So this is an extremely personal and difficult subject for me to talk about. I have been putting it off for over a year now because it is such a touchy subject for me. I am terrified to speak of this, but I know that 10 million women and 1 million men in just the United States alone suffer from an eating disorder. Not only that but 40% of people have either personally experienced or are close to and know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I think one of the biggest misconceptions people have about eating disorders is they mainly think it's all physical. This can't be further from the truth. There is so much going on inside your head when you suffer from one. The physical part of it is just a side effect of a severe mental illness.
I have suffered from eating disorder(s) for over 10 years of my life. At the age of 21/22 that is more than half my life. I have been in counseling, inpatient and outpatient hospital treatment programs, and eventually even a residential treatment center (rehab) to get help. I have seen hell and lost friends and loved ones to this and so I feel it is so important to explain the best I can in an attempt to help even 1 person. I do NOT want to seem like I am glorifying eating disorders at all hence why I made sure to label this as an eating disorder trigger warning. I think it is important to give background so anyone who knows a loved one struggling will have insight on what is going on in their head and how to help them.
My ED started when I was about 10 years old. I say about because you don't just wake up one day and have anorexia like you would a cold. It starts out so slow and gradually, you never even realize when the change took place, but that your life has changed forever somewhere along the way. I didn't just stop eating. It wasn't even about losing weight. I had been bullied for years and already hated myself. It affected every facet of my life. My grades were struggling, I was miserable and desperate to be accepted by my "friends," and going through a rough looks transition phase.
I just wanted to disappear. That's how I remember it starting for me. I wanted to be invisible and to not exist. Subconsciously my mind had me start restricting food to make myself as small as possible to achieve that goal. I spent most lunches crying in the bathroom hiding anyways so it wasn't a big jump to skipping that meal. I would pick at my dinner every night but eat so my family never suspected anything. I was also quite small naturally so staying small and slim didn't raise any red flags either.
A huge part of eating disorders is the element of wanting to be in control of some aspect of your life because you feel like everything else is so out of control. Being able to meticulously calculate and obsess over every calorie eases the insane anxiety and fear the sufferer is always experiencing. There is the irrational thought process that feels like if they can gain control over that then all of their problems will be solved and their life will be perfect and fixed. It becomes an obsession. It consumes every waking thought. It also becomes their biggest secret that they will do anything to protect. They have finally found something that gives them some relief to the hell they have been experiencing. They will go to extreme lengths to hide what they feel is a ticket to a better life.
In the Radiohead song "Creep" there are the lyrics "I don't care if it hurts, I want to have control, I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul, I want you to notice, When I'm not around, You're so f****** special, I wish I was special." This is similar to what is going on inside the head of your loved one. I felt worthless and like I didn't matter in the world. I thought if somehow I could become thinner I would be more beautiful, and my life would be easier and everyone would like me. If I could be like the pretty popular girls maybe I would finally be happy and like myself. I wanted to be special too. I wanted to matter. Of course I already did, but my sick mind wouldn't let me comprehend that.
Recovery is the hardest thing one will ever have to go through. Especially as someone who has suffered from so long. I no longer knew what is normal because that had been my normal for as long as I could remember. I fought against recovery almost every step of the way. I wanted so desperately to hang onto what made me special. Anorexia is like being possessed. You know in those movies during an exorcism when they are trying to expel the demon and screaming "the power of christ compels you!" and the demon has its last hurrah and fights back tooth and nail and starts saying all of these horrific things? That is what happens when someone tries to question or
challenge the eating disorder. It's like a parasite who would rather kill the host than to give up its hold. I think it's the most terrifying thing. I have basically had my eating disorder fight back and take over control of everything coming out of my mouth. I had never felt so helpless in my entire life.
With all the treatment I had been in eventually my anorexia loosened its hold on me. Just like slowly slipping into the illness I was slowly clawing my way out. I would only occasionally restrict for the next few years to maintain my size 4. I was still like this when I met my current boyfriend. You do not need a man to help you but this is my story and I am telling you how he helped. He knew I suffered from anorexia in the past but didn't know I still occasionally restricted when we started dating. Most of the anorexia fog had cleared my head but sometimes you still get little thoughts drifting every once in a while. For the first time in a long time I felt loved and worthy and beautiful. THAT is how he helped me. I was comfortable and had no restraints with food for the first time in my life. I was happy and even enjoying "bad" food. I thought my story was over!
