Overcoming Eating Disorders

They say that eating disorders are about control. For me personally, that wasn’t entirely true. Mine was more about acceptance.

This country puts so much emphasis on thinness and beauty, making it out to be a bad thing if someone has a little extra weight. Truth is, extra weight is only bad if it’s causing a health issue. People can be perfectly healthy while being technically overweight.

The first time I had insecurities about my weight was when I was about 3 years old. I have always loved snacking, so I was eating crackers at a hotel while vacationing with my family. I was surely eating way more than I needed to, but children don’t understand that. My parents didn’t mean anything by their comment, nor did they ever expect that it would affect me the way that it did. I asked for more crackers and they told me that I would get fat if I ate any more. It was clear to me that being fat was bad and unacceptable in my parents’ eyes. We went for a walk down the beach and I recall staring at my baby-pudge of a stomach, worrying about being fat the entire time.

I don’t think I’d thought about weight or body size until then. It shouldn’t be something a 3 year old thinks about. I’ve also always been more sensitive than most kids, so I tended to pay closer attention to what was said to me and dwell on it longer. I did not develop my eating disorder at age 3, though. The comment didn’t affect me that deeply.

I basically developed it in high school. Going back to the idea that it’s about control, I didn’t have any control in my life, so it’s not unlikely that that played a role somewhere in there. Mine really was more about acceptance, though, with some aspects of control in the mix.

I weighed about 135lbs, at most, in high school. Sad that I remember, but that’s what an eating disorder does. Where control is concerned, the eating disorder controls the person, not the other way around. I was homeschooled until high school, so it was a bit of a culture shock for me starting public school. I wanted to be pretty, I wanted to date and be like everyone else. I wanted to wear pretty clothes and be noticed. All my friends were prettier than me, “cooler” than me, and got along with others easier than I did. I never really fit in, nor was I ever really accepted. I had the thrift store clothes that didn’t fit, no social skills to speak of, and I was completely clueless in regards to rules and structure.

I never ate breakfast in the mornings because there was never any emphasis on the importance of it. I often skipped lunch at school because many of the “cool” kids skipped lunch. My diet at home consisted of soda and crackers. I gained weight, or rather gained fat, and I always got passed over for my prettier friends by everyone.

My mother unknowingly set a terrible example for me throughout the years. When I was little and we would do our hair together, Mom would look in the mirror and announce that she was ugly and call herself a witch. I never thought confidence or self-acceptance was allowed. Should skip meals, diet and talk about being fat and ugly. She never said those things about me, but I picked up all of her habits and tendencies in self-esteem and body image. Mom again didn’t realize how she was affecting me.

My eating disorder started in high school and became full-blown by age 16.

This is the part where I get really personal and expose myself to the world…

I dieted constantly, fasted, took a lot of diet pills and other pills and liquids that basically clean you out, including laxatives and ipacac syrup. I binged and purged in various ways. At this point of my life I was living in a shed on my parents’ property off in the woods. My mother was aware of my of the behaviors I was indulging in, but she couldn’t handle trying to help me or even acknowledging what was going on.

I had some access to the internet once in a while, and I used it to find “support groups” and “thinspiration.” I could sit in my shed at night and eat nearly entire pizzas by myself, plus a ton of sweets, snacks and other full meals. My binges were unbelievable. After a binge, I would purge and fast. The longest I ever went without eating was 2 weeks. My weight dropped from 125.6 to 110.8 in that time. After the 2 weeks, I started eating again and I put every bit of the weight back on immediately.

I was seeing a therapist and I did tell her about my eating disorder. I told other therapists, too. They all said that I was fine unless I became emaciated.

I’m going to put this next part in bold because it is extremely important.

You do not have to be emaciated to have an eating disorder!
People of any shape and size can be living in the torment of an eating disorder. Your weight and physical body is not what determines your risk.

Eating disorders are mental, not physical. The torment of an eating disorder is what you deal with internally, and that is where you need help. I don’t know about doctors elsewhere, but the doctors in my area were only concerned with the physical. I never received help for my eating disorder because I never dropped below the weight they determined would be a risk.

The torment of an eating disorder are the constant obsessive thoughts and fears of food, eating, dieting/fasting, weight gain and loss, calories/fat/nutritional information, etc. I took note of every single thing that touched my lips, including gum or a single nibble of a carrot stick. My life was taken over completely by my eating disorder. I was miserable with my mind obsessively stuck on an eating disorder loop, yet I was compelled to continue.

I had zero self-esteem and I felt worse about myself with every passing moment. I couldn’t sleep at night because of my hunger and cravings for food, or because of my over-fullness from binging and my disgust and fear of gaining weight.

There was no room in my life for anything other than the eating disorder. Dieting, fasting and taking pills left me extremely unstable because I’m also bipolar.
I was never out to harm myself with my disordered eating. I had studied health, eating disorders and pills and vitamins extensively. I knew that I could become potassium deficient from some of my behaviors, so I took a supplement for that, as well as an iron supplement and other various vitamins. I was a complete disaster mentally and emotionally, but I miraculously managed to spare myself any permanent physical damage. Not including vitamins, I was taking upwards of 110 pills to lose weight, in addition to the extremely dangerous liquids such as ipacac syrup.

I realized that no doctors, friends or family were going to help me, and I wanted help out of my living hell, so I began taking steps on my own to help myself. I’m honestly still shocked to this day that I was able to help myself. I didn’t know how to change my habits or my thinking, yet I managed to do it.

