There are two possible outcomes to anorexia; the person affected either becomes a survivor or loses their life . . . I choose to keep my life; where I fought the hard battle, and became a kick-ass survivor.
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not claim to be, the views expressed on this blog are entirely my own and what I have learned from research and my own experiences. They aren’t designed to diagnose or treat any illness.
My story begins when I was in high school. I remember looking at a set of tri-fold cardboard posters with different diseases and illness on it after health class. One of the posters was all about anorexia and eating disorders. There was a picture of a skinny and extremely thin girl looking at her reflection in the mirror which was large, plump, round, and fat. The caption under the photo described how anorexic individuals cannot physically see themselves as other people do and how they view themselves as overweight even though they are not. I thought eating disorders were for people with body image issues, which I didn’t have. . . or so I thought. I thought to myself “how is this even possible?!” and then I thought “This will NEVER happen to me”. . . but it did, and it sent me on the roller coaster journey of my life. I too believed the lie that a tiny bite of food would make me fat. I hope that my story will someday help someone in the depths of an eating disorder to show that recovery is possible, but it has to come from within.
But First, an Overview: What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses where the eating of the individual affected is disordered or abnormal. Eating disorders affect both men and women and many times involve concern over one’s body shape or weight. There are four main types of eating disorders Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating, Bulimia Nervosa, and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), which is now called Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). No matter which eating disorder is present, they each wreck havoc on the body. The following information about each type of eating disorder along with a link to a more in depth explanation was taken from the National Eating Disorder Association (link here).
Anorexia Nervosa: Characterized by not eating enough food which leads to weight loss and an extremely low weight. There is an intense fear of weight gain and obsession to prevent weight gain. Self-esteem issues and a poor body image are usually present. Learn more, click link here.
Binge Eating: Characterized by eating large amounts of food on a frequent basis, but self-induced vomiting or other methods are used to prevent weight gain. There is a feeling of being out of control along with feelings of shame or guilt for binge eating. Eating when not hungry, eating to the point of discomfort or eating by oneself due to shame are usually indicators. Learn more, click link here.
Bulimia Nervosa: This eating disorder is the same as binge eating but is characterized differently because of the more frequent episodes of binging and purging. Learn more, click link here.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) formerly Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS): This group of eating disorders involves any feeding or eating disorder that causes significant distress and do not meet the criteria for other more defined eating disorders. Examples found at the link that follows. Learn more, click link here.
The Beginning of the Battle of My life
The first time I thought about what I ate and how it would affect me was at a family reunion. Many of my relatives were on the heavier set side and I decided that I never wanted to be “fat” or gain a bunch of weight, so I decided to eat healthy (lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fats, proteins and making sure not to eat a bunch of sugar….basically what is recommended by federal health agencies). At the time I also ate a large quantity of any food mostly because I SUPER active. I do remember someone commented on how much I ate saying that it was a lot, which made me think about my food choices a little bit. However I still listened to my body and ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full….which is normal eating.
Now, fast forward to the end of volleyball season in the fall. I was a two sport athlete: volleyball in the fall, softball in the spring, and non-competitive weightlifting in the winter between the two sports to stay active and become stronger. At the end of volleyball season I remember getting my lunch from the high school cafeteria and thought to myself…”I don’t need to eat as much anymore, because I am not in volleyball and am not going to be as active.” The thought makes sense….if you are active eat more and if you are less active eat less, because you need less energy than when being extremely active and involved in a sport. This is when I started to restrict my food for the first time and from here my life snowballed into a big mess. After volleyball ended I started to get more involved in the weight room at school. I had been going during the past summer and for quite a while before, but now I started to kick it up a notch.