I lasted about a year of being a hedonist and eating whatever I wanted. I still had my depression and anxiety but those are a walk in the park and very manageable compared to an eating disorder. In fact if I was having a really hard time or anxiety I would even turn to food to comfort me. My doctor knew and was okay with this because she didn't deem it a destructive or dangerous behavior like others in my past. She even called it "eating for comfort." I have an amazing doctor by the way I really feel the need to put that out there. She deserves so much credit for me being alive when going through all that self hatred.
Eventually I would get so upset or find myself actually binging and having no control over it. I was hiding my eating behaviors again and all the shame surrounding it came flooding back as well. I couldn't control it and would be crying the entire time during and after I would binge. I would go to the store and buy lots of food and sneak it up into my room and eat it all in one sitting at night when everyone was sleeping. I thought it was fine it would pass I was "eating for comfort." I didn't realize at the time how I had just flipped from the one extreme to the other. I thought because I am eating it isn't bad or dangerous. The more I would binge the more I hated myself and a new vicious cycle appeared.
With eating whatever I had wanted for about a year before without working out and now the binging I gained about 25 pounds. Gaining weight is hard for anyone but once again in my life I felt hideous, disgusting, and out of control. I was so ashamed I was afraid to tell anyone. My clothes no longer fit. I took to wearing very baggy loose clothing or sweatpants whenever I could. The once proud fashionista just wanted to hide from the world in bed forever so no one would see the fat monster I had become.
Luckily in addition to having a wonderful doctor, my parents and family are also great when it comes to helping me through the mental despair that accompany an eating disorder through the years of trying to get me help. I broke down and told my mom I needed help. I was binging I couldn't control it and I hated myself. I was freaking out so badly about the weight gain and what people thought of me in public that I was having panic attacks regularly. It got to the point where I would get myself so worked up and upset that I would get physically ill. Let me say that again, I never once tried to make myself purge. I never gagged myself or went to the bathroom with the intention of getting sick. I would just be crying and feel the dreaded dry mouth you get when you know you are going to vomit and need to find a bathroom ASAP.
So I have never been a TRUE bulimic. Yes I got to experience all the physical side effects someone suffering from bulimia displays. My throat was constantly raw. My teeth so sensitive (like my anorexia days,) were now becoming translucent. I could no longer have anything even the least bit cold or acidic in my mouth without serious pain. Drinking soda felt like someone was pouring acid down my poor raw throat. My teeth even shifted from my once straight smile as a result from braces to now having spaces. I still wore my retainer they were still technically straight. I even have a permanent retainer between my two front teeth but my gums decided to cause spaces to grow where they weren't before. I felt even more hideous. I never wanted to smile. He suggested I get invisalign. Braces again?! I already went through that! I did everything right!
My wonderful doctor had given me some medication to help my anxiety to stop the vomiting and a different medication supposed to help with the binge eating. That was about 8.5 months ago. I now have control of my appetite once again. I have lost 24lbs since then by no longer binging. I also walk a little bit more than before but still do not/cannot work out.
I want more than anything else for my brain and body to be healthy. I want to be strong. I want muscles that actually work. I want to be able to be active and keep up with loved ones in my life. I am healthy weight currently. I am a healthy weight but still extremely out of shape. I am weak. My heart feels like it's going to burst and I am going to pass out if I overexert myself trying to do regular activities. I feel held back because of this. My mom hired a personal trainer to come to the house and help us both exercise for a while. I was extremely grateful because I want to be healthy and learn how to exercise and get in shape but was too afraid of what people would think at the gym. I have never exercised. People going to the gym or running because they want to is such a foreign concept to me. My mom also worked out with me so I wasn't alone. I was still so weak.
My trainer was so concerned because I couldn't even complete the warm up without having to stop because I was going to pass out. My body would have uncontrollably and my arms and legs would give out on my causing me to collapse. She knew we were starting from the bottom but clearly had never trained someone who couldn't even do her most basic beginner moves. She was great and worked with us to customize every exercise for me. She also made a meal plan for me to follow which was very helpful. Eventually we stopped having her come because my mother and I were both extremely busy or traveling too much.
We were recently in Puerto Rico (you can watch the travel vlog HERE) and my siblings and boyfriend and I went horseback riding through a jungle and out onto a beach. We stopped and rested on a beautiful beach and the guide asked if they wanted to do a very short hike up the rocks/big hill to see the beautiful view from there. Everyone wanted to go but I knew I couldn't handle that much physical activity. I would struggle too much and it would become a big deal of them trying to make sure I was alright. I pretended I just wanted to stay below on the beach and explore there by myself and they should all go. I didn't want to hold them back. I would have loved to have gone up there with them but I knew my body is still transitioning to be healthier and could not have made it.
