I have suffered anorexia nervosa, restrictive eating and obsessive exercise on and off for the last 6 years. My story technically begins in high school, but here is a brief description of my life before then. I was born and raised in a small town in Connecticut to two loving and supportive parents. They are by far the most generous, kindhearted and loving people I know. I am grateful for them every single day and they are and continue to be the best friends I will ever have. I am lucky to have a wonderful older sister, who has supported and entertained me since the first time we played Naked Barbie Friendship Circle. I’m also lucky to have acquired two step-parents who are equally lovely and provide me with unending support.
I grew up a happy, goofy child. I spent most of my time riding my bike up and down my street, playing house and reading Junie B. Jones books. I figure skated and played basketball and when I got to high school, volleyball. I’ve had the same best friend since I started kindergarten and we spent our fair share of days playing games we made up and seeing how late we could stay up at sleepovers. Later, we spend our days obsessing over boys and attending awkward school dances.
It’s hard to say when and where my disordered eating started. To this day, I can’t give you a good explanation although I’ve spent years in therapy trying to figure it out. I grew up well-aware of the “diet mentality” as most of us are. Like all of us, I was exposed to the thin ideal every time I turned on the TV and with every magazine I saw. I repeatedly saw the female body sexualized in movies or music videos, as most of us have. I was hyperaware of the fact that according to the media, female bodies are made to look a certain way and are there for the satisfaction of others. It isn’t hard to for anyone to internalize these ideas and to believe our bodies needs to look a certain way. I certainly did. The first time I remember trying to actively control the way my body looked, I was in middle school and made myself go for a run after an a hefty Easter dinner.
I entered high school confused as all freshman are, feeling insecurity that all 14-year-old girls feel. I was (and still am) a perfectionist. I wanted to prove that I was good enough. I remember sometime during these years being told that I “wasn’t hot, but I was pretty.” In no way did that cause my eating disorder, but it certainly didn’t help to hear that I wasn’t fitting into the socially accepted definition of “hot” ( a word that makes me cringe now). Still, I got through the first years of high school relatively unscathed.
When I was a junior, things started to get a little rocky. I had my first “real” boyfriend and while he put no pressure on me to look a certain way, I think I was always striving to meet the “hot” ideal. I began to think of exercise as a way to “earn” my food, not as a way to have fun with my friends on the volleyball team or to enjoy the outdoors. By the time I got to my senior year, I was actively restricting my food intake. It was during this year that I started developing the tell-tale signs and symptoms of disordered eating. Still, I managed to hide it well enough and started the University of Rhode Island that fall with my disordered eating habits mostly at bay.
I did not adjust to college well. I missed my parents, I missed my friends, I missed the comfort of sleeping somewhere that people weren’t constantly screaming in the streets, where I wasn’t awoken by my roommate at 3:00am, where people weren’t solely focused on drinking. This is where my perfectionist tendencies really took hold. At this time, I was not interested in the party scene and so I threw myself full-force at my schoolwork and exercised. I finished freshman year with a 4.0 GPA. I never skipped a day at the gym, even if it meant waking up at 5:30am. Sophomore year, I strived to achieve that same level of “perfection”. I became more social that year where I was positively surrounded by thin, beautiful girls in tight dresses and perfect make-up. Let the comparisons begin.
It was also this year that I met my boyfriend. In the background, I was still counting every calorie and excessively exercising but in the beginning, our relationship gave me a boost of confidence. I ate more and cared less. When I went home that year, I weighed the most I have ever weighed (which was not an unhealthy number by any means). It was then that I committed myself once and for all to losing weight.
From then on, food and exercise consumed my life. They were all I thought about. I avoided social situations so I could go to the gym and avoid eating more. Throughout both middle and high school, there was always a “not good enough” voice in the back of my head that grew stronger and stronger but after my sophomore year of college, this voice was screaming, demanding to be heard.
I still remember the day that I nearly passed out at work after having done an extreme workout in the heat of the summer. My mom sat me down in the living room with tears in her eyes and told me she was worried about me. I spent all that night researching eating disorders and recognition nearly knocked me down. This sounds like me, I think this could be me.
My junior year was hell. I was miserable. I had no energy. School exhausted me but I continued to strive for that certain level of perfection. I killed myself to go to the gym or run everyday. I was scared to eat on days where I knew I would be going out later. I was afraid to eat eggs when my boyfriend made me breakfast in bed. Our relationship took a serious hit, as did my relationship with everyone else. By the end of my junior year, I was at the lowest weight I had ever been, knocked down a bit further by a bout of the flu. That summer, I ran in the 90 degree heat everyday until I was about ready to pass out. Finally, I sought help. The first time I met with a therapist, I told her a bit about myself and she said point blank: “so you’re dealing with anorexia.” I denied it. She assured me that whether I identified with the name or not, this is what I was suffering from.
Senior year began a whirlwind of therapy appointments, psychiatrist appointments, doctors appointments and a short-lived visit to an eating disorder clinic. I was in my senior year of college with a full workload, working part-time. Between that and three appointments a week, I had little time for anything else. I went out rarely, a combination of not wanting to wear anything that could be even a little tight or revealing, exhaustion from school and a lack of proper nourishment. My relationship was still rocky at time and I lost some friendships as well.
During the second semester of senior year after lots of appointments and help from my support team, I really started to eat more and actively tried to exercise less. By the time I graduated and moved up to New Hampshire, I considered myself mostly recovered. I was eating more and I had gained most of my weight back. That was about eight months ago. During this time, I really thought I was fully recovered.
It was only because of discussions with my therapist and researching real recovery stories that I realized that I wasn’t there yet. I might have been a “normal” weight, but I still had insane food rules, I was still exercising for all the wrong reasons. I had settled for far less than I deserved. I realized I was still missing out on life. I realized that I had been faking recovery, without even realizing it.
After one year of this “quasi-recovery”, I committed myself to real recovery. It hasn’t been long but I cannot even begin to describe how much of my life I have gotten back. I am discovering my identity without being consumed by food and exercise. I am learning, more and more everyday, who I am without my eating disorder. And it. is. so. empowering.
I want to scream it from the rooftops. I want the world to know how good it feels to take steps in the right direction. I want everyone who suffers from an eating disorder to know about this feeling, about the feeling of being in control of your own life and being happier for it. I invite you all on my journey with me and I hope that as you read along, you can find some sort of comfort in knowing that you are not alone if you suffer from disordered eating. I welcome any comments or questions or ideas you may have with open arms. Follow me along with me on social media to hear more about my journey or send me an email at [email protected]
Thank you for reading my story. Sending light and love to all of you, always.