For today’s piece, we have a submission from Kelly Sorge about her struggles with an eating disorder. This one really hit us hard, and we think you’ll enjoy it thoroughly.
It didn’t start the way you normally hear about these things starting. I was never bullied about my weight. No one ever called me “fat”, and I actually always considered myself skinny growing up. It happened completely out of the blue one day when this demon awoke inside me and decided to make me think that I wasn’t good enough. Little did I know that this demon would follow me and take over the next three years of my life.
I remember the moment that changed my life forever. I was sixteen and had just started my junior year of high school. I was sitting on my bedroom floor, working on some English homework after a long day of school and soccer practice. I was leaning over while reading, and couldn’t help feeling my stomach rolls. Summer was still clinging on that September night, so the heat of the room was making me feel disgusting. I tried pulling up my shorts over my stomach, but it wouldn’t make the rolls go away. Nothing could. I went into my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. For the first time in my entire life, I started to panic about my weight.
‘Okay…’ I told myself, ‘you can fix this. Just cut back a little. Don’t pack five Oreos in your lunch every day’. And just like that, the eating disorder that would haunt me for three years began.
It all happened very gradually. I didn’t really have any intention of losing weight, I just didn’t want to gain any. I cut down the proportions of my snacks at school. Maybe bring two Oreos instead of five, or pretzels instead of Doritos.
I kept this going for a while but every night when I was doing my homework I could still feel those stomach rolls and would get sick with disgust. I couldn’t believe I had let myself get this way. How could I think that I could just stay skinny forever without any effort.
So I cut back some more.
Lunches turned into a slice of bread with peanut butter folded in half, a juice box, some kind of fruit, and maybe a small bag of wheat thins. I was still actively participating in all of my after school activities, getting good grades, and hanging out with friends, but I now had a little voice inside my head reminding me to be self conscious at all times. The sandwiches got smaller and smaller and the mirror trips got longer and longer. Every night I started analyzing the one part of my body that annoyed me the most: my stomach. I hated the way it jutted out after I finished a meal, or how wide it looked. It just looked ugly, plain ugly.
Basketball season rolled around and as my first year on varsity, I got to pick out a new uniform. I spent an hour in the mirror before each game adjusting my uniform so that I didn’t look fat. Every practice I pushed myself as hard as I could, not only so that I could get approval from the coach that benched me, but so that I could do my best to burn off the calories I had consumed during the day.
As my junior year continued on, things began to change. I started to become afraid of taking pictures. I started to envy girls in my school that would look beautiful in every picture they took. I was never one of those girls, and I never could be one. It had to be because I wasn’t pretty or skinny enough.
There were class pictures, the spring musical, and most important of all, prom. I had bought a dress back in February that I absolutely loved, and had gotten a date too! The anticipation was killing me though. I knew a ton of pictures would be taken and posted on Facebook and everyone would see if my stomach was sticking out. About a month before prom I started to cut back more. I asked my dad if he would buy organic foods, but he said no because they cost too much. I stopped eating processed foods like Cheeze-Its because that was the kind of thing that would make me fat. I had given up candy, cookies, and soda for lent that year as an excuse to not eat bad foods, and it was working. I was able to refuse sweets or any food I deemed “bad”. The peanut butter sandwiches at lunch were so small, that my friends started to look at me like I was crazy. “That’s what you’re eating?” They’d say. Then I’d assure them that that was how I liked them, and we would continue on like nothing ever happened.
When Prom came, I couldn’t enjoy dinner.
Prom weekend was the first time someone finally called me out on what I was doing. There was a big group of us that went bowling to celebrate seeing our friend who had come to visit for the weekend. We were all having fun when one of my friends pulled me aside I had briefly told her how I wanted to start eating organically a couple times, but hadn’t gone into much detail.
“Hey,” she started, “I just wanted to see if you were okay with food and everything?”
“What do you mean?” was my defensive response. I hadn’t seen this coming and didn’t know what to do.
“Like just are you okay with eating and stuff?”
“Yeah of course!” I lied. “I just wanted to start eating organically to be healthier and not just eat cookies and stuff,” She let it go and we went back to the group to finish our game, but something inside me had ignited.
