I thought that eating disorders were for movie stars.
Or ice skaters.
Or superficial white girls.
I knew that I had a problem, I just wasn’t quite sure how to give what I was feeling a voice. In the winter of 2016, I became one of the girls I never thought I would be.
I enjoyed food quite a bit as a child. No food was off limits, & I grew up enjoying most foods in moderation, freely eating snacks and desserts as I desired to. I was an intuitive eater. I ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and food’s purpose in my life was to give me energy and enjoyment. There were no thoughts about how the food I ate was going to affect my physical appearance, & there was no reason to change anything about my diet. I was young, happy, & healthy.
I first became interested in dieting when I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in high school. After a few years of irregular and unexplainable stomach discomfort, I was relieved to receive a diagnosis that I thought would be easy to treat. I was told to eat an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables, drink water, and manage my stress. I took this advice to heart, and tried to eat as healthy as possible at every meal in order to relieve my stomach pain. I desperately just wanted someone to tell me what to eat and to give me a perfect diet plan, as if there is such a thing. I tried every diet in the book: gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, vegan, cleansing, and everything in between. These diets only exacerbated my IBS symptoms. My doctors and I didn’t realize that my stomach pain was directly related to my anxiety, & I ended up fearing and avoiding many foods that didn’t actually cause me to become ill. I ended up losing over 20% of my original body weight due to food restriction that was rooted in anxiety, perfectionism, depression, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. This was the beginning of my disordered eating. There isn’t a clear line when a person crosses over from disordered eating to an eating disorder, however I do know that I crossed that line at some point during my junior year of college. Many professionals within the ED community refer to this transition as the “perfect storm”, the point in a person’s life where all of his or her biological, psychological, and social factors come together to trigger an eating disorder. In addition to adhering to a very restrictive diet, I was also working early morning shifts at NHC Cookeville and worked out consistently throughout the week. Anxiety, depression, and addiction run in my family, in addition to stress-related GI disorders.
I lost interest in the things that mattered most to me, & as a result I began to fixate on the only thing that I could seem to control: my physical appearance. I became obsessed with counting calories, weighing myself, and working out. Although I wasn’t intentionally trying to lose weight, I told myself that if my physical health was declining that I might as well have been “skinny” while it was happening. I didn’t think there would ever be a point to where I was too skinny.
Skinny is celebrated.
Skinny is loved.
Skinny is healthy.
Skinny is good.
My genetic gun was loaded, & the trigger was pulled when my body could no longer handle the anxiety, chronic stress, & lack of nourishment. This was my perfect storm.
Anorexia took a hold on my life like nothing ever had before. Although eating disorders are psychological disorders at the root, malnourishment & medical complications are often consequences of eating disorders because of the nutritional component (or lack there of).
I didn’t have a menstrual cycle for almost 2 years.
My resting heart rate was set in the low 40s.
I began to experience insomnia at nights & lost the ability to sleep in peace.
I was unable to concentrate, feel, love, laugh, and function in daily life.
I wanted to eat but it was so painful, both physically and emotionally.
I started having mini-panic attacks before I had to eat & often experienced stomach pain when eating because my stomach wasn’t used to having a normal amount of food in it.
I knew that I wasn’t obese or even overweight, I didn’t think that a low body weight would affect me the way it did. I believed the lie that I would be happier and more loved if I weight a certain amount and looked a certain way. The diet industry doesn’t tell you that we all have a biological set point, the natural weight that our body prefers to be at when it is healthy, without restricting food or exercising. The actual range has little to no importance. Everyone is different, & that’s okay. When you are outside of this range, your body starts to send you signs that something is wrong. Although I did lose weight & met criteria for anorexia, I can’t stress enough that eating disorders have absolutely nothing to do with weight or size. They are psychological disorders with a food/nutritional component. Despite losing some weight, at my worst place in recovery I was still within a healthy BMI range for my height. BMI doesn’t take into account bioindividuality. It doesn’t know the difference between muscle and fat, & it’s not always a predictor of good health, as in my case. My BMI was healthy, but my body was slowly wasting away. I was outside of my set point weight & my body was desperately trying to tell me that something needed to change.
I barely made it through school that semester.
