The first time someone called me fat, I was 7 years old. My grandma told my dad that he needed to watch what I was eating because it was apparent that I was beginning to gain weight. I overhead their conversation, and it hurt my feelings, but I didn’t think much of it after that.
The second time someone called me fat was two years later. It was a boy in my class who I liked. When I told him I liked him, he said, “I don’t like fat girls.” That night, I went home, stole my mom’s package of saran wrap, and wrapped it around my mid-section to give the illusion that I was skinny. Looking like that became my new goal.
By age 11, I was dieting after realizing I was bigger than all my friends. Kids at school continued to make fun of me, and I couldn’t fit in the cute Hollister jeans that all the other girls were wearing. I was taller than everyone else and weighed more, and that was apparent just by looking. Boys didn’t like me, and sometimes they called me ugly. One kid even named me Chewbacca due to how much hair I had on my head and that I was a “big” girl, he said. All of this hurt.
I didn’t want to be an outcast, so I took control by eating healthier. I ate salads nearly every day. When people asked why I did this, I told them that I “loved” Caesar salads and grilled chicken, when, in reality, I was really just desperate to be thin like the other girls.
Eventually, I got tired of being asked about my food choices, and I developed a weird fear of eating in front of people altogether. So, I started skipping lunch at school to avoid the confrontation. By high school, that turned into skipping breakfast and lunch, and sometimes dinner, too. The only time I really felt comfortable eating was when I was alone – typically, that was either right after school, or late at night after everyone at home was in bed. I knew it was wrong to eat only during those times, but I hated how I looked, and that seemed like the only way for me to feel okay about my body without other people knowing what was going on.
Fast forward to college. I still skipped meals, fasted (starved myself), dieted, and binged regularly. However, instead of keeping the weight off, this cycle eventually made me sick – prediabetes or insulin resistance, as it’s commonly called – and I packed on the weight.
Cue even more self-hatred and insecurity.
By the end of 2015, I reached my heaviest weight and had finally had enough. For a year after that, I worked with doctors and nutritionists to make a dent in my weight loss and health improvement goals. And I did.
But the body image issues didn’t go away…they worsened.
Over the next two years, I hired coaches, tried diet after diet, and exercised until I injured myself and literally couldn’t anymore.
And, suddenly, I crashed.
I hit a wall.
I began to feel pain in the form of a deep, emotional disconnect from food, the gym, and my body.
Even at a lower weight, I hated every last thing about how I looked. I felt terrible about myself. I cried when I looked in to the mirror. I even began evaluating alternative options, like plaster surgery and other procedures, to help me get the body I always dreamed of.
I thought doing that would make me a better, happier person. I fantasized about what life would be like without the burden of hating my body. I wondered how much more I would enjoy my day if it weren’t plagued by the menacing thoughts surrounding my appearance (i.e., “What will I eat next?,” “I wonder if that guy thinks I look fat in this shirt,” “Ugh, I feel so fat today,” and, “I wish my body looked better,” etc.). I craved normalcy, and I envied people who didn’t criticize their body the way I criticized mine.
Then, I eventually stopped everything I was doing regularly. I stopped dieting. I stopped eating all together. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped looking in the mirror. I stopped talking about my journey on social media and in real life. Every ounce of my happiness thereafter became consumed in my will to punish myself for all the damage I had done.
Taking it a step further, a couple months ago, I began seeing a doctor to get weight loss pills. For two weeks, I had no appetite and hardly ate anything. I dropped 10lbs almost instantly, and to me that felt amazing and “normal.”
When I went back for a checkup, the doctor told me to continue avoiding “boyfriend-size portions,” so to keep dropping weight. The statement caught me off guard and seemed offensive. After a moment of reflection, I realized that wasn’t my problem at all.
Sure, I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder, but I spent years starving myself, bingeing, dieting, over-exercising, and obsessing about how I looked and felt. Obviously, something wasn’t right. How could my problem possibly be eating too much food at every meal? It made no sense to me that the doctor could say something like that.
Then, it clicked. My problem wasn’t that I ate too much, or that I was eating the wrong foods. It was that I treated my body terribly for most of my life. I punished myself constantly. From one diet to the next, from various eating styles to not eating at all, I had spent years damaging my body, and in the process, I damaged my mind, too.
I’ve been dwelling on this for weeks. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s best for my health and how I can fix the internal chaos I’ve created.
I’ve considered therapy. I’ve read blogs and books. I’ve talked to friends and professionals who deal with this regularly. And I’ve made a choice to begin actively confronting years of issues that have led me to this exact moment.
Best of all, I’ve hired someone I trust to coach me through this process. To help me learn how to heal. To help me overcome the negative and focus on the positive. To help me feel normal around food. To help me let go of the control. To help me think about my body less and focus on live life more. To help me love myself the way I should have loved myself all long.
I am greater than the sum of my greatest challenges.
Because I know that, I know this is the beginning of my recovery.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please know that it is normal and okay to ask for help. You are not alone.