My struggle with anorexia and disordered eating began shortly after my freshman year in high school. After a difficult year in school, where I performed poorly academically, and overall dealt with multiple bouts of depression, I decided to start the summer off fresh by going on a diet. I vividly remember weighing myself one day for the first time ever, and being surprised by the number on the scale. It was higher than what I was anticipating, (although keep in mind, I was a completely normal weight), so I decided to lose a few pounds.
I had never dieted before, and I am also a pretty impatient person, wanting immediate results, so I went on an incredibly restrictive “diet”, while also increasing my level of activity significantly, by going out to my local high school every night to run sprints. Unsurprisingly, the weight came off quickly, and initially, I felt great. I had accomplished my weight loss goal with relative ease, and I felt much more confident about my body.
Since nothing else had really changed in my life other than this minor weight loss, I attributed my newfound happiness solely to that. That’s what I assume triggered my weight obsession. In my mind, if I put back on the weight that I had lost, I would go back to feeling depressed. So I continued to strictly monitor my weight, by severely restricting my eating, and by weighing myself daily. I continued to lose weight, till my weight was down significantly from where I had started that summer.
When my sophomore year in high school began, I was immediately met with comments from my peers about how great I looked, serving as a positive reinforcement that I had to continue my restrictive eating and excessive exercising. In order to do this, I began avoiding all situations where food was present. Lunch was the most difficult, so instead of going to the cafeteria with my friends, I hunkered away in the library, or went to the gym.
By winter of that year I began realizing I had a problem. I knew it wasn’t normal that I was weighing myself twice a day, that I was spending countless hours online researching nutritional information of food that I wasn’t even eating, or that I was constantly focusing on how I could avoid my next meal. I remember one day in particular where I went to the nurse at school due to a sore throat, and I threw away the cough drops she gave me because I was convinced they would make me fat. Food and my weight were my obsession and virtually the only thing I cared about. Anorexia had 100% control over my life. But despite realizing I had a problem, I did not want to get help. My grades had sky rocketed, and I was convinced that my life was still better than in previous years. I felt as though I had more power and control over my life than ever before. Despite this, my relationships with my peers and my family began to suffer tremendously. Avoiding food meant avoiding my friends, and naturally most sixteen-year old girls (and people in general) are unsure how to best confront a person struggling with an eating disorder.
My parents also did not know how to react to my refusal to eat dinner and my thinning figure. I became resentful of those who were trying to help me. I resented my friends who expressed their concern, the guidance counselors at my high-school who urged me to get help, my club lacrosse coach who told me that if I wanted to continue playing for her team, I would have to put on 10 pounds, and worst of all I resented my parents. I was mean, bitter, cold, and stubborn, completely infuriated that anyone would try to interfere with the “control” I had over my life. I also lost my ability to be spontaneous. Everything I did was completely premeditated; my days were micromanaged for what and when I was going to eat and when I would exercise. Nothing else mattered.
Fast forward to graduating from high school. I was down even more weight, sicker, and more addicted to my eating disorder than I had been all throughout high school. Anxiously, I awaited college, where I could live on my own, away from my parents, and away from everyone at home who knew that I had a problem. I remember being so excited to finally be somewhere where I could “get away” with being anorexic; which I did, for a while. Until I got tired. I had been suffering the physical symptoms of an eating disorder for almost four years—thinning hair, absence of period, perpetually cold, weak muscles and bones, etc, but I finally started to realize that my eating disorder was not “helping me”.
For so long, my eating disorder served as my comfort zone. I clung to it, as I thought it made me feel better. I thought it was helping me carry on, when really it was causing me to merely subsist. The exhilaration and control I had felt for so long was dwindling, and I finally realized that my eating disorder had control over me. I was isolated, socially anxious, trapped, and depressed, so I with the support of amazing friends I decided to get help.
While developing an eating disorder is clearly not a choice, recovering and getting help is a decision that everyone struggling must choose for his or herself. And it is an incredibly difficult and daunting choice.
I would be lying if I said that I don’t still have major issues with food. I was abroad in Italy in the fall, and only ate pasta once the entire semester. But I do know that the overall happiness that I have felt since committing to recovery far exceeds the happiness that I felt after losing the initial few pounds. Despite what I thought for so many years, my life is better without my eating disorder. My anxiety has decreased, I sleep through the night, and my relationships with my family and friends have mended. Most importantly is that my relationship with myself has improved, as I’m learning to love and accept myself for who I am, and to know that I am enough.
Recovery is a life decision, that I urge anyone who may be struggling with an eating disorder to choose. It’s something you have to commit to, and work for, but it is completely worth it. I’ve still got a long ways to go, but I am enjoying life again, and look forward to making more progress.