I was hoping to come up with a better, more catchy title for this post, but I couldn’t. This post is honest, real, and are things in my past that I think triggered my disordered eating. I don’t share all of this for sympathy. I share it because it’s the truth. All of us have a past and have situations that we have had to overcome or deal with. All of us are who we are because of whatever path we have had to travel so far. Dealing with these issues in this post have made me stronger as a mother and a wife, and they have in some way affected the person I am today.
Body image has always seemed to be an issue within my family. My aunt is always concerned with her clothing size and the number on the scale. My grandmother ate like a bird…I remember her eating the same lunch of Dannon yogurt and a side of radishes with salt every day for lunch. I was always a bit bigger than my twin sister, and I remember being compared to her often—comments about me being “bigger boned” than her. I was never a big girl. I was probably average. No one would have looked at me and thought of me as overweight.
The first time I remember dieting was in seventh grade. I would eat a rice cake and a piece of turkey as my “sandwich” at school. Water to drink, and some pretzels to go with everything. I would take naps so I wouldn’t eat so many snacks at home. If I was sleeping or resting, I wasn’t eating and that meant losing weight.
I was never super-thin during my tween years. My weight would go down a few pounds as I dieted, and then back up again as I hung out with friends and enjoyed lunch at McDonald’s or ice cream from Carvel.
My next memory of wanting to lose weight was when I was 16. Sixteen was a rough year for me. I began having flashbacks of being abused as a child. I would be working on math homework, and an image of my neighbor asking four-year-old me to do “bad things” to him would pop in my head. I felt like I was going crazy. What was wrong with me to have these images?
There was a teacher in my high school that everyone loved. He was known as someone who was easy to talk to, and was readily willing to find help for kids who needed it. I didn’t want to tell my parents what I remembered…partly because I remembered telling them about the abuse back when I was little and I didn’t remember anything being done about it. Maybe they didn’t believe me when I told them back when I was little. If that was the case, why would they believe me now, 12 years later?
So I went to the teacher, and I told him about the memories I was having. He assured me that most likely if I was having these images pop up, something probably happened. He encouraged me to talk to my parents about it, and he said he would get me in touch with the school psychologist so I could get help.
In the next few weeks, I talked to my mom who did remember me telling her about the things that happened to me as a little girl. I had my first couple of appointments with the school psychologist so I could begin to work on healing, and I had a teacher who I (thought) I could trust and cared about me.
The teacher I thought cared turned out to be a teacher who cared inappropriately. He would have me pulled from class to go to his house with him during school hours. He would express how much he cared about me and wanted to help me, then he would ask me to tell him in detail what abuse I endured, explaining that talking to him about it would help me recover from what happened. He would remind me how much he cared about me, and that he thought about me all the time.
It was all overwhelming. I felt out of control. I was dealing with past abuse, I had a teacher who was overly-caring and starting to be inappropriate with our discussions and meetings off of school grounds. I just wanted to be like other teens. I began eating junk and taking chocolate-flavored laxatives to purge. Binging and purging helped me feel more out of control while in control. I felt relief when I could get “everything out”. I ate to stuff down my feelings.
Bulimia became my little secret. I kept up with my secret until my friend found me in the bathroom crying one evening late spring. I couldn’t leave the bathroom because my stomach hurt too much from all the laxatives I was taking. I told her what I had been doing. She cried with me, and we talked about how my friends loved me and I needed to love myself too.
College came, and I was a “good girl” my freshman and sophomore year. I ate normally, made new friendships and enjoyed my college experience. I began to date my sophomore year. I was happy, and life was great.
Then it was time to go on spring break. I decided to go on a diet to lose a few pounds. Right before spring break, I went to a seminar where a college student was talking about her experience with anorexia and bulimia growing up. She provided details about when her disorder began, ways she hid her binging and purging, and how she would lie to others about eating. Watching her presentation triggered something in me. I wanted to feel in control again like I had back when I was bulimic.
I lost a few pounds, and then a few more. And then a few more. I have to admit that while I felt in control by controlling what I ate, I was totally not in control. I couldn’t stop starving myself if I wanted to. This period of my life is also a bit of a blur. I remember looking at my body in the mirror, extremely happy with my ability to not eat and get small. I remember loving that my bones were jutting out and a size zero was too loose on me. I remember being cold all the time. I counted calories all the time. My favorite meal was a cup of minute rice and a Diet Coke. When I wasn’t studying or going to class, I was out walking around campus or running the track. I visited the health center every day just to use the scale and weigh myself. I felt powerful.
In reality, I was weak and my eating disorder had complete power over me.
It took another year, and a lot of tough love, for me to start feeling good about myself and to really work on my past, my self-confidence and control/trust issues. I did eventually get back to a more ideal weight and back to loving myself and my life.
Unfortunately, eating disorders like to creep up over and over again. And the year before I started dating my husband, I began limiting my food and dieting again. I lost weight quickly and was down to 100 pounds within a couple of months. People I worked with asked me if I was sick. I’d lie to my now-husband and tell him I ate dinner already so I wouldn’t have to eat with him. At some point, I confessed to him that I had been lying about eating. He was livid. He told me that we would not stay in a relationship together unless I agreed to get help. He was not going to sit around and watch me kill myself.
Eric’s tough words were just what I needed and they scared me. Here I was, hating myself and hurting people around me that loved me. I had to decide if I was willing to give up starving myself to have a relationship with someone who cared deeply about me.
Eric’s words stayed with me, and I started counseling and started eating more normally. I decided he was important to me. I loved him more than anyone, and I wanted to have a future with him. That meant getting myself the help I needed. About nine months later, when I was at a stable weight and kept the weight on, Eric and I were married.
I still think about weight and food a lot. Calorie counts run through my head all the time. I look in the mirror some days and I hate what I see. People who knew me when I was skinny and anorexic….I wonder if they think I’m fat now. I wonder if I look like I’m out of control because right now I weigh more than I have in a long time.
When I get angry about something, sometimes I think, “I’ll show them, I’ll just not eat.” Or, if I feel really out of control with a situation, I’ll not eat much that day. I’ll limit myself as a way to punish myself.
On the flip side, I have three little girls now that look up to me. I know I have to be a role model for them. I know that they look up to me and watch how I respond to situations and they see what I do and hear what I say. They have been the main reason I haven’t slipped back into disordered eating for the past few years. I want my daughters to have good, healthy relationships with food. I want them to love their bodies, I want them to be confident in what they look like. I try hard to not talk about diets and not let them hear me comment negatively about myself or my body.
It’s a struggle, even now, 30 years later. But my family is worth it. While I’ll always struggle with an eating disorder, I work hard to keep it in check and keep it from controlling me.