The following is a personal story from someone with an eating disorder:
I can start off by saying that my story is probably not unlike many other stories of people who have suffered from an eating disorder.
I can say that I truly do not believe that anyone can understand what it’s really like to have an eating disorder unless you yourself have had one as well. Many people simply think that it is an issue with food and that the person can be cured if they would just eat.
That is so far from the truth and probably the smallest component of an eating disorder and is the easiest part to treat. Most treatment programs do focus on eating and food consumption because this is obviously important as the body needs food in order to sustain itself.
However, any good eating disorder treatment will need to focus on the inside, the psychological aspect of the disease in order to fully treat it and be successful.
My story began when I started high school. I was 14 years old, experiencing so many new things all at once. I have always struggled with self-esteem. I have never really been very confident. I was always terrified of being judged and I am a people pleaser. If you add all of these things up and then add a new school, new teachers, new social situations and new friendship dynamics, it was a recipe for disaster for me.
I started with diet pills, secretly buying them at the drug store and taking so many to the point that I got sick. I didn’t see results the way I wanted to so I then started taking laxatives. I was under the assumption that if I was skinny, that would mean I was worthy of people’s attention and love. I never had a problem with boys and relationships. In fact, guys seemed to be drawn to me and really did like me. However, I was always concerned that they liked me for the wrong reasons and that they wanted things from me that I wasn’t going to provide. My first boyfriend was not the nicest person to me.
He ended up cheating on me – if that’s even possible when you’re 14 years old but I of course blamed myself. I thought “What did I do wrong?” “Why does he want her and not me?” “If only I was skinnier and prettier, he would want me back.”
Things continued to spiral down-hill and I was very upset about this relationship ending. My next relationship was very long term and much healthier. I was still very concerned with my appearance and my weight, however it was not controlling me at that point. I was focused on doing well in school and getting into university. In hindsight though, the thoughts were always there. I always watched what I ate. I hated eating in front of people because I thought they would judge me and think I was fat if I was eating so I avoided it at all costs.
When I was 21 years old, I met a new guy while I was in Cancun. We continued to date for a year after we met. Looking back, it was a very toxic and unhealthy relationship for me to be in. I was constantly trying to be perfect for him, always walking on eggshells because he was a perfectionist himself and I was terrified of disappointing him.
He told me once that if I was ever to weigh more than 110 pounds, he would break up with me. That was what really started my obsession all over again. I became obsessed with the scale and if I gained one pound, I wouldn’t eat for a day. I was going to school full time at this point and I remember eating only enough so that my stomach wouldn’t growl during class.
I still despised eating in front of people so while all of my friends were eating in the cafeteria, I would go to the library and do work or I would sit with them and drink milk or eat an apple. I would make excuses as to why I wasn’t eating. Even with my parents, I would make excuses.
My mom is an excellent cook and would always make such great meals for dinner. I would avoid them at all costs, saying I had to work (which was mostly true) or I would go to the library to do work so that I wouldn’t have to eat a big meal at home. If I couldn’t avoid it, I would make that my only meal of the day and eat the smallest amount possible.
This guy later broke up with me by sitting in the car and presenting me with a list of all of my flaws and imperfections and then proceeded to tell me that he never loved me and that he was done with me. I felt like I had been kicked to the curb like a piece of trash. And my immediate response was, “If I could just lose weight and show him I can be as skinny as he wants me to be, he would take me back.” I spent the next six months completely obsessing over my weight and my food intake and needless to say we did not get back together, which in hindsight was a blessing for me.
Fast forward several months, I met my now husband who is absolutely amazing and loves me for me, accepts me for my flaws and loves every part of me. When I met him, I was still struggling with my weight. He wanted to take me out on our first date to a restaurant, which is typical, but for me it was terrifying because I didn’t want to eat in front of him. We were inseparable from day one and he really taught me what it was like to be in a healthy, loving relationship. That being said, I was still really struggling inside and was terrified that I would be cast off to the side again.
