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I had an eating disorder as a child.
There’s no warming up to that sort of thing, so there it is. A few people know this about me, but I’d say that most do not, and the ones who do know probably think it started in those four oppressive years of socially-warped behavior that is High School.
As easy as it is to blame it on the hormones and poor body image of a teenager, that just isn’t the case.
I have always, in one aspect or another, had an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s been that way forever. Or, as far back as the reaches of my mind can extend. All the way back to eating cake at family functions and hearing the voiced disdain of my mother, “That’s too much. You’ve already eaten this, this, and this.” And on the flipside if I avoided eating at all, “Aren’t you going to eat anything? You’re being rude.” I’m not sure if I knew why I was doing this. Maybe at a base level food has always existed to me as positive and negative reinforcement. If you’re good, you can have a cookie.
I remember stealing handfuls of snickerdoodles (of which there were always dozens upon dozens available) and hiding them in my room as a young girl. I remember shaming myself for eating them, or for eating anything at all. I remember pinching my belly, my arms, my thighs. And of course, as I got older, the incredibly awful length of time where I didn’t eat. Not anything. For as long as I could remain standing I would resist the urge because nothing was more important, more all-consuming, more absolutely vital than being thin.
I know I’m not alone. And this is why I’m talking about it. There are so many girls (and boys) that have walked this same walk. It’s heinous. It’s life-threatening. It’s character breaking. It’s mind-melting. It’s the biggest downward spiral of self shame and hate and disgust over something as primal and basic as eating food. But in the moment, when you’re in that place, the only way you can matter, can have worth, can be worthy of existence, is if you are thin. Thin is beautiful. Thin is the only way to be beautiful. This is what we teach. This is what we are saying with every weight loss commercial, every emaciated doll, every disproportionate action figure. Beauty is power, apparently. And you are never thin enough. Not if your pants fall down with each step. Not if your collar bones create valleys and pit falls in your chest. Not if you can count your ribs as they poke out of your shirt. It’s never enough. Once you start down that road, it’s like a drug. It’s almost impossible to stop.
Some people can’t. Some people die from this disease, and it is a disease. It is a disease of the mind, of perception, of self worth and how it’s weighed. And we do this to people. We make them this way, and then when there’s a problem, when they end up in the hospital (luckily I never got to that point), we wonder what happened to them.
Somewhere after High School, I got a little better. I learned to love myself. I’m still learning. I no longer count bites of food or fat grams or how many minutes, hours, or days it’s been since I’ve eaten a single thing. An apple is no longer a single meal source for an entire day’s worth of activities. I’ve done my best to see food as food rather than the everything it used to be.
But it’s always there. It’s always, always there, looming, foreboding. There’s a constant self-hatred I have to snuff out and smother. There are days where I just accept it and learn to coexist. I do my best not to see what isn’t there, and to accept and appreciate what is.
When people tell me I am beautiful I no longer think that they are making fun of me.
I’m writing all of this not to tell my story, but to tell a story. There are tens of hundreds of thousands of girls and boys trapped inside this horrible world of internal pain and loathing. Who are silently suffering. Who are going to bed hungry–ravenously–thinking that if they can just get through the night without food then tomorrow won’t be so hard.
I am writing this for those who silently suffer, who are constantly struggling with the urge to revert, regress, take what seems like the easy way of losing weight. Because this is a really hard time for people like us.
It’s The New Year which is when everyone tries to lose weight. I’m seeing it everywhere just as I do every year, and the old habits are stirring inside of me. This year, I am not going to make weight loss my goal. I’m also not going to make “healthy” my goal because I think we sometimes use that as a blanket term for thin. Instead, this year I’m going to make Happy my goal. I’m going to love myself no matter how I appear to the outside world, and I urge you to do the same. For three months, I took a break from Facebook, and it taught me just how much I was relying on the amount of likes and notifications I would receive. The more likes, the more satisfied I felt.
This year isn’t for anyone but me and my family. And I think that’s a pretty beautiful thought.
***If you are suffering with an eating disorder, please call ANAD Helpline at 630-577.1330
You can also visit their website at http://www.anad.org/