I’ve studied many recovery books and eating disorder literature that tell ED readers to take a walk, call a friend or go meditate when we feel the urge to binge and purge. For me, the challenge with these solutions was that in the moments leading up to my destructive behaviors, the last thing I ever thought about doing was reaching out for help. These resolutions felt cookie-cutter, impersonal and distant, like they were written by a doctor and not by someone in ED Recovery.
I was living with incessant, self-loathing critics having conversations in my mind all day long. Eat this. Don’t eat that. You need to work out today. You are so fat. I’ve always yearned to know the muck going on inside the heads of people with eating disorders. I wanted to hear someone else to speak about the ED voices their were hearing so I could empathize with them. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. It’s scary to admit how deplorable my thoughts could be at times, especially the ones that told me being thin was the only way to live a fulfilling life.
We walk through this world with our own private musings of what it means to be enough and for many of us this means being skinny. “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” is shoved down our throats from an early age whether we want to hear it or not.
We’re programed to think that thin is better and thin is good.
A long time ago in our childhoods many of us made silent decisions about what it means to be happy. As a kiddo, I created invisible measurements of my self-worth based on external factors. To me, happiness meant I needed to be thin.
I learned this lesson in 5th grade when the most popular girl in school bullied me on the playground. I felt a sharp pinch on my upper back at recess. I turned around to see the Queen Bee standing before me with her hand upon her boyish hips. Her entourage of friends were in a huddle off to the side. She snapped, “We want to know if you wear a bra yet…because you need to!” It was all happening so fast. I didn’t know what to say. The pack of girls in the group weren’t trying very hard to muffle their giggles. I walked away in shock, stunned into silence, disgusted with myself. She looked at me with repulsion, turned on her heel and smoothly walked back towards the pack of shrieking hyenas.
I didn’t have adolescent breasts, I had chubby kid boob-ets. Being fat meant being made fun of by the cool kids.
A few weeks ago I was in the car with my husband and I had been describing my old body shaming thoughts. I was recognizing how destructive my point of view had been when I had been in the throes of my eating disorder. I told him a secret of mine, although I know plenty of women without eating disorders that have the same thought. I said, “During my worst bouts with bulimia, I got mad at myself for not having the willpower to be anorexic.”
I used to secretly wish I had chosen an eating disorder that would have made me thin. I’ve talked to other bulimics who had the same warped desire. Writing this truth is taboo in the world of EDs because anorexia is severely dangerous, but this is how sick and twisted the mind can be of an eating disorder sufferer. If only I could figure out a way to be thin. How wonderful it would be to at least be skinny in the process of hating myself. At least on the outside, people would see me as being perfect instead of some fatty.
In the past, I romanticized a perfect world of what being anorexic would mean for me.
I could have modestly complained about how full I was after eating a few delicate bites, I could have vented about swimming in my clothes and I could have had guys turn their heads instead of passing me over while thinking what a butterbody. In my mind, I thought I would have felt delicate, light, accepted and ready to conquer the world. Only thin people succeed in life.
This is all a terrible lie. Anorexia is not the glamorous game of thinness that I invented it to be in my head. Anorexia is a mental health disease, just like bulimia. Eating disorders rarely go away without professional help. Anorexia sufferers live in a world of starvation and restriction. People die from eating disorders and yet we live in a culture where EDs are punch lines in comedy routines and where anorexia is sensationalized in celebrity gossip magazines.
In the past, seeing how bulimia is portrayed as the secondary eating disorder has made me feel small. It made me feel like I didn’t really have a problem that was worth recognizing. Being anorexic receives headline attention in the media whereas coming out as being bulimic is buried on the back page. Severe thinness seems to be more newsworthy than the normal-sized girls who binge and purge in secret.
Life should not be focused on being thin for the sake of thinness. When we see overweight people, from the outside it looks like we’re just fat souls who are half-hearted at attempting our diets. We assume these people are eating too much and moving too little. But diet and exercise are not the problem when it comes to eating disorders. It’s the unwavering all-or-nothing mentalities that fill up every corner in our minds and keep us paralyzed in our big bodies.
This black-and-white thinking is how I used to attack dieting. This time it’s going to work. Just you wait. Then I fail. But I wasn’t half-hearted about the dieting and exercise process, in fact, I was overzealous, I was fanatical at the chance of being normal and looking good. I’ve forced myself through countless attempts to lose weight to the point of breakdown and exhaustion. I’ve been through it enough times to know that I’m a dieting failure.
I had 38-day juice fast in 2012 that left me 25 lbs. lighter. I had a taste of feeling invincible through my restricting. I was on a high from my journey of grinding up kale, beets and carrots. What I learned from that fasting experience is that all the internal conversations of anorexia take up just as much time as someone with bulimia.
I thought about food all the time.
While I juiced, I obsessed about eating more than I had ever thought about food during my bulimia. It was all- consuming. I lied to myself by thinking I was being “good” for not eating. I convinced myself that my starvation was worth being thin.
During this period, I remember taking off my hoodie and actually twirling in a circle for my sweet friend Colby. I wanted to show off my new figure and let the world know that I had finally found the quick trick to my weight problems. It’s embarrassing to look back at that moment where I paraded my body. But that’s what many of us do when we lose weight. I wanted the payoff of being recognized for all my dedication and hard work. I wanted to talk about what I was doing to look thin instead of talking about what I should be doing to look thin.
After my juice fast, I gained all the weight back and then some. I slipped down a little further into my private rabbit hole of hell, retreating back to the detestable, inner workings of my mind. Once again, I had tried too hard to lose the weight and I hadn’t tried hard enough to recover from a lifetime of self-hatred. I stayed stuck for so long because I was focused on being thin, instead of healing my heart and mind.
Our culture is obsessed with being thin.
This is why we scan and compare other women’s bodies at the grocery store check-out. In my twenties it used to happen while I was out at the bars, taking inventory of who looked better or worse than me. Thank God she has a belly too. I’m not the only one. We greet our dearest friends and mindlessly look them up and down, sizing them up, comparing their figures to our own bodies. Looks like she’s letting herself go. We watch our lunch dates slide out of restaurant booths and we involuntarily judge their backsides. I wonder what she’s doing to look so good these days. I need to work harder.
True recovery has meant learning to be comfortable with my current weight and not continuing to hate myself until I look different or weigh less. It’s about reminding myself to accept and love the weight I am, so that my mind can finally open up with loving thoughts. Celebrating tiny victories surrounding bulimia, weight and body shame is what has pushed me into long-term recovery. I had to make a conscious decision that being thin could no longer be the end goal.
The feelings of unhappiness with ourselves and with our bodies are universal. Our conversations tend to stay on the side of what we are lacking instead of the side on how we are healing. We all have wounds from our childhoods, feelings that we don’t let ourselves feel and insecurities about our bodies. Our self-worth should be measured by how we treat ourselves not by how thin we look. We have the ability to change our perspectives and create new stories in our minds to help us learn how to heal and ultimately allow us to love ourselves.
After I told my husband about having wished for another eating disorder, he responded beautifully. He said, “I think one of the most difficult things in our lives, is to learn how to be comfortable with who we are.”
I couldn’t have said it better.