I went for my yearly physical shortly after we started dating and my doctor was shocked. She told me that my spine was protruding from my back and that all of my ribs were completely visible. Then she weighed me. I was 96 pounds. I was actually upset about the 96 pounds because I had weighed less than that so this indicated to me that I had gained weight – I, of course, didn’t tell her that. She proceeded to call my parents, even though I was over 18, because she was very concerned for my health. She gave me an ultimatum at that point and said I either start seeing a therapist and a nutritionist that week or I would be going to residential treatment. I chose to stay home and go to therapy.
My journey to recovery began that day. My parents, sister and friends were very supportive. My now husband was very supportive of me and my path and I can honestly say that he is one of the main reasons why I got better and started to realize that I was worthy of being loved. He saved me.
During that year I also got pregnant with our first daughter. I can attribute that pregnancy to a lot of my recovery success as well because it made me realize that it wasn’t about me anymore, that I had to get better for our unborn child. During my pregnancy, I did really well in terms of eating because I knew that she needed the nutrients to thrive. After I had her, I struggled a little because I had gained weight during the pregnancy and I wanted to lose that weight as quickly as possible. This goes to show that eating disorders are a lifelong battle. They don’t go away overnight and there is no cure.
Like any addiction, recovery from an eating disorder takes commitment and perseverance and education as well. I never fully understood why I was the way I was or why I used food as a way to control things. I knew that I had always been shy and reserved and that I didn’t speak out a lot because I was afraid of being judged or ridiculed. I don’t like to try new things because the thought of failure is terrifying for me and when I do something, I give it 150% and I expect perfection.
The thing that people need to understand about eating disorders is that it is mostly about control. We cannot control certain things in our lives that we are faced with; divorce, trauma, sickness, death of a loved one and/or our emotions. However, we can control food and our food intake. This is what I did. I couldn’t control being broken up with. I couldn’t control how others felt about me. But I could control how I looked. I equated skinniness with beauty and therefore if I was skinny, I would be beautiful and people would love me.
What I needed to learn and what I’ve been able to learn through therapy, my marriage and becoming a mom, is that I’m doing the best I can and that’s okay. I am who I am and I have great attributes and some flaws, just like everyone else. Being skinny does not define me anymore. I will be the first to admit that I am not “cured,” that I still struggle with thoughts about food and depriving myself of food and I am still frightened about gaining weight. However, I do not starve myself anymore. I am careful about what I eat but I do not deprive myself of food.
The reality is that we need more things in place to help young adults before they get to the point of using food as a control system. In hindsight, I should have sought out help for my self-esteem and issues with anxiety long before it got to the point that it did. There are many warning signs for eating disorders.
That being said, it is also very easy to hide. You can hide the amount of food you’re eating or not eating. You can hide the fact that you throw up after you eat. You can hide your binges if you do it in the middle of the night when no one is watching. What you can’t hide forever is how you feel inside. When I think about it now, long before the doctor intervened, I had several friends come to me and ask if I had an eating disorder because they noticed changes in me, both physical and in my moods and temperament.
Of course I denied it, however I knew it was becoming more visible to those around me. The sick part about it was that I found comfort in and enjoyed when people told me I was so skinny and asked how did I stay so skinny – I felt like I had accomplished something, like I was doing something right.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see what they saw, which only exacerbated the problem. I was told that I was skinny but I didn’t see it. So I continued to lose more until I was satisfied. At that point, I became obsessed with the scale and anytime my weight would fluctuate and I would gain a pound or two, I would stop eating until I got back down to my “ideal” weight.
This is coming from someone who has been through and is going through recovery of an eating disorder. It is not an easy battle and it is a lifelong commitment. I have two beautiful daughters and a loving husband now and I can credit them with helping me on this journey.
The key to recovery is knowing you’re not going through it alone and having a support system around you for the tough days. It is also imperative to seek professional help, to find someone who can help you recognize your self-worth and work on coping strategies in order to recognize that you are beautiful, no matter what your size.