WHEN I was 20 years old I was severely depressed. I was eating around 900 calories a day and running around three miles, telling myself if I could just get under 120lbs, I would be happy; I would be confident. I could start living the life I wanted to live. I was obsessed with the gap between my thighs. I wanted there to be as much distance between them as possible. I’d avoid my mother’s dinners, convinced they would ruin a shape I was working so hard to control. I would sleep into the late hours of the afternoon sometimes approaching the early hours of the evening, both a symptom of my depression and the lack of nutrients I was giving myself. I stopped menstruating for months; I fainted three times. None of this mattered to me. All that mattered was my pursuit to decrease the number on the scale.
I began restricting for the first time after my sister died in 2006 when I was 16 years old. So much had changed in my household. My parents sunk into their own depressions, too consumed with their own grief to notice how little I had started to eat. I’d only allow myself fruit, run around my neighborhood and end the day with 100 sit ups in the darkness by my bed, too ashamed of my body to do them in the light. If a day passed and I felt like I’d overeaten, I’d panic and skip two of three meals the next day. I was fascinated by how easy it was to drop pounds. How my dedication to eating next to nothing for just one day paid off instantly when I’d wake up and weigh myself the following morning.
This cycle continued off and on through the end of high school. I’d go through periods where I wouldn’t think about my weight to periods where all I could think about was my weight. Still, in the comfort of the house I had grown up in, surrounded by friends in the town I had lived my entire life, my eating restriction happened mostly in spurts around the time near big life events (prom, graduation). It wasn’t until after my parents lost their jobs and we got evicted from my childhood home that my sporadic restriction became a full-fledged eating disorder.
In 2009 my mother, sister and I relocated to Florida where I became completely obsessed with controlling my weight. A few months after moving to Florida, I had been the one to discover and break the news to my mother about my father’s infidelity, ending all hopes of a reconciliation between them. Our new life was a life of uncertainty. My mother’s depression worsened along with her health and my locus of control felt like it was shrinking day by day. In the depths of my depression fueled by a hoard of sudden life changes, I clung to the one thing I had success controlling in the past – my weight.
Every day I’d wake up, weigh myself, then run three to four miles on an empty stomach. I seldom drank water as I couldn’t bear to see the number on the scale altered by water weight. On my worst days I’d ration out a single banana for my entire day of eating – a third at breakfast, a third at lunch, the remainder for dinner, making sure to weigh myself after consuming every section. On the rare occasions I did eat a normal meal, I’d head to my community’s gym immediately after, terrified that what I had consumed would stick to my body. I abused laxatives, chewed food and spit it out. I’d do anything to get closer to my goal weight. Losing weight made me feel powerful, something I hadn’t felt since my sister died, something I hadn’t felt maybe ever. Weight loss became a calculated measure for me, a science. It was my solace, my obsession, the only thing I felt like I was good at and the only thing I felt like I was in control of. In just a few months I had went from a healthy 145lbs to a gaunt 125lbs, a tiny amount for my 5’9 frame. My wish? To return to 118lbs the weight I was when I was just 14, when my life had been happy, before I’d experienced hardship, before I’d experienced grief.
Towards the end of 2010 I reached my goal weight. I stepped on the scale, naked, praying to see the number I was killing myself for. There it was. 118lbs. I could fit into a size zero again. I could nearly connect my fingers when I’d wrap my hand around my tiny bicep. I could count most of my ribs, my collarbone sharp and protruding under my clothes. And still, when I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t happy. I still felt too big. My body was still taking up too much space. And I wish I could say that is where this stopped, that I woke up and realized the real problem was my depression not my weight, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until 2011 when I stopped menstruating, fainted two times at work which ultimately resulted in the loss of my job, that I finally woke up and started the journey to stop my restricting.
For a long time talking about my anorexia and exercise bulimia felt too uncomfortable. Even after addressing the real issue, my depression and body dysmorphia, it made me feel weak, broken and to be honest, for many years it didn’t feel like something I had completely let go of. Even though I stopped restricting in 2012, I would still find myself spewing the same negative self-talk to myself that I did when I was. Any comment anyone made about my body, good or bad, could be enough to send me down a spiral of self-hate. For years I was jealous of those who could just be in their bodies, unconcerned by what size dress they fit into and how they looked in a swimsuit. I hated that even after all the inner work I had done, I still had moments that I’d long to fit into a smaller size. I still had things I wanted to change about my body. Seeing the number rise on a scale still elicited a small twinge of fear in my stomach. What would completely letting go of my disordered thoughts even feel like? What would completely accepting my body for what it is instead of treating it like some project for change mean?
What would my life truly free of an eating disorder be?
Honestly, the answer to all of those questions is sometimes still very much a work in progress, but I can say without a doubt I’ve made strides 21 year old me would never have believed possible. Although I prefer to share things I feel I can tie into a neat bow, my relationship with my body has not been one of them. Even though I have not fallen prey to the habits of my past eating disorder in over seven years, and I’ve seen my self-love grow in ways I never imagined were possible, I still have my moments. The difference between these moments now and these moments when I began my healing journey is that I’m not ashamed of these moments and I know that is all they are: moments. Moments that will pass. I understand that this is the true nature of healing. Healing is not a linear path. We can take two steps forward and three steps back.
Healing is a process, a messy one at that.
And that is all a part of the journey. That is all a part of the beautiful mess that is life.
Today, I’m not embarrassed by these insecure thoughts and most importantly, I’m not ashamed of the body I am in. I’ve come to an understanding of how truly incredible my body (and your body and yours) truly is, how far it can and has taken me despite how much I’ve put it through.
Even after all I’ve put my body through, all the criticism I’ve subjected it to, I’m still rewarded. Every morning I open my eyes; I climb out of bed, and I stand. Strong and tall.
Over the years I’ve realized the easiest way to make something that feels so large is to talk about it, openly and honestly. We all struggle with things and having struggled with an eating disorder doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me broken or self-obsessed.
It makes me human.
I write this now having not weighed myself in I don’t even know how long. I try hard not to label my food good or bad. I exercise to honor my body and treat it well so I can make it well into the late years of life. I reonnect with myself on my low self-esteem days and shower myself with loving reminders all day. I have more days in which I feel a deep sense of connection and appreciation for my body and all it does for me. Sometimes there are days when I do not. And I love myself through all of them. If you are dealing with negative body image please, always remember to:
Give yourself love
Give yourself time
No one is perfect
Gently accept your humanness
If you are or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or negative body image, please use the following link to access support, resources and treatment through the National Eating Disorder Association’s helpline: NEDA