In my most recent post, It’s Not Your Fault, I talked about the complex nature of eating disorders. Each person has biological, social, psychological, & spiritual pieces that contribute to their eating disorder whether they realize it or not. It doesn’t matter if an individual suffers from anorexia or binge-eating disorder, bulimia or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), there is usually a body image and self-worth component in the mix. My anxiety and IBS played a very large role in the development of my eating disorder, but my pursuit of perfection, an ideal body, and self-hatred didn’t help the equation. Here I will talk about how my image of my body perpetuated my ED.
Like I have said in my previous posts, I have struggled for IBS since the beginning of high school. I have seen multiple doctors and they all told me the same thing: eat a diet high in fiber, drink water, exercise, and manage your stress and you will be fine. They basically told me that it was a chronic condition and that I just needed to learn to deal. In high school I was too prideful and embarrassed to get therapy, so I just suffered.
Each time I saw a new doctor I would think to myself, “……What in the world?! I was doing all of that and I was still experiencing so much pain and so many GI issues. I was so frustrated because I am a Nutrition and Dietetics major and I couldn’t even figure out what was wrong with me.
Growing up, I never really liked how I looked. I really wanted straight hair, to be taller, and skinnier. I thought my legs were fat and that I would always be chubby. In elementary school, some of my friends would tease me and call me “poof ball” and hit my ponytail so that it would fluff and frizz up even more. I tried to laugh it off so that they wouldn’t see my pain.
In high school, I spend hours straightening my hair each week. It fried my hair & damaged it greatly. I just wanted to be “normal” & I didn’t know what to do.
In college, I became way to busy to straighten my hair each week, so in my mind I accepted the fact that my hair was “just ugly” and that is okay. I was dissatisfied with my body, so I tried to go after something I could change and control. I thought, “Maybe I will actually feel pretty.” When I started seeing ED warning signs and symptoms in myself I ignored them because I so desperately wanted to be “pretty”. I was anxious, depressed, & numb to life. The only tangible thing that I had was my appearance, and I wasn’t willing to give that up for anything.
I played high school basketball so I know how to put together a hard workout. I spent hours running and lifting while often restricting food and not allowing myself extra snacks and desserts. In addition, exercise was one of the only things that truly helped reduce my anxiety in a tangible way, so naturally it became a big part of my life. It isn’t too far-fetched to say that I was addicted to it. I tracked my steps & used my calorie count to determine how much I could eat in one day. I worked out multiple times a day, & I even worked out when it was dangerous. I remember going on runs when I was starving just so that I could make sure I got a workout in that day. I specifically remember one morning waking up at 5:30 am to make sure I was able to get into the gym before the snow storm started. Exercise and food restriction were my outlets to anxiety & they also helped me staying fit & looking good. It truly did seem like a win-win situation to me. I became very prideful in my fitness level and complements from other people didn’t help my ego.
People would say things such as:
“You have lost weight you are looking good!”
“You are tiny!”
“You have great legs!”
“You are so toned!”
“I wish I had as much self-control as you!”
Slowly over time, the complements faded and people would start saying things such as:
“We are worried about you…how much weight have you lost?”
“You look like stick and bones.”
“The last thing you need to do is workout…you need to lay on the floor and eat.”
“You’re too skinny.”
“Have you eaten today?”
The comments were hurtful and scarring, but I couldn’t deny that I did, in fact, have a problem. I started seeing a dietician for my IBS symptoms and the possibility of an eating disorder. I knew that something wasn’t right. I literally asked her, “Do you think I have an eating disorder?” She told me no…she didn’t think that I restricted food and binged enough. That was probably the worst advice I have ever received in my entire life. She insisted that I go on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. She also gave me a list of foods to avoid & ingredients I needed to obsess over. I lived off of salads, grilled chicken, and vegetables. After eating this all day/everyday, I was disgusted by it. I didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving with my family, or Christmas, or any holiday for that matter. Eating out was virtually impossible. I repeatedly told my dietician that I thought there was an emotional component to my relationship with food and she didn’t listen. She recommended a few natural supplements to help boost my mood. In January, she made me go on a $80 dollar New Year’s Eve Cleanse, that promised to reset my GI system and heal me (what in the world!?). I had to drink a disgusting drink 3 times a day before each meal and it did absolutely nothing and actually made my stomach feel even worse. It was horrible. I called her crying and she told me to stay on the cleanse. After that, I was done with her and never contacted her again. In January I spiraled into depression, anxiety, emotional break downs, & so many health problems. The only thing I clung to was the fact that I was skinny.
All of that being said, because of my low self-esteem and distorted body image, I didn’t recognize the fact that I needed serious help until I was in the depths of my eating disorder. Today I am working with my therapist to cultivate a heart that is gentle towards my body and comfortable in the way that God made me.
Being skinny isn’t worth it… being underweight isn’t worth it. You can read about the some of the damage effects of being underweight in my latest post, The Effects of Restriction.