How dare she question me like that? In a bowling alley too! It wasn’t like I was gonna tell her all my problems right then and there!
Summer brought on more insecurities. Tighter, more revealing clothes were custom. I couldn’t hide behind sweats anymore. I was given a full length mirror to put in my bedroom, and started obsessively spending my time in front of it, grabbing at my waist. I could grab the fat on my stomach, and it was killing me. I would look in the mirror and think, ‘I hate myself.’ I HATE myself. When did that happen? Every night I did a different workout. Every night I checked my stomach in the mirror to see if it was working.
One summer night, I was eating dinner, and saying how excited I was for ice cream. My brother then said “I can’t wait till you’re older and fat.”
I sat there shell-shocked for a moment. Proof. There was proof that I was going to be fat. I couldn’t handle someone actually saying that so I ran upstairs to my room and started bawling my eyes out. I was so angry I wanted to scream. He didn’t care that what he just said had become my worst nightmare. He had no idea how much a statement like that hurt me. I stayed in my room for the rest of the night despite my brothers attempts to apologize for reasons that they didn’t know.
Summer went on and meal sizes started decreasing. Senior pictures were coming up. Another goal. Another day I had to look perfect.
Senior year. I found myself to be class treasurer, editor of the school’s literary magazine, soccer co-captain, and much more. On the inside, I was hurting; lunch was now five pieces of cheese and ten crackers. Breakfast consisted of “to go packets”, which contained some nuts, seeds, and fruit. About 150 calories. I could handle that. So my life consisted of those two “meals”, then pounding away at soccer practice every day, and trying not to eat too much at dinner. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it.
I started having panic attacks at night when I looked in the mirror and saw how fat I was. I only wore loose clothes, which sometimes meant I had to buy clothes one or two sizes bigger than what fit me. The scary thing was that I didn’t even notice.
I now had my first serious boyfriend, but my love for myself was nonexistent. Panic attacks were happening often, and I felt like there was nothing else to do but hate myself. I didn’t want to make myself throw up because my pain tolerance was next to nothing.
I used to fall asleep crying because I hated myself so much and there was nothing I could do. I hadn’t told a soul how I was feeling: not my boyfriend or best friend, and absolutely not my dad. So I decided to keep going at it alone.
My favorite subject was always history, but in AP US History this year, I was getting C’s, which never happened before. I couldn’t focus on my work the night before a big exam because I would start getting panic attacks about my weight. I knew I had to study, but I couldn’t stop myself; I was on the floor doing ab workouts until I couldn’t move anymore. By the time I stopped I was way too exhausted to study, and had to go to bed knowing that I was going to fail the test the next day.
My brothers started calling me a bird because all I ate was nuts, seeds, and fruit. I wanted to become a vegetarian because of my love of animals, but mostly because I realized how many calories were in meat. I was at the point of total collapse, and I had to tell someone.
One night in March I finally decided to tell my boyfriend. I knew how much we loved each other and how he would support me through anything. He knew that there was something wrong that I wasn’t telling him, and it was killing me to keep it from him. I finally told someone that I was scared of food, and hated myself, and sometimes wouldn’t eat for a week straight. It was all out there on the line, and I made him promise he wouldn’t tell anyone, and he didn’t. He became my support system through some of my tougher moments. When I felt like shit he would tell my how beautiful I was, and really meant it. Whenever I was with him all those bad feelings went away and I felt totally comfortable.. The thing was, just because he said it, didn’t mean I believed it.
I felt extremely guilty that I told my boyfriend everything and not my best friend. I thought she would be hurt, and contemplated telling her multiple times, but always came to the same conclusion: I would not be a burden to her.
She was smart, though. She could see me deteriorating in front of her. I wasn’t the same girl she had been best friends with since 7th grade.
I remember the night perfectly. It was the day before my birthday and we were going to our mutual friend’s graduation party. I had originally wanted to wear shorts and a tank top, but everything I had looked horrible on me, so I decided to just wear a dress so that it would hopefully cover up my stomach.
She got in the car and said, “Wow you look nice!” and I tried to push the the compliment away by saying “I didn’t intend to wear a dress, I’m just too fat to wear anything else.”