I walk to work everyday. That is my current exercise. Round trip it is .9 miles. That may not be anything to anyone but it is more than I used to do. I try and do everyday activities I wasn't physically capable of before. I don't try to push myself too hard with workouts because I just injure myself. My main focus right now is giving my body the proper nutrients and fuel it needs to be as healthy as possible. My main goal is to be healthy. I am more mindful of specific foods to try and get meals that not only can I make myself with my limited cooking skills, but that are tasty and healthy as well. Once my body is used to getting healthy food and the correct amount of nutrients I will keep adding some more very basic physical activities. My eventual goal would be to take a barre class or become really good at self defense or even krav maga.
People looking at my body now have no idea the pain and transitions it has gone through these last years. Someone on the street would have no idea I have been at both ends of eating disorder extremes. I am 5'7" today. I have grown several inches after getting help for anorexia at 17. I went from very short and petite to rather tall. I have come to terms to accept the fact that I have a naturally curvy figure. I have always had bigger boobs even during the years of restricting. I used to have a big butt as well. I grew up during the time that Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were the ideal body type. I wish I was in middle school during these Kardashian years so I would know it is okay and even welcomed to have curves. People are paying so much money to achieve what I wanted so desperately to get rid of. I have accepted that I am beautiful and that I am shaped like I am supposed to be shaped. I have a womanly hourglass figure naturally. I am no longer trying to fight it to have the extremely straight and thin shape.
My body is not meant to stay a size 2. Like I said I have curves. When I say I have curves though I do not mean I am plus size like the fashion world sometimes depicts it. I mean it in the true sense of the word. The highest weight I was during the binging was 155lbs. It was a nightmare for me.It also came pretty quickly which made it much worse because it was not a gradual weight gain. My lowest weight in my high school/adult years was 105lbs. Of course my weight fluctuated an insane amount and I was typically at around 115-118lbs.
At 5'7" and weighing 118lbs your BMI is 18.5% which is the official number signifying underweight. For a technical anorexia nervosa diagnosis you must not only exhibit all the activities and behaviors, but must also have an underweight BMI. They will only say you have anorexic tendencies until you meet the criteria of becoming underweight before taking it seriously. I hate this because I know that the sufferer has been struggling mentally for possibly years or months, but has not yet reached an underweight BMI, and it is harder for them to get the proper treatment they need. It is a mental illness and you need to heal your mind before your mind will give up control and allow you to heal your body.
My current weight as of today is 132lbs. I am comfortable in my body and my size. I will probably eventually want to be in the high 120's by the end of summer for my trip to the Florida Keys with my boyfriend and his family. This last year I have gone to Puerto Rico multiple times, Los Angeles, Texas, and Hawaii on trips. I needed to be in bathing suits for those trips. For anyone struggling with body image and weight issues, the thought of anyone seeing you in a bathing suit is your worst nightmare. This was in the winter around the same time I was just getting help for the binging so my weight was still high. I admitted defeat and got a one piece swimsuit which feels like you've just absolutely given up on your looks.
For Hawaii I was feeling slightly more confident as I was already being treated and the binging had stopped. The weight was the same but I was no longer out of control. I got a high waisted bikini and a cut out one piece bathing suit that had me feeling more like a trendy woman my age. I still wanted to hide my hips. For this next trip I already bought a new bikini. Like a real bikini that I hope I will be comfortable enough to wear. That was the goal I had set forth as a way to challenge myself. I want to live a healthy and normal life where issues like bathing suits will no longer bring me nights of crying myself to sleep.
I know this has been incredibly long and I go off on tangents but this is my road to recovery. Today I feel like I am recovered. I am healed. I need to keep this up though because sometimes the thoughts still resurface. I suspect they always will every once in a while. I love my body. I want to take care of my body. I want my body to be capable of no longer holding me back in what I want to do in life. I am proud of my body. Because of this new confidence I have regained, I have been updating my wardrobe from shapeless and frumpy, to clothes I feel good in and am no longer hiding from the world in. I am getting clothes that fit properly instead of trying to fit into my old wardrobe from my sick days. To celebrate all of this I am even creating a summer look book video to showcase some of my new wardrobe to share with you all. It is a personal project about empowerment for me. I hope you all enjoy it.
If you or someone you know is currently suffering from an eating disorder please go to this site which has lists of resources that can help you. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links I am proof that it does get better, and it is okay to give up control, and take your life back and enjoy it!
I will be starting my fitness journey soon after a few months of healthy eating and will be sharing it on the FITNESS part of my lifestyle blog. It will be me starting from the bottom and learning as I go. If you want to start your fitness journey I urge you to as well.