It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I really felt that it was time for me to share my personal experience. I’ve wanted to write about it for a very long time now; mainly because my story has a happy ending, and I want others fighting through it to know that there’s hope. But still, it’s a difficult topic for me to write about, as it was such an emotional struggle.
Originally I thought that I should try to find photo’s, but I’ve opted to not share photo’s of myself during that time. I don’t want to – in any way – trigger someone else’s struggles, and this is also not about how I looked. This is about being in a dark place and finding healing.
I was sixteen years old, when it all started. Honestly, my struggle wasn’t based on body image insecurities or pressure from anyone in my life. I just wanted to be healthy. My family had always been really active; and people from church called us the Wilderness Family, because we drove out to the White Mountains every weekend to hike 4,000 foot mountains. We were always hiking, camping, kayaking, and playing sports. Being fit and strong was extremely important to me; because I associated it with confidence, pride, and achievement. And I decided one day that I wanted to eat healthier to fit my active lifestyle.
Unfortunately, not every book out there offering nutrition advise is actually good advise. I happened to grab the wrong one and read it as though it was the Bible. From it I learned many things but mainly that fat is evil.
The day after I finished reading the book, I ate dinner in Boston with my dad and brother; and my lunch consisted of a green salad topped with plain tuna fish. I said ‘no’ to the dressing, cheese, and pita bread. It was the first of many restrictions that I was to put on myself over the following year.
I had just started working as a hostess at a nearby restaurant, so I was earning my own money. With it, I started to buy my own food to supplement (oftentimes replace) whatever my mom was serving for dinner that night. I was young and didn’t understand the concept of healthy eating, so I clung to the misinformation that I had to avoid fat at all costs. I bought skim milk, fat free hot dogs, fat free yogurt, cereal, baked beans, and lots of fruit and veggies. On Thursday nights, which was pizza night at my house, I only ate plain salad and held back tears, wrongfully knowing in my heart that giving up family tradition was for my health. When my family enjoyed ice cream Sundays, I topped fat-free yogurt with cereal and pineapple. My family would go out for breakfast, and I’d stay home to squeeze in a neighborhood run.
Exercise became my passion. Food brought guilt, but running brought a sense of victory. I pushed myself harder and harder, upping my mileage whenever possible.
I dropped two pant sizes in no time at all; and I switched out loose-fitting tops for those that complimented my tight, toned tummy. Shopping for clothes became fun, and I began to feel that skinny meant beauty. People (even strangers) began to comment on how amazing I looked, and suddenly the sacrifice I made in giving up food felt worth it.
The hardest challenge was holidays or when we were invited to someone’s house for dinner. Suddenly, food prep was taken out of my control, and I began to feel anxiety at the amount of fat and calories that I was undoubtedly consuming. I’d feign a headache or queasy stomach, so that I could eat as little as possible and skip dessert. In addition to that, I’d skip a meal for the two days leading up to the meal just to make sure any excess calories were avoided.
My weight loss wasn’t a journey. It was a freight train charging down a narrow track at breakneck speed. And suddenly, before I knew it, the ground began to drop sharply, and things spiraled out of control. (…to be continued)