We ended up ditching the party early and heading back to my house. She was sitting on my bed, and I was folding clothes. She was very slow and precise on how she worded things, and I answered in the same way. I knew that there was no more denying it, I had tried to protect her for as long as I could. After that night, our already strong friendship reached a new level. I now had two amazing people supporting me through what was about to become the hardest part of this struggle
College. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew that the “freshman fifteen” scared the life out of me. To me, gaining fifteen pounds was about the scariest thing in the entire world. I became so determined to beat the stereotype.
An apple and peanut butter for breakfast: 190 calories. A small salad for lunch: 120 calories. A couple carrot sticks for dinner: 30 calories. Add a snack here or there because I couldn’t bare not eating anymore, my total calorie intake was about 600 for the day. But 600 was still too close to 1,760. That’s where the gym came in. Since I had played sports my whole life, I had never gotten a gym membership before, but at school, it was already paid for. I started going to the gym obsessively every day. Each day I would make myself burn more calories. It started off as 400, and then 600, and then 900 to 1000.
I was eating 600 calories a day, and burning 900.
I was tired and irritable all the time. I had to take naps daily because I was so exhausted. Luckily, I found college work to be much easier than high school, and was doing well in all my classes. I had to tell my best friend and boyfriend what I was doing though, and they weren’t happy. They both kept telling me I needed to eat, but I couldn’t. My best friend researched all these bad things that could happen to you due to malnutrition, and yeah, it scared me, but not enough to make me stop. I had constant battles with them about it. Every day my boyfriend would tell me that I was beautiful and that I didn’t need to do this. He wanted me to tell my dad and get help, but that wasn’t going to happen.
I made an appointment with the school nutritionist, knowing that my dad would not know. Walking in for my appointment at Health Services that day was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. The waiting room was one of the worst parts. There was calming music playing and little waterfalls everywhere and a library of books about all kinds of nutrition issues. The place made me want to throw up.
Then, I got called in by this skinny woman of about forty with short dark hair and glasses: my nutritionist. She had me explain what was wrong and I told her I had been struggling with my eating for two years now. Two years. I told her about counting calories,working out and hating myself, and then she asked why I had chosen now to get help. I broke down and cried about how I didn’t want my dad to know, and that I could use this opportunity to get better on my own without anyone’s help. That’s how I always wanted to do it. We made another appointment for next week.
I felt numb. In my hand I had about five different pamphlets about eating disorders…what? I never thought of myself as having an eating disorder, and she just said it so casually. I just wanted someone to tell me what to eat so I could be skinny.
So many health risks. Heart problems, hair loss, no more menstrual cycle. There were so many things that were happening to me that I didn’t even notice. So that’s why I have trouble sleeping, that’s why my nails look like shit, that’s why I’m so irritable. It just became an ongoing list.
Every week there was something that upset me. Something that made me lay in bed for the next hour and cry. I hated the days I had appointments because I knew I wasn’t going to be okay for the rest of the day. I had blood taken, a urine sample, blood pressure, and weight taken. They wouldn’t even let me look at the scale, which was humiliating.
I hated going so much that I would lash out at my only supporters for it. My boyfriend and best friend would encourage me to go because, “she’s a professional” and “she knows what she’s doing,” but they didn’t really get it. Every time I went I was realized just how fucked up I was. I was terrified when my nutritionist suggested I bump up my calorie intake to eight or nine hundred. 900 calories?! There was no way in hell that was going to happen! Then she suggested that I go on anxiety medication for the panic attacks I was having. She was very pushy about the idea, but I was having none of it.
The next battle was over the counseling center. My nutritionist was adamant that I go, but I told her that I wasn’t ready yet. I was so pissed! “I’m not a fucking mental patient,” I would tell my best friend. But in return, she told me in the nicest way possible that I was. Anorexia, what I was experiencing, is a mental illness. It’s that demon inside me telling me I’m fat and distorting the way I see myself in the mirror. This couldn’t be fixed by my nutritionist; I just didn’t know it yet.
