Trigger warning: Eating disorders
The first time I resumed binge eating and purging, along with anorexia, was a week after my mother passed away from liver cancer in March. I was unable to handle my emotions, many of which felt difficult, confusing, and overwhelming. Unable to articulate my struggles to myself or anyone else, I searched for and found a way of gaining some control over my emotions and the world around me: I ate a bowl of 20 cashews, a peanut butter sandwich, a sleeve of marshmallow cookies, and four Rice Krispie treats, calmly made my way to the bathroom, and purged until I felt pain coat the back of my throat.
I thought to myself, “The pain that I’m feeling physically is easier to take than this intense grief and dizzying confusion I’m grappling with” as I watched the yellow-hued vomit and its contents slowly spin to the bottom of the toilet bowl. Out of guilt, I restricted my eating the next night and over the next month. I only ate one small meal a day and worried about how much juice I was drinking because of the calorie count.
It had been five years since I had last engaged in restricted eating, binge eating, and purging on a regular basis. But these behaviors have always served as coping mechanisms for me when life feels hard and like a party you’re being forced to attend.
Anorexia was my safety blanket for two years, starting at 17. I used it to cope with not feeling beautiful and not being “good enough” for an abusive relationship I felt stuck in and terrified to leave. I leaned on it to deal with the fear of what was to come and to have control over my life when I had felt I had none.
I became obsessed with calorie count, restricting my daily eating to only a pizza from the school cafeteria and a bag of Welch’s fruit snacks. After weeks of running on a treadmill for three hours a day, I dropped down to a rail thin 110 pounds from a healthy 124, getting rid of the widening hips, big butt, and muscular legs I was born with to live up to Eurocentric beauty standards and to have control over my image when my emerging anxiety disorder, along with the rest of my life, felt impossible to manage. I felt tired all the time and looked so drastically different that my classmates, teachers, and family became concerned. I was eventually put on a treatment regimen and recovered at 18. However, with college came new responsibilities, and I quickly relapsed, restricting my eating all the way through my freshman year and only stopping at the start of my sophomore year because of the declining health of my teeth and nails, concerning my parents to the point where they had to intervene once again.
After my second round of treatment, I thought I had beaten anorexia for good, and I did—I enjoyed eating a whole pizza and what I wanted without guilt or obsession. I embraced my shape for what it was and exercised when I could. I actually liked myself and where my life was going.
Little did I know, I would develop anorexia’s close cousin: Bulimia.
During my junior year of college, I made myself throw up for the first time and engaged in binge eating and purging for the next two years to deal with PTSD from childhood trauma, burgeoning school responsibilities, and the shame I felt about my emerging bisexuality. Purging after eating huge meals of halal food, burgers and fries, and the other fare that I would have with my friends brought me a sense of control over a struggle nobody else knew I was dealing with. Throughout all of this, I was able to be a model student, bubbly friend, and loving daughter, smiling on the outside but being consumed by my thoughts around food internally. I kept these behaviors up for another year with only my parents knowing what was happening. After a conversation with my dad, a treatment plan made by a therapist and a nutritionist, and the sheer willpower to fight this, I was able to once again recover and stay that way. I’ve managed to be fully healthy for five years now.
My eating disorder has been a coping mechanism that I’m learning to let go of. I’m learning that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that journaling, therapy, and talking to friends and family are alternative strategies to deal with life’s difficulties. I’m learning embracing all of the emotions you have doesn’t render you weak. I’ve learned that old habits can die hard, and that you can persevere through the fight to be thin for others and society, to be someone you’re not, and to have control over everything. I’ve learned that you can grow through what you go through.