In the Depths of Anorexia & Binge Eating
During the winter I was consistently in the weight room after or before school everyday. I increased my work out regimen, but failed to properly fuel my body through restriction and began to see the pounds fall off. Exercise became an obsession that I was literally addicted to (I had withdrawal symptoms when I was forced to stop exercising). The weight room closed at 7:30 in the morning, but I would stay until 8:00 am after everyone else had left. School started at 8:05 a.m. so many times I would scramble to get to class on time and sometimes I would be late. I pushed my self to do more and more in the weight room and exercise became compulsive, I felt like “I had to do it” or else my world would end.
When Softball started up in the spring, I continued to go into the weight room in the morning and then go to practice in the afternoon after school. All the while I watched what I was eating, which was in my eyes “healthy.” My food intake became severely restricted (1000 calories or less a day) and I lost a bunch of weight. At the end of volleyball I was around 128 and up to this point I had lost almost 20 to reach 108-110. Although I played softball; I was weak and couldn’t play my position very well, which was catcher, and ended up sitting the bench for most of my varsity career. By now my parents knew something was seriously wrong and confronted me about losing weight and all that was going on; but I couldn’t see what they saw. They decided that we needed professional help and what was happening was beyond what they could handle by themselves. Shortly after I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and starting seeing a dietician and an counselor at an outpatient center that treats individuals with eating disorders.
When volleyball rolled around in the fall everyone expected me to play because I was the libero (back row specialist), but I choose not to play mostly because my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I used to be a star player, but anorexia had stripped me of the ability to play any sports with maximum effort. I also became more distant with my close friends and lost contact with them. As far as school lunches were concerned I always packed my own, because of the control I had. I didn’t like the school’s lunches, because in my eyes they were too “unhealthy” with too many processed items (not enough low calorie, vegetable and fruit options) . This left room for me to cheat on the meal plan designed by my dietician. Naturally, I was asked by my dietician and counselor if I was eating all the food in the lunches I packed. Being the honest person I am and not being able to tell a lie I told them “no”. This led to distrust and a teacher had to check my lunch bag after I ate to make sure I ate it all.
At My Lowest . . . When I Hit Rock Bottom
107 was my lowest weight. Although this weight is within a healthy BMI for my body height, it was too low for me to have a healthy and functioning properly. My menstruation was completely gone, I was cold all the time, dark circle were under my eyes, I had low energy and extremely tired, brittle nails, dry skin, I was losing my hair, my hormones were out of balance, and I could have been damaging some internal organs in the process. This mental illness took away my friends and only increased family tensions through arguments, fights, and tears. I also had anxiety every time I went into a grocery story trying to analyze and take in all the food items for sale.
For a long while I didn’t want to get better or get to healthy place, I was happy where I was at….I was in control of what I ate and what went into my body. I was in control of my body and how I looked. I ate the foods with the least amount of calories with the largest volume, all to make me look and feel a certain way or be “thin”. I was so afraid I would lose control and my body would gain pounds upon pounds of weight. The truth of the matter was this; the more I thought I was in control and had control the more the eating disorder gained control. Each choice governed by the eating disorder obtained for it more control. By not eating, cheating the scale, cheating on the meal plan (losing weight on a plan designed to make me gain weight), and secretly exercising I was only feeding the lies inside my head that “I wasn’t good enough”, that “I would feel better if I was weighed less (lighter/skinnier)”, that “I would be more beautiful if I was 5 pounds lighter”, and that “It’s only 2 pounds you are losing” which led to 2 more pounds and so on. I was constantly comparing myself to other and never satisfied or comfortable in my own body.
After losing weight I was never satisfied or happy with myself and only wanted to lose more weight because then “I would be happy”, but I never was satisfied. Nothing I did filled the hole in my heart that I was experiencing. What started as a health kick turned into an obsession with weight, fear of gaining weight, and poor body image/low self esteem. To make matters worse, I couldn’t physically see how thin I was when I looked in the mirror (which is scientifically proven). All I saw was my belly fat, which after a certain point never seemed to disappear no matter what I did. To me skinny meant healthy, but now I see how untrue that statement was.