These past couple of weeks I have been working through the book “Intuitive Eating,” and, boy, what a journey it has been. Among many things (that I will discuss in later posts), reading this book has made me reflect on my personal relationship with food. While I don’t want to dwell too much on personal issues on this blog, I make exceptions when I believe that sharing my experience could benefit others.
So I wanted to write today about my disordered eating experience: a time when food and exercise consumed my life and became a very unhealthy obsession. To keep this from turning into a novel, I’ve divided this into two posts. In this first post, I will describe my own ED experience beginning to present-day and in the second I️’ll detail how my ED continues to effect my relationship with food today.
From the best I can remember, throughout my entire childhood I had a positive relationship with food. I ate when I felt hungry and remained entirely ignorant about what foods were "good" and "bad" for me. My diet consisted of things like Reeses Puffs, Pringles, and bags of Pizza Rolls and Bagel Bites. I was never truly overweight as an adolescent but I remember feeling awkward and out of place in my own skin. I started hating the body I saw in the mirror because it did not match what I saw in magazines.
I went to college and after taking an undergraduate course in nutrition, I realized that I should probably eat healthier. My relationship with food changed completely. I took up running and began restricting my intake of fat and obsessively counting calories. I kept an intricate journal detailing every ounce of food and shame I felt when the scale moved up instead of down. I declined social events and activities because I would not be able to control my eating habits. My weeks revolved around workout schedules and meal plans. When other parts of my life spiraled out of control, I took solace in the fact that I had complete control over this aspect of my life.
The result of all of my efforts were, on the surface, positive. I was losing weight and becoming an athletic person I had never been growing up. I was eating healthier. What was so bad about that? But even I could not deny that something was amiss. One morning when my family was making toast to go with our eggs, my toast slice almost got accidentally buttered. I freaked out.
If I didn’t get to the gym, I would have massive amounts of anxiety and thought I was going to become overweight. I was terrified of slipping into old eating habits. I thought that if I deviated from my routine in the slightest, everything would be undone. I would lose control.
While strangers would compliment my weight loss, which propelled me forward, family members expressed measured concern. I reassured them, saying I “had everything under control."
In the end, I lost 20 (unnecessary) pounds and wanted to lose more. But something did not feel right. The number (which got lower by the day) never made me feel satisfied. I was never happy in my skinnier body either, one of protruding shoulder blades and ribs, with a thigh gap and chiseled legs. I still dream about this body. But I saw an imperfect body in the mirror. I wanted to become wafer thin- I wanted to disappear. But on my way towards disappearing, my body started screaming. My hips hurt and popped when I ran so I had to stop. My joints felt like bone grinding against bone. I was always cold. And my mind obsessed. Unable to focus in class, I would spend hours looking at decadent pictures of foods I couldn’t eat, looking up recipes of low-calorie “healthy” foods. I had no social life and kept to myself to avoid people judging my eating habits.
It all came crashing down one day in a political science lecture. I knew something was wrong- my body felt wrong. I opened my computer and googled “signs of eating disorder” and slowly I realized every sign pertained to me. My pulse started to race and my face grew hot as tears welled in my eyes. Unable to contain myself, I ran out of the lecture hall and outside to get some air.
And all of a sudden I saw myself with concerned outside eyes. I needed help. But I knew if I couldn’t manage to help myself I would have to be treated. At the time I associated seeking treatment with being a burden. I knew that it would inevitably cost my family money we didn’t have. And even though they would have done anything for me, I did not want that burden, my burden, falling on them.
I did not know what getting better meant beyond re-gaining weight, but I figured that was a start. So that night I googled a new phrase: “how to gain weight healthfully” and started another process that has taken me to present-day. A process that has included numerous breakdowns, mourning the loss of the tiny body I had unhealthfully obtained, and seeing a therapist. I wish I could say that it has been a linear progression from that time to today, sick to well. That there weren’t days I wanted to shrink back into that tiny self. But I can’t.
It has been a journey that I will continue to live for the rest of my life, full of ups and downs.
Next week I will talk about where I am at today, my triumphs and struggles, and how Intuitive Eating gives me hope. Thank you for reading.