After a while, things were starting to break through for me and I was really trying to get better. I increased my calorie intake to 900 and only burned 600 in the gym, which was a vast improvement. If I wanted to be skinny, I would have to have regular meals. No wonder why I felt fat every time I ate a grape! I was starving myself, so the few times I actually ate, my body took it in for all that it was worth.
I was presented with my first obstacle on Thanksgiving. I had told my nutritionist that I was determined to enjoy the holiday and the food with my family, and I had every intention of doing so, until I got hit with heartbreak. I know how stereotypical it sounds for couples to break up over Thanksgiving, but it was more than that. I had lost one of my best friends and supporters through all of this. I didn’t eat a single thing for the first twenty-four hours, which resulted in me passing out in the shower twice.
After the first couple weeks, I gradually started being able to eat more, but I still didn’t count. Once winter break came I kind of put my life in perspective. I was very depressed, but I didn’t want to take that out on food anymore. I was determined to get better because I felt so bad about burdening people. A beautiful thing happened that vacation.
I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time in two and a half years, I said “I love myself.”
My nutritionist wanted me to tell me day about everything over Spring break, and I agreed that I would. But when the time came, I couldn’t. The conversation would be too awkward and sad. I went back to school feeling terrible. All I could think about was that I ate too much and that my face looked so fat and I needed to fix it right away. I told this to my nutritionist and she immediately called the counseling center to tell them that I needed an appointment because I was “relapsing”.
I didn’t want to relapse, I wanted to get better, and that’s when I realized how much of a mental thing anorexia really is. I was never going to get better until I learned to love myself and not be so self critical. I happily went to my counseling center appointments and learned a lot from my therapist. Each night I started to write down three things that made me happy and two things that made me proud of myself that day. This exercise and others were dramatically helpful in my recovery. I started going to the gym three times a week instead of every day, and I wasn’t keeping track of the calories I burned. Most importantly, I told my dad.
It was a nice, long email that shared just enough to tell him the big picture, but not scare him. I told him about all the help and support I had gotten. I told him some things and left out others, but the main thing was, I told him.
I was extremely nervous for his reaction, but could not have been any luckier. He said everything perfectly and was so kind and supportive. He even said that he had suspected I had an eating disorder, but didn’t want to say anything for fear of pushing me away. I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I could feel myself getting stronger and more confident than ever before.
Writing this, it’s scary to think about what I was like back then. Just a year ago I was falling into the darkest period of this battle, and now I’ve come out a champion. Anorexia isn’t something you just get over. I still struggle with self image issues, I’m still afraid to eat certain foods, and I don’t like looking at pictures of myself, but I have loads of people supporting me now. I love with the underwear store Aerie because of their Aerie real campaign where they don’t retouch their models. I spent years looking at models online that had perfect bodies and held myself to that standard, so I really respect a company that will admit that even underwear models have stomach rolls when they sit.
Although I am about a million times better than I was, getting fat is still one of my biggest fears. But I go to the gym now because it makes me feel good, not because I think I have to.
Right now, I am trying to work on not using the word “perfect”. We as humans tend to think of people, places, and lifestyles as perfect, but it’s just not true. There is no such thing as perfect and no one should ever hold themselves to that standard.
I’m so lucky that I got out when I did. I know some people with eating disorders are not as lucky as I was and have had their lives completely stopped by the illness. Thinking back on that period of my life, I realize how unhappy I was most of the time. Today, I am living life to the fullest and doing things that make me happy. I think I realized that the people that enjoy life most in this world are the people who have been the closest to losing it.
It helps me to share my story with other people now because it is part of the healing process. The person that I was for three years seems so distant and it’s not someone I ever want to become again. Right now, I’m just living every day to the best of my ability. I’m having fun, smiling, crying, laughing, hurting, eating, and breathing.
Special thanks to Kelly for sharing her amazing journey. Feel free to leave her a comment below.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
This post is a part of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Find the other posts here:
An Introduction To Eating Disorder Week – What are Eating Disorders? – He Called Me the “T” Word” – An Empty Home & An Empty Stomach: My Lifelong Struggle With Eating Disorders – The Fine Print – Doubt: Sarah’s Poem – A Journal on the Imperfections of Perfection – Nervosa
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