kinds of awesome things: progress on her counseling degree, a happy and healthy relationship, delicious-looking recipes…and the recovery process.

Ashley has a name for that voice inside her head:

Edie bugs me over and over again, like a child who keeps asking “But why?” after every single sentence you utter. And there have been times, many, many times, where I eat something I don’t even want just so I don’t have to listen to Edie anymore. But then of course, Edie’s not a fan of that, either…

Without Ashley’s posts, I never would have considered talking about my own experiences. So thank you, Ashley, for putting it all out there.

Thank you for writing about your struggles and your successes.

Thank you for documenting the good days and the bad ones.

Thank you for writing this:

…if you’re out there and you have an Ed or an Edie of your own, I just want to tell you that you’re not alone. To some extent, I think we’ve all heard this type of voice. And if you hear it as often as I do (read: all the time), I want to encourage you to fight back. Every time you hear that voice telling you that you’re fat or ugly or worthless, speak over that voice. Yell at it. Scream at it. Curse at it. Tell it how wrong it is. Your worth is unconditional, and you are beautiful. I promise.

We all need to keep talking about this. We all need to silence those voices of self-doubt.

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3 thoughts on “National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: This is My Story

  1. Christine @Buckling Bookshelves says:

    I did not know it is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but thank you for spreading the word and for being so brave and honest about your own experience. There are too many people struggling with these same issues and posts like this are really important. I wish you health and happiness as you fight those voices of self-doubt.

    I was also thinking, the weird thing about blogging is that no one really knows or cares what you look like — as blog readers, we care about what a person has to say. While what we write gets put “out there,” it’s a lot more reflective of what’s “on the inside,” so to speak. And while the internet can be extremely impersonal, in some ways, it’s nice to get to know each other (at least the reader/writer parts of ourselves!), without worrying about appearances and other things like that.

    Like

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