My freshman year of college was my first encounter with disordered eating. My parents and I made the decision that I would stay at home my first year and attend a community college about 45 minutes away to save money and to get acclimated to college. My grades in high school weren’t the best, and I didn’t feel confident enough to go to a “real” school. I can see now that my disordered eating arose out of a lack of feeling in control of my own life, out of complete loneliness and a big dose of self pity.
I think that my need for control made a perfect recipe for disorder eating with the addition of a recent consciousness of my own body, I had gained 10 pounds the previous summer after a particularly fun road trip going from San Jose to Seattle, where I spent the whole 10 days gazing at beautiful scenery and eating gas station food.
After that summer, I truly noticed my body for the first time. I noticed the way my stomach jiggled when riding in the car, I noticed the way my arms looked, and in particular I noticed how my thighs looked. I noticed them at every moment. I would try to hide my 5’5 130 pound healthy figure behind oversized shirts and sweaters, and I always had a sweater or bag covering my lap so I didn’t have to look at what I saw as a pair of massive thighs staring me in the face. Of course now I can see that while I did gain a small amount of weight, I looked completely and utterly fine. My face was filled out a little more, and I had a butt for the first time in my life, but I was still healthy and slender.
But when staring loneliness in the face my freshman year of college when I had a big dose of self pity and almost no self worth, it was easier to basically stop eating. Without anyone around me, I was free to subsist on small, sad meals. I’m afraid to know how many calories I was living on back then. I got very used to the constant feeling of hunger, and watched as the pounds melted away. I got told by everyone that I saw how great I looked, mixed with lots of concern on my mothers part. I think she saw through me the whole time, but also had no idea how to help. I both craved the attention of people and was downright scared by it. I was scared that someone would know my “secret” and would force me to go to therapy where they would force me to gain weight. I had no awareness that therapy would help, other than that I would be forced to gain the weight back, and there was no way in hell that I was going to go back to hating my thighs, and myself, as much as I had previously. I realize that withering away didn’t make me feel at ease with myself,it merely gave me a feeling of control over something, anything. So I spent the year shrinking, and in trying to look forward to the uncertain future that faced me. Now when I look back on that time, a lot of it is a blur, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the unhappiness I felt, or because I spent everyday trying to disappear.
When I did make the move out of my hometown, three hours away for a bigger college, I found peace with my body. I was happier and had friends around me, and while I still experienced some loneliness, I no longer challenged myself to see how little I could eat. I no longer wanted to disappear. I ate bigger and bigger meals, and felt the most peace with my body and with eating than I had in years. This was before I started experiencing any stomach issues, and gladly enjoyed burgers, fries, and salads with equal enjoyment. I stayed at a healthy weight and felt confident in myself for the first time in a long time. I had started dating a boy I was in love with for years, and was getting to experience living in a city with new friends and a plethora of good food to eat.
The next summer was fraught with stomach issues, a time where I would often eat bland foods that would still send me to my bed in pain. I felt the old me returning. The part of myself that felt comfortable with being hungry, and wanted only to disappear. I knew that at that time, food had the power to send me in a painful state of exhaustion and embarrassment, and I felt powerless once again. I resigned myself to eat the blandest food I could, for fear of the pain and bloating that I knew was around the corner.
After I got my stomach issues more or less under control, sometimes more, sometimes a lot less, I had to refigure out how to eat just as I had when I moved out. I had to reconfigure my relationship with eating, and along the way I developed a love for cooking and spending time in the kitchen to heal myself. I saw the way I felt when I ate well and I ate the right amount, and I was fascinated by the way my body reacted. I noticed how good I felt when I didn’t constantly fuel myself with sugar because I wasn’t getting enough calories and fat, and I felt strong. I found out the joy that came from preparing an elaborate dinner myself, and I wasn’t interested in shrinking any longer. I found myself seeing that while I didn’t always have control over my life, and the petty problems I deemed as world shattering, I did have control over the way I eat, and in turn, how I treat myself.
As I was writing this, it really did feel like a cathartic goodbye to my disordered eating. For as long as I felt shameful and scared to actually write out and face the experience that I had been scared to even admit had been something I dealt with, the more power it had over me. The recognition that I was strong enough to stare it in the face enough to write it down felt like an end to that behavior. When I was in the thick of needing control, I saw recovery as being just as extreme as my disordered eating, that it would be all about bingeing and having a complete disregard for how much I ate and how I felt. What I learned though, was that what helped me the most was focusing on kindness and being gentle to myself. To recognize what triggered that disordered eating side, and to address the issue before it ever got to that point. It became more about paying more attention to the way I felt everyday, and gently taking stock on what my body needed. For me, it took addressing the feelings of why I wanted to lessen myself to gain the control that I had so desperately craved.