My breaking point was when my grandfather died in 2007. I was beyond miserable and I knew his death would push me over the edge if I didn’t do something. I’m bipolar, so that was part of my problem, but I targeted the eating disorder as well. I wasn’t suicidal, but I told the doctors at the mental hospital that I was because they wouldn’t take me unless I was at risk of killing myself.

I don’t believe in waiting until a person is nearly beyond help before doing something. The earlier you catch a problem, the better. I knew I could become suicidal because my bipolar issues, my eating disorder and my sorrow over the loss of my grandfather was immense. I also knew that waiting too long would be the worst thing I could do.

When someone wants help, they should be helped. I admitted myself into the mental hospital and I did not tell them that I was bipolar or that I had an eating disorder. I wanted to see if those doctors would be any more helpful and capable than the others I’d seen. They weren’t. I wrote out my bipolar symptoms for then in such a way that I knew they would recognize and diagnose me. I didn’t eat for the first 2 days. They caught the bipolar disorder, but they didn’t notice or care that I wasn’t eating.

Sometimes you just want someone else to pick you up when you’re down instead of having to do everything alone. That’s what I wanted, but it was clear I wouldn’t get it. I began eating and I worked on controlling my thoughts while in the hospital. I was only in there for about a week, so I didn’t have much time to get myself together enough to function normally in the real world.

To overcome my eating disorder, I did away with my bathroom scale (meaning I didn’t get a new one when mine broke) and I started doing those silly affirmations whenever looking in the mirror. I hated those, but they helped. I stopped myself from thinking negatively about my body. I looked in the mirror and smiled (forced, at first). I told myself that I looked okay just the way I was and I didn’t need to be bony to look good. I’ve always thought other women were beautiful no matter what size or shape they were, so I told myself that I was no different than them.

I was so obsessed for so long that I didn’t actually need a scale to tell me what I weighed. I knew when I lost or gained a pound. I still do, but I don’t think about it now. I stopped allowing my weight to control how my day would go. I reminded myself every time I ate that I would not get fat by eating a meal. I bought clothes that fit me properly, without paying attention to the sizes. I ignored all numbers whether they were pounds, sizes, calories, grams of fat, etc. I threw away my diet books and diet pills. I trashed my “thinspiration” too. I looked at plus size models and regular people, reminding myself that they were beautiful and I was no different.

I have never been overweight, but it doesn’t matter when you have an eating disorder.

I relapsed in 2008. I was using drugs, not eating, not taking care of myself at all. I dropped down to 101.8lbs and I actually looked unhealthy that time.
Again, I pulled myself together and went through the mental processes that worked for me. Again, I did it alone. I wish I’d had support, but I’m proud of where I am today in comparison to where I was then.

The hell of an eating disorder is seriously a very slippery slope. I’m okay now, but I know that I have to be aware and remember how miserable it was to live disordered. It is a mental disorder, even if there are no medications for it. Disordered eating affects your brain. The thing I value the most with my body is my brain. I’m fairly intelligent, but when I’m indulging in an eating disorder, I can’t think straight and my brain isn’t functioning at its best. I value my brain’s function and my mental stability more than I value thinness or external beauty. I still value acceptance, but I would rather be noticed for my brain than my body.

I still do those silly affirmations, reminding myself that confidence is allowed and self-esteem is good; reminding myself that I’m pretty no matter what I weigh or what I look like. I treat myself to nice clothes, good makeup, hair styling products that I like, pretty nail polish, and anything else that helps me enjoy my physical appearance.

I eat healthy food that I truly love (like salmon and brown rice with steamed veggies, yum!), and I indulge once in a while in junk foods that I like (I’m still a sucker for cheese crackers). I don’t pay attention to nutritional facts, although I know them well enough without looking. I eat until I’m full and I do not binge. The stay at the mental hospital helped me establish a healthy eating schedule. They don’t know it, but because of their structure I was able to learn how to establish some healthy habits. I enjoy walking, riding a bike, skating and doing yoga for exercise.

Talking to yourself and doing the affirmations seems ridiculous, but I promise it works. It’s all about changing the way you think: about yourself, about others, about your life and situations. I’m eating a poptart right now. It’s extremely unhealthy; loaded with sugar and white flour. I know I won’t get fat off a poptart, though. I remind myself that it’s okay to indulge on occasion and enjoy something like that.

I used to judge other people because I was trying to remind myself that I needed to be thin. I changed that thought process, too. When I caught myself judging someone, I corrected my thinking of them and focused on something I liked about them: their eyes, clothes, hair, confidence, smile, laughter, anything. I don’t judge people now. Negative thoughts stopped entering my mind at all. I only see what is beautiful about others. Eventually I will hopefully only see what is beautiful about myself, as well.

I’m between 105 and 110lbs now. My body will remain around 110 as long as I eat healthy and exercise. If I gain more weight, that’s okay. I’m not trying to gain, lose or maintain my weight. I only put effort in if I lose too much weight or catch myself falling into old habits. Lately I have had more trouble eating, but I know how to manage it and I’m okay. I’m happier when I’m eating properly. I have energy and I feel good.

If anyone reading this is struggling with an eating disorder, please know that focusing on your self-esteem and confidence is far more effective than focusing on your physical appearance. Eating healthily and exercising regularly helps you feel better physically and mentally. It’s also enjoyable when you find the right ways for yourself personally. I don’t really think that an eating disorder is something that someone else can get you out of. It’s a mental issue and only you can control your mind. Someone else can teach you how to change your thinking and methods to use to get through it all, but it’s personal and internal, so it’s up to each person to want to change and get better.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your experiences. I value everyone’s thoughts and opinions.

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