“Is that really all you’re eating?” is a phrase I’ve been asked countless times. I think no matter how old I am, or where I go, this question will always cause my face to turn red.
Having an eating disorder (ED) can be pretty confusing to those who haven’t experienced one before. When you have one, regardless of its severity, you live in a constant state of self-judgment. Every move you make is monitored by your brain. Whether it’s choosing something to wear, what you are eating, or going into a public place, you are constantly on alert of what you look like to others.
My experience with my eating disorder was something that indefinitely shaped who I am today, and who I am becoming. It started in high school and continued on and off through my sophomore year of college. Obsessed was an understatement when it came to my body. I thought about my weight and nothing else every second of the day. I came up with genius new ways I could restrict my diet and limit my food intake. It was like a never-ending game that I was addicted to playing. I felt genuinely accomplished when I could limit my food intake and still make it through the day. I portioned my meals constantly, writing everything I ate down in a little notebook I took with me everywhere. Exercising was an addiction I would feed any chance I could, frequently running before and after school.
The less I ate and the more I ran, the thinner I got. And the more skinny I looked, the more proud of myself I became.
Ironically, my eating disorder consumed me to the point where perfection was my only goal. It’s honestly a very strange, and confusing mental illness that we still don’t have all the answers for. I still don’t really know where mine developed from, but for a mental illness, the source does not matter. What matters is that it is present.
The whole thing was really self-deprecating. I would be so proud of myself on my unhealthy eating habits, but still criticized myself to do more. I was never enough for myself. This back and forth became a comfortable home for me until I physically and mentally could not take it anymore.
Throughout high school I had gone back and forth with my eating habits, living in a constant state of stress over food. Things got better for me my junior year of high school. I started eating better, participating in healthy activity, and got back to seeing my friends. I felt really proud of myself for fighting this disease all on my own, with no help from anyone, keeping this secret to myself for so long. I thought the worst was over, but it wasn’t. The thing about eating disorders, like many other mental illnesses, is that they stay with you for life. It is not something you can wipe your hands clean of. I learned this the hard way.
I entered college feeling stronger than ever. My hard work and pressure I put on myself all throughout high school has finally paid off. It was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. However, the pressure did not go away; it got worse. Instead of healing from my eating disorder, I regressed harder than ever. I was in a new place, with new people, far away from my old life and new mindset. Once again, I began restricting my eating and over-exercising, feeling like I had control over my life again through my body image.
I would obsessively track everything I ate, skipping meals to go to the gym and working out until I could barely walk. Instead of going to eat with my friends, I would hide in my room picking at Cheerios and planning for the next day. I lost twenty pounds in two months.
I kept pushing myself until my sophomore year of college, until something inside of me broke. I began to feel incredibly anxious over my eating habits and my body weight, getting angry at myself for gaining even a half a pound back. I weighed myself two times a day, monitoring my every move, until I started having severe panic attacks every time I walked outside. Finally, I had to go to the doctors and my unhealthy habits were brought to light once again.
Something I always prided myself on was how great I was at hiding my ED from others. Eventually, like most people with eating disorders, my habits could not go unnoticed for very long. Luckily I have people that love me enough to try and stop me from continuing these destructive behaviors. The love and support I felt from my family and friends was enough to slowly, but surely, bring me back to life.
I am now considered to be past the recovery stage in my life. It has been a long time since I restricted my diet or participated in over-exercising. I am healthier and happier than I have been before, but I am still struggling. I don’t think that there is such as a thing as a fully recovered person from an eating disorder. We are always recovering, it can’t just vanish after getting treatment or taking medication. But that is okay.
Self-acceptance is a lifelong battle which I haven’t realized until very recently. The past few years I have worked every hour of every day to try and accept myself for who I am. Things were still really tough and I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I thought that it would all just go away with the right treatment, but it didn’t. Yes, I was doing better, but I still had really bad days or even weeks. Sometimes the negative thoughts would creep back in, making it hard to focus on anything else. I was expected to be “recovered”, but in my heart I still didn’t feel that way. However, things were different this time and I could feel that too. Due to the help I had gotten, I had the tools to help me try and be positive on a day to day basis. I could recognize my unhealthy habits and actively try to change them.
I can proudly say that today I am able to eat regularly and keep myself in a healthy state of mind most days. I’m able to run for me now instead of run to be less of me. I still have days that I over think about what I’m eating, get anxious in my school’s dining commons, and panic when I have to eat in front of people I don’t know. The difference between my past and my present is that I’m doing it. When you restrict yourself from eating, you hold yourself back from other things as well. I hurt my family and my friends, and lost so much time being unhappy that I will never get back.
Self-love is a constant struggle. It isn’t something that just comes naturally for most of us. It’s something you always have to work on, but it’s worth it. Even on my worst days I take comfort in knowing I am better than I used to be. Eating disorders have a way of taking over your entire existence, but I would rather fight to love myself than hate myself for who I am. It is so important to recognize your worth and realize that what you look like has no impact on how you live your life. It takes practice, and a long time to be comfortable with who you are and that is okay.
I can honestly say that as I write this, I have never been happier. So if you are currently struggling, or considered “recovered” like me, it is okay if you don’t feel one-hundred percent. What isn’t acceptable, however, is giving up on yourself. You are worth so much more than the person you see in the mirror. The problem is not with your body, it is your with your mind and the way you are using it. Surround yourself with people that love and support you, and stay away from those that contribute to your negative thinking.
Be open about your struggles.
Most importantly, don’t forget that what you can do with your body is way more important than what it looks like. You could run a marathon, comfort a friend in need, or even change the world. Your body is simply a vessel for your beautiful soul, not as a way to determine what you deserve, because what you deserve is to fall in love with yourself. Take the time to do so, and I mean really and truly do so, and nothing can stop you.
This submission comes from the incredibly strong Kelly Griffin. Leave her a comment below and feel free to share her story.
Always remember you are not alone,
You are loved.
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