I don’t know about you, but when it comes time for me to die, I hope that my loved ones are able to say so much more about me than “Oh she was super skinny, never indulged in dessert, and had such great willpower.”
If I’m being honest, though, at one point, having willpower with food was truly the only thing in the world that I cared about.
As someone who has bounced from bulimia, to binge eating disorder, to anorexia, and back to binge eating– I can tell you with great confidence that when you have an eating disorder, you spend 99.9% of your day wondering when your next cheat meal is, how many carbs you’ve had so far, and how many calories you just burned during your workout.
A week in the life of someone with disordered eating habits looks a little bit like this:
-You pack your own healthy keto bread to bring to restaurants so you don’t eat their fresh ~white~ bread.
-You talk to your friends about how to make “skinny” margaritas instead of regular ones.
-You take out a food scale at dinner time so you can weigh the amount of grilled chicken you are going to eat so that you don’t go over your points if you’re on Weight Watchers.
-You step on the scale every morning when you hop out of bed. If you don’t like the number, you step off and step back on it. If you still don’t like the number, you beat yourself up, saying things like “UGH, that’s it, no dessert tonight. And I’m going for a run every day this week. I’m out of control.”
But then again, if you DO like the number on the scale, you STILL panic. “Ok, what did I eat yesterday? What workout did I do? How can I keep this up so that the number on the scale keeps going down?”
-You soak in how everyone around you tells you how much dedication and willpower you have towards eating healthy, and how they wish they could be more like you. You feel honored for a split second. You feel like you’ve won a gold medal. The problem is, you’re so weak from imbalanced nutrition that you do not have the ability to see that your gold medal is in fact, a poisonous snake.
When I was deep in the throes of my eating disorder, so many people would say to me:
“Oh my gosh, look at you! What are you doing? How are you doing it? You’re so skinny, you must feel great with all that weight off of you!”
Admittedly, those days are a little fuzzy to me. My nutrition was unimaginably poor and I was running half-marathons at the same rate that most people change their socks, so I cannot even remember how I responded to people, but I do remember how damaging those comments were. Maybe I looked great, but I did not feel great. I felt NUMB. I was disappearing. My ED convinced me that the only way to get noticed is to disappear. I was in so much emotional agony, and at the time, I did not even understand it. The only way I could communicate was through a vicious cycle of starvation, bingeing, purging, and over- exercising.
I was so obsessed with losing weight that, during my college years when I studied abroad in Italy, I packed my scale in my suitcase. YES – MY SCALE. I took my eating disorder with me across borders! At the time I was more focused on losing weight instead of enjoying the gorgeousness that is Italy. It was my goal to come home from Italy with my rib cage showing. However, at some point, when my body could stand to be starved no longer, I switched over into chronic binge eating – a symptom that most people do not like to talk about due to guilt and shame. But I refuse to let the shame silence me any longer.
I have struggled with bouts of binge eating as early as elementary school. And I’m here to tell you that if you have ever struggled with this, please do not listen to the voice in your head that tells you that you will never be able to stop. I beg of you, don’t listen to the voice that tells you your only problem is that you’re lazy and have no willpower. None of that is true and you CAN recover.
I consider myself to be in recovery after about 20 years of disordered eating and I have to say – I have never felt more free. I have thrown my scale in the trash and I have been working with an ED-focused nutritionist (she’s the bomb) who has truly changed my relationship with food and has taught me how to listen to my hunger and fullness cues instead of allowing my emotions to dictate my eating habits. I am learning to eat intuitively – sometimes that looks like your typical meat, veggie, and starch type of meal for dinner. Other times it looks like a good old fashioned PB&J with a side of Oreos for dinner (Yes, I actually allow Oreos to be in my house now and I don’t binge on them!!!).
A few years ago, I remember how I used to cry to my therapist every week, saying “I would do anything for this eating disorder to just go away.” And now here I am, slowly but surely pushing my ED out of my life. I am unfollowing toxic diet influencers on social media, I am shutting down body shamers, and I am working through the trauma that caused me to develop my ED in the first place.
What I want you to know is this: If you struggle with disordered eating habits, please ask for help. Chronic dieting is an addiction. Like gambling, it is a game we feel we must play, but one in which we rarely ever come out on top. Dieting leaves us feeling frustrated and defeated because diets rarely ever work in the long-run. In fact, they backfire, forcing your body to hold onto more fat because the diet itself puts you into deprivation/starvation mode.
While it took me 28 years to realize all of the above, the freedom that now comes with allowing myself to enjoy desserts, workout when/how I want to, and eat when/if I am hungry has made the hard work totally worth it. The truth is: That six-pack of abs I used to endlessly pray for will surely never come, and Lord knows you’ll never see me on the cover of a magazine flexing some mean biceps. And while 10 years ago, these facts alone would have been enough to destroy me, these days, I’m cool with it. And I promise you this:
You can get there one day, too.