Until now, I’ve only made vague references and comments about this on my blog. Part of me was hesitant even to do that. There are a lot of reasons that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story. Not only am I ashamed of the behaviors themselves and the seemingly benign catalyst to this downward spiral, but I’m also ashamed to label myself as someone recovering from an eating disorder.
Even though I definitely suffered from extremely disordered eating for months if not an entire year, I never felt like it was “that bad.” I know a lot of people internally minimize their own mental health issues especially when eating disorders are involved, but even knowing that, I didn’t feel able to consider myself one of those people. I’ve watched so many documentaries and series about anorexia and other eating disorders. I know how bad it can get. I know it can be life-threatening at times, especially in the cases that persist for years and years. I was comparing myself to those extreme cases and disregarding the suffering and severity of where I was physically and mentally for those months. I felt, like a lot of people do, that I wasn’t “that sick.” I wasn’t extreme enough in my behaviors. I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder. It hadn’t been going on long enough.
It is easy for me to recognize these excuses and minimizing attempts in others, but only recently have I been able to accept that things really had gotten bad for me. And that I’m still struggling to regain healthy eating habits and not fall back into toxic self-talk. I wanted to write about my experiences today for all of those who may be reading that are like me. There is no “sick enough” threshold that you have to meet before you can get help. If you feel there is a problem, there is. You don’t have to reach rock bottom or suffer for a certain length of time before you can decide to love yourself, before you decide you are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of recovery right now. You are always worthy of love. Your suffering matters, regardless of whether or not someone else may “have it worse.”
My eating disorder began at the end of 2019. One of the parts I’m embarrassed by is the “reason” it seemed to have been triggered. I’m sure there were a lot of other underlying issues going on, and the isolation of the pandemic really made it a lot worse, but the day I recall that switch happening in my mind was a day I was pulled over. I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but this one really got to me for some reason. I was so ashamed and humiliated for getting yet another ticket and having to spend over $100 on something so stupid right before the holidays. As I cried big ugly tears on the rest of my drive home, my thoughts were swirling with negativity.
I’m never pretty enough to get out of a ticket I thought. A thought I have basically every time I’ve been pulled over. But that day it stung particularly badly. “I don’t deserve to eat tonight.” That was the thought that played on repeat. And I didn’t eat that night. Or the next. To my surprise, fasting made me feel a lot better. I felt powerful and strong. I felt sleek and beautiful. My mind felt sharp. I felt in control. I woke up more easily. I felt lighter during my morning workout. “This is great,” I told myself.
After those first two days without eating, fasts became a normal part of my weekly routine. At first I was fasting for one or two days every week. Then three days a week. Then it started to become more than just fasting. On the four days a week I allowed myself to eat, I had a very strict diet. I didn’t eat until 6 or 7 in the evening, and then I would basically eat things that had virtually no calories so that I could eat for hours straight without feeling guilty. Each and every day I ate, I would eat the same exact things, in the same exact order. First I would eat four whole cans of green beans with copious amounts of salt and onion powder. Then I would eat roasted zucchini. Then I would eat cabbage soup. Then lima beans. Sometimes these super low-calorie spring rolls. Then I would finish it off by gorging myself on vegan halotop ice cream, or banana nice cream.
Not long after that, I also starting binging and purging two of the four days I did eat. So I basically wasn’t getting any calories besides the few I would keep down two days a week. I continued to workout for an hour every day like always during this period, mind you. If for some reason I ended up eating with family or friends, that would inevitably be thrown up later. I was worried about the purging, but not much else. And even that was about my looks. I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I knew that wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, but at the time, I still didn’t want to stop.
In the beginning, I felt amazing. I was losing more weight, more quickly than I ever had my entire life. Every week I was meeting new personal goals. I was elated each and every time I took out the scale to see a smaller number. Even so, it didn’t seem to be perceivable in the reflection I saw in the mirror. Even though I reached my lifelong personal goal for the first time ever, I still hated who I saw staring back at me. I still felt the same, worse even. I felt disgusting, fat, like my belly was grotesque, like I’d never be thin enough.
At a certain point a month or more in, my family and friends started to express their concerns. They were not hesitant at all about asking me point blank if I had an eating disorder. Of course I lied and said I was just being very careful not to eat as much as I used to, but that I was completely fine and healthy. They didn’t seem to believe me, but they didn’t push the issue either. Their concern only made me hate myself more. I felt guilty and embarrassed that they knew I wasn’t okay. I felt like a failure that the comments I received were concerned instead of impressed. I also felt immense pressure at that point to keep the weight off. I was horrified at the idea I may gain it back and people would notice that too.
I had always dreamed of being thin. Ever since I was a little girl in elementary school. I still remember that when I found out about eating disorders, I genuinely wished that I could have one. I felt like that was the only way I’d ever be able to get skinny. Sadly, I made that wish come true through years and years of exposing myself to “thinspo” on Instagram and Tumbr. It always felt like the horrible mental side effects of these disorders just wouldn’t happen to me, or that they were an okay price to pay for beauty. After experiencing the mental and emotional agony I went through, I can say with absolute certainty that isn’t true.
I had sold myself the lie that being skinny would make me happy for my entire life. It was absolutely devastating to confront that lie. During these months, my mental health plummeted lower than ever before. I absolutely hated myself. I was utterly disgusted by every part of myself. I hated my reflection even more than I did before I lost the weight. Each and every moment of the day was consumed by thoughts of food and outrageous levels of anxiety. This was supposed to be how I found happiness, but I found only misery. It felt like happiness didn’t even exist anymore, or at least I’d never find it.
I honestly don’t know how I found the strength within me to finally work on more healthy eating habits again, but somehow I did. It was a slow process, and I still haven’t made it back to “normal” yet. But I am so proud of myself for deciding that I was worthy of my own love. Even though my eating is still a bit haywire, I feel like I have a healthier relationship with my body than I ever thought I would. Now when those toxic thoughts about my body come up, I remind myself that being skinny isn’t going to solve all my problems. It didn’t solve them. It just made life a living Hell. I remind myself that I get to choose whether to be happy or not, and it is in no way correlated to my appearance. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.
If you’re reading this right now and see yourself in any of what I’ve written today. Please get help. Even if that’s just deciding to try to help yourself. Don’t wait until things are unbearable to change course. Because the sooner you are able to turn around, the easier it will be to reclaim some sense of normalcy. And trust me, if I was able to do it, anyone can. You are beautiful for who you are, not what you look like. You are enough. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of happiness. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re struggling. I would be honored to answer any questions anyone might have or offer my support to anyone who needs it. Thank you for letting me finally share my story.