MY STORY IS PROBABLY MORE OR LESS SIMILAR TO THE MANY OF THOSE WHO HAVE, OR STILL SUFFER FROM AN EATING DISORDER. I WILL PRESENT IT HERE REGARDLESS IN HOPES THAT THE STIGMA SURROUNDING ADMITTING YOUR PROBLEM AND ASKING FOR HELP DIMINISHES WITH EACH PERSON WHO IS ABLE TO, PERHAPS, READ THIS AND RELATE.
I HAVE READ SO MANY BOOKS, REPORTS, STUDIES ETC ON THE TEMPERAMENTS COMMON TO THOSE WHO DEVELOP EATING "ISSUES." WHILE MORE RESEARCH IS CONSTANTLY IN THE WORKS I SUPPORT THE NOTION THAT THOSE OF US WITH TYPE-A PERSONALITIES, FIRST BORN, OBSESSIVE AND/OR ANXIOUS TENDENCIES TEND TO BE PRIME CANDIDATES. UNLIKE MANY STORIES I HAVE HEARD, I DO REMEMBER A DAY WHERE I DECIDED TO GET AN EATING DISORDER.THAT'S RIGHT. NO, NOT "GO ON A DIET," NOT "LOSE A FEW POUNDS." I DECIDED TO GET AN EATING DISORDER. I WAS 11.
AFTER MY BRIEF 11 YEARS OF ALWAYS HAVING TO BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING I DID, I THOUGHT I HAD DISCOVERED SOMETHING WHERE THERE WAS LITTLE TO NO COMPETITION-STARVING. EVERYONE IN MY LIFE SPOKE OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF DIETS, SO WHEN AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER TOLD MY CLASS ABOUT THE DISORDER WHERE YOU EAT TOO LITTLE I LISTENED TO CLASSMATES' GIGGLES OF "OH I COULD NEVER DO THAT," AND DECIDED THAT I COULD. AND I DID. THERE WAS NO "PLAN," NO ADVICE SOUGHT, I SIMPLY ATE AS LITTLE AS I COULD GET AWAY WITH.
I have been a perfectionist since the day I was born. Ok, well maybe not THAT early... but as stories go I began talking at 5 months and just didn't shut up after that. I also had an extremely BIG personality. I spoke my mind, bluntly and candidly and often to the disapproval of many of the very conformist social groups I grew up in. While now there are blogs, youtube, and twitter for those of us with no fitler; back then there was just, "SHHH." I lived in a small town and attending Catholic school my entire life. And while my performance in all areas of my life - from academics to sports, to theater, to art - was never anything short of top 5, my sarcastic, wise-cracking, smart-assing personality never fit any of the predefined molds. Instead of going into a 13 year psychoanalytical tirade about the development of my eating disorder (because us pscyh majors love doing that anyways), I can briefly sum up what I think a lot of individuals can relate to regarding the illness.·
Food and weight focused society. My mom is a dietitian and, while it was never directly referenced back then, my house counted macros...and my mom was like the myfitnesspal moderator. I never really had much control over what I ate and I developed a correlation between my worth as a person and the types of food I chose to eat. ·
Perfectionism. Growing up I had little problem being the best at most things (because, let's face it, there aren't a whole ton of kids with the type-A hard drive installed so early). I also did EVERYTHING. I had a horse and competed AQHA, I performed with theater companies, took voice lessons, played softball and basketball, ran track and cross country, and had a short-lived affair with playing the piano when I decided to teach myself the "Phantom of the Opera" theme song. I applied perfectionism to everything I did, and as I grew older that pressure to maintain such a status became overwhelming. My self-worth was entirely based on the external validation I received from everything I did, and NOT based on who I was (because, if you refer to the first paragraph, I wasn't too sure who I was was really all that great to begin with). Enter DIETING. ·
Self-esteem. Somehow I felt that by shrinking my body I could also shrink my persona; this personality that I felt was too big, too expressive, and had a tendency to trample over people. Emotionally I equated myself to a 300lb linebacker, starving was my way to reel it back in and tie it up in a delicate pretty pink bow. ·
Responsibility. This developed later. Having spent the better part of 13 years in and out of hospitals and treatment I became afraid of the world. I feared failing at life. I used being too sick and too weak as an excuse to not have to live life on life's terms. It was so much EASIER to focus just on numbers, calories, exercise, and weight than to focus on what I wanted to do with my life, my emotions, or my relationships. I could use these tangible guidelines to denote my worth instead of having to somehow establish who I was as a person.
This is why I still struggle with comparing myself to others; to give me a sense of where I fit...am I good or bad? Because when left just with myself I honestly do not know.
Treatment History: I was first hospitalized for anorexia when I was 12; a pediatric psych ward. Traumatizing. I was told that I would never recover. That this was a disorder you either die from, or you “white knuckled” your way through life, fighting to stay minimally healthy enough to function and hating yourself the whole way through.
My reaction, well I wasn't going to try something I was destined to fail at anyways. I spent the next 9 years in and out of more treatment centers than I can count. Often a repeat customer. I have had a lot of bad experiences…treatment back then was a lot different that it is now. I had given up on life, and yet I still operated under the perfectionism of my temperament…going to school when I could, returning from programs to dive back into captaining my sports teams, performing with theater companies local to the area, receiving college scholarships, and feigning whatever normalcy I could during the two-three month interims between treatment before losing too much weight and repeating the process.
