My story does not necessarily seem “unique” or “drastic.” Most eating disorder tales are not the glamorous, bone-thin, romanticized illnesses portrayed in modern society. In fact, most “victims” are subtly living as statistics lost in the shuffle of millions of others invisibly suffering from the detrimental distortions and inner demons of powerlessness and fear.
Let’s go back.
Childhood was childhood. Two, loving parents who I love more than anything. But we didn’t talk about feelings. And we certainly didn’t validate them. This was a skill I learned in my twenties- TWENTIES. My mother never called me fat. I was never bullied. Instead, I had a perfectionist, controlling complex. My parents, both being educators, expected top grades and excellent performance. This intent was not malicious; they simply wanted me to achieve. At a young age, I fell into the rigid role of needing to be the very best and needing people to be proud of me.
Before puberty, I was a scrawny, normal-sized kid with an active and tomboyish personality and a flair for adventure. I liked to explore, and I hated anything “girly.” My days consisted of shredding on my skateboard, kicking around a soccer ball, or simply meandering in the mystical paradise that was my backyard.
Then, conformity happened, and it happened quickly, within the blink of late elementary school. Playtime stopped. “Hanging out” happened. Appearance mattered. I traded my baggy jeans for skirts and my knotted hair for matching braids. I began to notice boys, but boys, it seemed, only noticed the pretty girls.
In seventh grade, I remember longing for breasts, but the shape of my body never bothered me. I liked my thinness. I didn’t even have to try for it. Other girls talked about diets, but punishing myself with food seemed miserable.
My wish for boobs…and much more came true. I gained almost twenty pounds between seventh and eighth grade (as measured by my annual P.E fitness exam; I wasn’t a scale-stepper then) and “ballooned” nearly three cup sizes over the summer. These changes in frightened me, and I began resisting them. With high school approaching, I knew I needed to become pretty. This time, however, I needed discipline.
Despite only ever having run three miles before the first practice, I joined my high school cross-country team to meet new people and continue with my athletics. During summer training, we ran upwards of fifty miles a week. I did not necessarily enjoy the sport (and I wasn’t all that great at it), but I liked my teammates and enjoyed the undeniable sense of “runner’s high” achieved when crossing the finish line. This was freshman year. At this time, I was not actively dieting. I was too exhausted from practice to think about food. Still, I thought of myself as fat.
My sophomore year of high school, friendship drama, as it does with young fifteen-year-old girls, began to unfold. I felt uncomfortable with the emerging new lifestyle choices, such as drugs and promiscuity and serious relationships. I hadn’t even been kissed yet! And I had pledged “NO” to drugs since elementary school! I felt so confused. Though I cannot pinpoint the origin of my first intentional binge, I imagine it happened sometime around this phase in my life. I recall eating a couple extra snacks after school, feeling guilty, and then resuming onto a normal afternoon routine and appropriate dinner. I did not understand why I overrate, but i did not bother to identify the reasoning behind these incidences.
I just kept promising myself that I would “start again tomorrow.”
Throughout high school, my weight remained in the normal range, but pictures indicate evident changes in my body. I tried dieting. I learned all about counting calories and practicing portion control. However, a few days of healthy eating or complete restricting always seemed to backfire with a frantic binge. The nasty cycle had begun.
My senior year, fed up with the out-of-control binges, I decided that I needed to lose weight…for good. I devised a concrete plan and promised to start the day after Valentine’s Day. I will never forget that holiday. It was the first time I had an official boyfriend who had planned a lovely and romantic date…and yet, I spent most of it bingeing when I could sneak away from him. I was disgusted and saddened by my poor sense of willpower. I knew that my “diet” was starting the next day, and I wanted to cram in as much junk food as humanly possible before starting.
Not about to back out on my word, that diet promptly began on February 15. This time, it stuck. We had a scale in my parents’ bathroom, and I jumped on it multiple times, sometimes a dozen, a day just to track the number. I micro-managed every calorie, committed to consume my last morsel of food by 6pm, and tried to sleep as late as I could on weekends to skip breakfast and lunch.
I began to feel cold all the time, and within two months, I lost my period. Interestingly, at this time, I was researching college programs, intent on the idea of becoming a registered dietician. This just fueled my disorder and spiraled me into a low, low weight. My hair started falling out; my clothes were too baggy. People noticed my shrinking body, although most praised my efforts. I watched the number decrease on the scale, but I never felt skinny or pretty. Even after I reached my supposed “goal weight,” I wanted the figure lower. It was never low enough.
The bingeing came back with a potent and forceful vengeance. My body was starved of nutrients and desperately hungry, and the overeating helped me cope with the anxiety and novelty of my eighteenth birthday, senior prom, high school graduation, breakup, summer vacations, and hectic work schedule. To offset my erratic food habits, I bought a gym membership, under the pretense that developing a regular exercise schedule would keep me in control.
The more I tried to revert back to restrictive behavior, the worse the bingeing became. I would spend hours each day working out only to gorge on cookies once I stepped inside the kitchen. I rapidly gained back all the weight I worked so hard to lose…and then some.
Within about six months, I had gained nearly thirty pounds, and I weighed the heaviest I had ever been (about five pounds overweight). I hated my body. The cycle continued. I rationalized, drew up more diet plans, attempted to restrict only to binge, and then compensated by punishing myself in the gym. I gained and lost the same ten pounds over and over again, using food logs, exercise regimens, everything I could think of.
I was well aware of my disordered eating and felt strange and embarrassed by it, but I did not know what to do. I felt “too fat” for and eating disorder and “too skinny” for nutritional advice. Besides, I clearly already knew how to eat healthily. I just could not practice what I preached to everyone else.
The restrict/binge/over-exercise behavior continued on through college. Birthdays and vacations passed. More chocolate, more crazy workouts, more hating my sense of self-control. Infinite promises of “starting over again after midnight.” Growling and then bloated stomachs, pounding headaches, lies about the food I had or had not eaten, secret feasts in the dark, hidden wrappers and gorges in the car. Despite my internal crumbling, people considered me a calm and collected girl, a high-achieving student with multiple jobs, internships, and social relationships.
My senior year of college, I finally told my then-boyfriend. Then, I confessed to my mom. They both already had an idea that I was “weird around food.” I sought help with counseling, though these initial attempts proved unsuccessful. Even though people knew, I was making no progress. I understood the hows and whys of my behavior, but the bingeing and compulsive exercise was actually worsening.
I started my graduate program in the fall of 2012 and began meeting with an individual psychotherapist who specialized in eating disorders every week. She read through my denial and avoidance, identified my perfectionist complex, confronted my inability to feel or even express emotions, and began showing me how to cope the anxiety I never even knew I had. She guided me in changing my thoughts and behaviors about my eating disorder. For so long, I had focused on stopping my actions, when really, I needed to restructure my cognitions about them. At her request, I began attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings to increase my support system. At first, I was resistant. I wasn’t overweight! But, I went. I started taking Prozac in the spring of 2013 to manage the anxious and depressed symptoms that often coincided with the eating disorder obsessions.
This has been one long journey- one helluva ride.
As of today, I rarely binge. I rarely restrict. I rarely compulsively exercise. “Never” is a strong word that paints an unrealistic picture. Rarely is much more accurate and kind. My recovery is continuously in the making.
This is my story.
I had/have an eating disorder. I was never hospitalized; I have never been in residential treatment; I have never been seriously underweight or overweight. By all means, I look normal. By all means, “you would never know.”
And that’s what makes a story captivating, doesn’t it?