Contributor: Jessica Walker, Eating Disorder Hope valued community member
I read somewhere that you can survive without food for three weeks.
That’s almost a lie. I know from experience that you can survive for months on nothing but iceberg lettuce, lowfat yogurts, and endless reruns of The Food Network.
But that’s all you’ll be doing: surviving. The existence you’ll be reduced to will be marked by routine and obsession. By scars and self-hatred.
At 18 years old, I had gained a high school diploma and full-tuition scholarship to a university. Along with way, I had also gained an eating disorder.
MyFitnessPal Taunted Me
Eating disorders start slowly, and then happen all at once. To calm my anxiety about being away at college, I started spending 20 minutes on the elliptical. By Christmas, compliments about my slight weight loss gave me a high even the endorphins couldn’t. If losing 5lbs earned this much praise, then losing 10…15…20 would be even better.
“Mom, I’m going to be fat!” I screamed into the phone one night late into spring semester. I had five projects to finish, three essays to write, and every treadmill at the gym had been taken. MyFitnessPal taunted me, the red letters telling me I had gone a few hundred calories over my goal.
“Fat,” I said. “I’ll fail all my classes. I won’t be perfect. No one will love me.”
I hung up.
Fat Became a Feeling
Fat became a feeling, food a drug. I’d dream about the gooey creations of Cupcake Wars while munching hard-boiled egg whites scattered around a plate of lettuce. I’d increase the elliptical’s resistance as my heart skipped beats.
Summer vacation, my family dragged me to doctor after doctor: thyroid problems, viruses… anything to explain the drastic weight loss. I barely slept, my hands and feet were icicles, and I hardly recognized the dull ache in my stomach as hunger anymore.
One doctor asked if I had an eating disorder. Eating disorder? I was just happy when my calorie counter was under the goal. When I went to the gym. When my thighs no longer stuck together.
However, his comment stuck. Come July, I knew I was destroying my body but was clueless as to how to stop the voice. The one that told me I wasn’t good enough, that pushed me to become less.
Lifting My Spirits
Breakfast slowly became more than a 90-calorie yogurt, but I cried the first time I ate chocolate chip waffles. I called myself a pig for polishing off a veggie cup with salsa. I measured out ice cream, convinced I was simply staying within the serving size.
Reading others’ stories lifted my spirits. Although I hadn’t directly told anyone outside of my family about my illness, I decided to use my college capstone project to raise eating disorder awareness.
I didn’t have high expectations for my blog (Fuel For Freedom) about eating disorders. Then a reader commented. One comment became ten. Each post, each comment gave me back my voice, the one that my self-hatred had once consumed.
The trick to recovery is to keep trying. I found true friends who listened and showed me that making mistakes was okay. I purged my social media of fitspiration. I tried one “fear” food a week: starting with bread and working up to gelato. Each step was worth it, even setbacks when I didn’t manage to eat a chocolate bar or had an anxiety attack during a rest day from the gym.
Recovery Is Life-Changing
Eating disorders are life-changing. They damage both the mind and body. However, recovery is also life-changing. It provides strength and confidence you never knew you had.
My thighs touch. I get “hangy” without large meals and snacks. I workout, but I’ve traded the elliptical for weightlifting, which helps me become more, not less.
That old eating disorder voice creeps up sometimes, but now I recognize those thoughts as irrational and destructive. I’m learning to ignore them.
I’m learning to remember I’m a work in progress, one who is more than a number in a calorie counter or on a scale. One who is doing more than surviving.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 8th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com