This week is one that is heavy on my heart. When this week arrives, I spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and it’s a week that reminds me of how damn lucky I am.
Puberty was not very kind to me. Maybe the more honest thing to say was that I was not very kind to me and did not move a whole heck of a lot when I hit puberty. My diet also consisted of takeout and potato chips. Regardless, I was overweight from the age of 13 to 16. Coming from a household where my mother was a stick thin woman who could eat anything her heart desired, it hit hard. Why was I like this?
Eventually, I decided to take control of it. I got a gym membership when I turned 16 and got to work. I had no clue what I was doing so I would hop on an elliptical and stay on for twenty minutes. I continued to eat as I always had at home, and the weight started to melt off of me. My goal was to be “in shape” by the time my family went on spring break. I was not really sure what that meant for me, but I knew that I wanted to lose some weight, and I did.
When we got home from vacation, I recall looking at photos and being disappointed. I knew I had lost some weight, but I was upset with how I looked still. I decided that I was going to keep working, and that what I really needed was to change how I ate. So I did. I started weighing my food and counting calories. Guess what guys? It worked. That, coupled with extended time on the elliptical gave me some great results. By that summer, I had slimmed down further. I started getting compliments from people on how pretty I was. As much as I hate to admit it, it felt good. To go from someone who was a wallflower to someone who was noticed was such a thrill for me. I saw myself as a healthy person.
Looking back, I should have stopped and just maintained. The weight I was at was ideal for my frame and height. But… as the story goes, it went on. I became obsessed. I couldn’t eat in public anymore because I couldn’t weigh the oil that the cooks used. I became obscenely upset if I couldn’t go to the gym. My workouts were getting longer, and were still just cardio. My meals were getting smaller.
I was the girl who knew calories. You know that scene in To The Bone where the girl looks at a plate and can call out the calories of each item perfectly? That was me. I was still loosing weight. It began to be painful to do yoga, because my back bones were sticking out so much. I was tired all the time. What should have been a big signal to me that this was going downhill was when my period stopped.
The thing is… I didn’t care. I wanted more. I don’t know how to explain it. There was a euphoric feeling I would get from stepping on the scale and seeing it go down. Running my hands down my stomach and feeling nothing brought me joy. Sometimes, I would have realizations that it may have been too much, but the voice in my head told me to shut up and get back to work.
I don’t have photos from my thinnest. I bottomed out at 57 pounds. To put that into perspective, my BMI was 11.5. 18.5-25 is a “normal range”, and I was points below. I am not an advocate for using BMI for most cases, but it just reinforces how absurdly underweight I was.
My hair started to come out in clumps. I had to get a bob cut so I could wear beanies at all times. I was wearing parkas in warm weather. For every hour I was awake, I needed to sleep for three. My body was not happy, and I did not recognize any of the signs.
I ended up in the hospital. My organs were beginning to shut down. I would have what felt like heart attacks regularly. Laying there in that hospital bed, I told myself I needed to do better. I realized I was going to die if I didn’t. In that moment, I promised myself that if I survived, I would help others in similar situations.
I worked hard. I cried and cried for months. I wanted to heal myself, but the voice in my head was so strong at this point. Anytime I ate, the voice screamed at me to stop being such a fat ass. I was working on me, but there was a part of me that didn’t want my own help.
My parents and my siblings were my support system and I am eternally grateful to have had them through that. I had to go to school for half days only, because of how exhausted my body was. I couldn’t drive because of fainting spells. I lost a whole lot of friends because what 17 year old can handle someone with issues like that?
It got better though. It took years. I was in therapy and treatment for a long time. To this day, I still have trouble with my own self image. Anorexia is something that will never leave who I am. It played such a pivotal role for me in my teenage years, and continues to play a role into my twenties. I am at a point where I can eat well and exercise in moderation and feel good about myself, but it takes effort every damn day.
Work needs to be done to prevent stories like this from happening. My thought is that if I had been educated at a younger age about what healthy eating was and what healthy exercise looked like, I could have prevented myself from going down this dark road. I teach high school now, and I hear girls in the bathroom talking about how if only they were skinny, they’d be so much happier. I want to shake them and tell them my story. I hold back. Maybe I shouldn’t though? Maybe more people should hear these stories. These gross, sad stories so that they don’t have to have their own to share.
This week is hard for me. This week is also a reminder of my own strength and my process. I am so grateful to be here, today. I am so grateful for my health and my family and my loved ones. I am so grateful to be able to share my story. Eating disorders, and anorexia specifically, have a mortality rate of 10%. Many women (and men) will never be able to share their stories. I can share mine.