I would like to start this post with a follow-up from last week, as promised. I went to yoga AND I went snowshoeing with a friend. Unfortunately, I did not meet someone new in the community and talk to them about anything other than the weather. I’m sorry, y’all, but it was sunny ALL weekend on Prince of Wales and that is rare and therefore that is what you talk about. I’ll keep working on that one. This weather may also be why I have a pep in my step, or it could be from all the oxygen I consumed on my hike yesterday. Jury is still out. No matter where it came from, I am welcoming it with open arms.
**Trigger warning: Discussion of bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating**
As I welcome the renewed sense of self, there is something I think I need to talk about today. Something that I promised I wouldn’t talk about, but seeing as it is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I only find it appropriate. I think part of the reason I didn’t want to write about binge eating was because I felt like I was relapsing, the other part was as I said; I am obsessive even when I am eating right and the more I blog about it the more it becomes my world. That’s why I am allowing myself to write about it today; stories are awareness. As Jordan Peele best stated “I think it builds empathy… story is the most powerful weapon for change… I think of story as a weapon against violence, against the bigotry, against hatred, against the policies.” Now, here is my story:
The first time I can remember really feeling fat was in the fifth grade. I was 10 years old and I took a picture with my best friend. I remember looking at the picture and thinking about how terrible I looked. It was one of those Polaroid pictures that printed out right away. I wanted to tear it up and never see it again. Unfortunately, the picture got to hang in the hallway of our school, so every day I would walk past it and think about how ugly I was. I saw my friend who was thin and blonde and perfect, standing next to an ogre. Reminder, I was 10. 10 years old. I just have to keep repeating it because sometimes I can barely believe it. I shouldn’t have been holding beauty standards like this against myself. Honestly, this is my first memory of it, but it doesn’t mean it was the first time I felt fat or ugly.
Then there was cheerleading. I started cheerleading in the 5th grade and I loved it. I loved that I could yell at the top of my lungs and no one thought it was strange. I was as quiet as a mouse and this was my time to shine. When I was out on the track I really did feel like a star. I didn’t think about my size or my hair or what problem I had that day. I just got to yell and look strong as I held other girls up in the air. I got to be a base for someone and that helped contrast the fact that I always felt like I was floating away. However, the day we got outfits assigned to us was also a day I can’t seem to forget. “This one doesn’t fit either… I need the next size up” I said, after trying on my third skirt and holding back my tears. I was mortified. I loved every other part of cheerleading, except for the day we got our outfits assigned. I did cheerleading for seven more years and every year I dreaded that day.
Then middle school happens and everyone’s body is a hot mess and everyone is a bully. Middle school is a war zone for self-esteem. This is my first memory of binge eating. If I was going to wear the XL cheerleading uniform, I might as well own it. Always seconds on lunch. Bags of chips at sleepovers that disappear mysteriously. Telling my friends I didn’t eat dinner, when I ate dinner at home, but their parents would make us a second dinner. I one time made a bet to date a boy for 3 months for free cookies. That was a low. They were really good cookies though.
Onto high school where my eating really gets disordered. I am 15 and still haven’t had a boyfriend and this seems problematic. “Is it because I eat too much? Maybe I shouldn’t eat at all?” Of course that didn’t last long because I loved food and food loved me. I know that in my lifetime I have said “I am so jealous of people that can be anorexic” more than I care to admit. That sentence makes me shudder. Anorexia is deadly and I was jealous of those killing themselves. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health states that anorexia is the most fatal mental health diagnosis. I am so sorry to anyone I have said this to. After I realized that I couldn’t starve myself, I moved onto binging and purging, also known as bulimia. I figured this way I could have my McDonald’s and eat it too and then forget that I had McDonald’s. This went on for quite some time, but not consistently. Luckily, my friends were too observant for me to be able to excuse myself after every meal. It would be more like once or twice a week. This was not effective for weight loss, as I so desperately wanted, but definitely upped my cavity count.
This all leads to my binge eating disorder which became most problematic when I moved out on my own for the first time. Since I was alone more than I had ever been before, I could hoard food and go to multiple restaurants and nobody wondered about it. I could lie and say I was at class and it they believed me. Forget the Freshman 15, hello Freshman 50. I wasn’t in cheerleading anymore and I had free range of a dining hall and groups that pulled people in with “Free Pizza” signs. College is also known for it’s copious amounts of alcohol and since I was sober until I was 18, this was a world of binging I never knew. Of course all of this was coinciding with depression. Talk about the hot mess express. Binging become my constant, my comfort. I would go a very long time binging and then realize I should be healthier and I would work out for a couple months maybe eat some more fruits and veggies, then I would relapse again. This cycle continued over and over and over again. Once I got to my mid-20’s I realized something had to change. Drastically.
Now for the good part, because even I am like woah.. when does this get better? It got better when I started telling people about my story. I started going to therapy. I told my friends the struggles I’ve had with food. I started a blog about it. I read articles upon articles about girls and boys who have had the same experiences. Even the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual) recognized binge eating disorder and added it to the most recent update. I now know how and where to reach out for help. When I do feel like I am relapsing I tell people. I yell it from the rooftops “I HAVE A PROBLEM!” Because there is no shame in having a problem. That was the best lesson I ever learned. Problems are natural and when we keep them a secret they will continue to be a problem. Knowing that I can reach out makes my relapses smaller and my comebacks bigger. I am hoping eventually eating will just be something I do when I am hungry instead of having to keep track. For now, I talk about it. I am only strengthened by those who I allow to lift me up. My family, my friends, and my readers lift me up. You all become my base when I feel like I am floating away.
So, as early as age 10 I remember hating my body and this turned into several years of disordered eating. This is not natural. This is a social construct of beauty that we put on people at a very young age. We talk about our negative self-image in front of our daughters and sons and they hear it. We blast weight loss products and chip commercials in the same breath. We write “fat bitch” in the comments. Children begin to internalize that self-hate is the norm… when that should be so far from the truth. The more we talk about the pieces of ourselves we love, the better off the generation after us will be. And honestly, when we start to realize as a society that food is a means to live rather than a money-making business we will all benefit from it. Mind you, I use the term “we” because we are all part of this society whether we want to be or not and it is up to all of us to change it. Oh, and to the media, I see you trying to represent more bodies, and I applaud that, but we can do better. I know we can. Looking at you, The Bachelor.
If you feel like you or someone you know is experiencing disordered eating, please reach out to me, someone you feel comfortable with, or the National Eating Disorder Hotline 800.931.2237 You are not alone.