Recovery? : Because I hit rock bottom. Because with no doctor (being in my early 20’s) to tell me I had to stop or be hospitalized, I found that I actually couldn't stop myself and the disorder became increasingly destructive to a level that I could never have actually foreseen. My rock bottom was death. Was over dosing on laxatives after not eating…being unconscious for a few days then getting right back up and doing it again.
My rock bottom was seizing in my bed on my birthday. Alone. Thinking that death would just be so much less worry. My rock bottom was a BMI of 10. And I STILL could see fat.I was manic. Panic attacks constantly. Aimlessly wandering random stores, malls, grocery stores just to DO something, because sitting still was forbidden to me. Panting just sitting up in bed.For all the physical pain, the mental pain was way worse. You think that losing weight would make you tired, calm even; would numb those voices a little? And it does, at first.But then your body enters survival mode. You get manic highs, anxiety and intrusive thoughts that make you feel schizophrenic.
AND YET YOU CAN NOT STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. AFTER A FEW MORE ROUNDS OF TREATMENT AT LOCATIONS I CREDIT WITH SAVING MY LIFE Center for Discovery, I FOUND YOGA…AND SOMETHING SNAPPED. I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT WAS TO BE HONEST, MAYBE IT WAS NOT WANTING TO BRING MY DISORDER INTO MY YOGA PRACTICE; NOT WANTING TO "TAINT" IT. MAYBE IT WAS FINDING SOMETHING ELSE TO COMMIT MYSELF TO. WHO KNOWS. IT WAS STILL DIFFICULT, BUT IT WAS A START.
For a while afterward I was fumbling around a bit. Who was I, honestly, without my eating disorder? It had, after 13 years become my complete identity. I was the skinny girl, the girl who push herself past all physical and emotional limits to achieve anything.
Take that away and I felt like an artist, painting their entire life only to become color blind at the age of 25. Although I had gained somewhere around 30 pounds I felt like so much less of a person. Directionless. I found yoga…Initially I began taking yoga because I was beginning to feed back in to the thoughts of weight loss and wanting my old body back.
For whatever reason I began there and not the gym. What was different about yoga was that the body awareness/connection and strength it takes to flow through a vinyasa was something I could not just FORCE my body to do; whereas with my compulsive exercise I could always make myself run harder, longer, or faster -forever fueled by anxiety, anger, or sadness. I also found integrity in my practice; I could not, for whatever reason, sit and listen to the instructor speak to "letting go," "honoring yourself," "humility," and "non-judgment," all the while knowing that in my head everything I believed and practiced toward myself was directly oppositional. Yoga and my eating disorder, I found, were mutually exclusive...also quite frankly I really wanted to get better and starving myself was not going to get me there...So something snapped.
I was tired of the thoughts in my own head, tired of not allowing myself anything. And tired of not actually being able to see a future for myself. I started eating, started lifting heavy, and started obsessively doing power yoga. I gained 20 MORE pounds. A lot of which I know is water and my body trying to protect itself "just in case" I decide to starve it again (we're still working on our trust issues). I can't say that I am recovered, yet. For me I think it will take many, many years before I can say that affirmatively.
Right now I still watch what I eat and I currently use IIFYM to track food groups, both to make sure I'm getting in enough, and not too much. I Just finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training program and I'm looking forward to taking more yoga trainings this year. I do fairly minimal cardio and I have to be careful about WHY I do it; if my motivation is to burn calories or lose weight (as opposed to feeling better or enjoying it) I'll avoid the machines that day.
I've fallen in love with lifting weights and I do body part splits about 5 days per week. I still struggle comparing myself to others; being overly perfectionistic and competitive. But when I get on the wrong track I can usually ask myself "where will this get me in two years?" And if the answer is "back in a hospital," then it's a good sign I need to re-group and go take a yoga class.
I HAVE COME TO ACCEPT THAT EACH BODY HAS A PLACE IT WANTS TO BE. I CAN FIGHT IT, PROLONG IT, REBEL AGAINST IT FOR YEARS AND YEARS TO COME AS I HAVE IN THE PAST, BUT INEVEDIBLY, I WILL RETURN TO THIS SAME PLACE OF ACCEPTANCE OR REMAIN FIGHTING FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
I do not want to be fifty years old weighing out the amount of chicken I am allowed to have.
I BELIEVE SUCH IS TRUE FOR EVERYONE. AND I STILL, AT TIMES, FIND MYSELF GETTING FRUSTRATED AT THOSE WHO HAVE NOT COME TO ACCEPT THIS YET, AND ARE STILL 100% INVESTED IN FIGHTING AN UN-WINABLE BATTLE. SO I'LL SPEAK TO EVERYONE WHO COMPARES THEMSELVES TO THE SICKEST, THE THINEST, THE FITEST, ETC... THE TRUE STRENGTH COMES FROM SELF-ACCEPTANCE. STOP FIGHTING YOUR BODY.