As I previously mentioned, I knew that I had a problem but I didn’t know how to give it a voice it… I thought I had an eating disorder but I wanted others to understand; I wanted them to know that I wasn’t looking for attention and that I wasn’t acting the way that I was on purpose. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me, and because I couldn’t understand, I didn’t think that anyone else would. I wanted help but I wanted it to be simple and easy. I didn’t want others to see my weakness. I didn’t want to be the latest topic of conversation. I didn’t want people to approach me about my weight or diet or exercise; doing that would force me to face my problems head on and not hide behind my eating disorder. I didn’t realize how complex and multi-layered that my eating disorder really was. After having a few emotional breakdowns each week, it didn’t take me too long to call my mom and tell her that I thought I had an eating disorder.
By the time I sought help, I was about 5 pounds & a couple emotional breakdowns away from being sent to an inpatient facility. The average individual takes 1-2 to 10 years to recover fully from their eating disorder… there really isn’t a “normal” recovery rate; everyone is different. Recovery is a very long, painful, & challenging process.
Recovery for me was often filled with emotional breakdowns, sleepless nights, stomach aches, anxiety, and loneliness. The weight restoration process was very difficult. It seemed like my stomach was always hurting, either from not eating enough that day, eating too much at one meal, binge-eating, or simply because my GI system was adjusting to all of the new changes that I was making. I often found myself caught in restriction/binge-eating cycles. I was forced to confront my anxiety and depression head on rather than by using eating disorder behaviors to numb myself to what I was feeling. A good majority of my friends had no idea what to say to me or how to help, so I ended up spending a lot of time alone or with my family. My friends would say, “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” or they would talk about their diets or their need to lose weight even after I confided in them.
Recovery isn’t for the faint of heart. There were many days when I thought I was fully recovered and many days when I thought I would never recover. Despite these things, recovery has also been one of the most beautiful journeys to walk through. There is freedom that comes with discovering who you are apart from your eating disorder. When you start to heal, you begin to appreciate life with humility and gratitude. I have learned healthy ways to cope with my emotions rather than acting in a way that hurts my body. It has been a hard journey, but it’s worth it…recovery always is.
Right now I am in a, much better place due to Jesus, my awesome recovery team, my husband, close family, & friends. They have been my rock this past year or so and I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me. It’s not being too dramatic to say that they have all saved my life.
I really was going to wait to share this part of my story. I really didn’t think I would start to dive into this piece of my brokenness until I was “a little less broken”, until I was fully recovered. The Lord has laid it on my heart to share the darkest moments in my life in order that his light may shine through me. I could easily have waited until I had many years of recovery under my belt, but I don’t think God wanted me to wait. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Around half of these are due to physiological complications, & the other half are due to suicide…I can’t imagine suffering from an eating disorder and NOT knowing Jesus. The suicide rate really doesn’t surprise me because I know what it’s like to wake up and not want to live because life is too hard.
I couldn’t wait to share this part of my story because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to speak life, hope, truth, & and healing into other people’s lives. The Lord has & will continue to deliver me from so much & I know that he can & will do that for anyone who surrenders their life to him.
If you are reading this today & feel like you have an unhealthy relationship with food, I encourage you to seek help. I am a strong believer in early intervention, and I truly believe if I had sought help from a treatment team during my early stages of disordered eating that I wouldn’t have made the transition into a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. Do not listen to the lie in your head that you aren’t sick enough to get help, or that you would be overreacting to seek help. Individuals of all weights, genders, ages, races, nationalities, and socioeconomic statuses suffer from eating disorders. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t seek help until they are at rock bottom, which is a much harder place to start recovery in.
If you are reading this today & you are currently going through the recovery process, my message is to not lose heart. I know what it is like to be in your position. I know how easy it is to feel trapped, enslaved, and often without hope. Although I am technically recovered from anorexia, I am still actively & intentionally working to develop a healthy relationship with food and my body. I still have to fight against my eating disorder every day. Don’t believe the lie that you won’t recover. A countless number of people have gone before you and I & recovered in a way that they are able to live their lives in peace. Recovery isn’t impossible, it’s just one of those things in life that takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance to overcome. If I can do it, you can do it too.