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Disordered: The story of my eating disorder

This morning I sat in the coffee shop on campus and cried. I was looking at my boyfriend’s pancakes and for myriad reasons that are too triggering to go into, I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to let a single bite of food pass my lips, go down my throat.  

It’s been a year and a few months since I was “officially” diagnosed with an eating disorder. To be honest, I still don’t think it was ever as bad as all that, that I never did it “right enough” to warrant a diagnosis. To be honest, there are days when I miss it. To be honest, that’s almost every day. It’s been a long time in the making, it is an insidious part of my life and the paradigm through which I see life.

I remember sitting on the floor of the bathroom of my dad’s house, no more than 10 years old, calling my mother to ask whether or not my thighs were too fat. She told me, “No. And if they ever were, I would let you know.” So I moved on.

I remember freshman year of high school, in my world history class: A boy I didn’t even like or respect opened his mouth and said, “a girl’s not fat when her boobs stick out past her stomach.” I went home that night, stood against a wall and found they touched at about the same time. I kind of moved on.

A few years later, I was in the airport, getting ready to board a flight and reading magazines. “Sitting is the new smoking,” said one fitness magazine. The next day I heard on the morning news that if you bounce your legs while you sit you burn 300 more calories a day. You can check–I think it was Good Morning America–but I remember, for sure, how many calories it was a day. I spent the entire return flight home bouncing my knees. I couldn’t move on.

Afraid that I was out of control and that food was controlling me, I remember in my junior year of high school looking up exactly how many servings of each food group I should eat and eating that “healthy” amount every day. That meant I had to start looking at how much was in a serving, which meant I started looking at calories. Then fat. Then sugar. I started knowing which foods were the “best choices” for each food group. Then I started rejecting certain foods because there were better options that I had made my mother start buying at the grocery store. And from there it snowballed.

I had become addicted to the control. I had become enamored with the feeling of success that comes with being a woman in modern America who has an inordinate amount of control over what she eats. When my mother went paleo and gluten free, I stopped eating carbs too. Well, grains. Sweet potatoes were the food that most often counted in my “C” category on the little slips of paper I carried around with me to keep track of how many servings I’d had of each category every day. “FVDGP” was how I organized my day: Fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, protein. It still rolls off of my tongue easily. But it got worse. Soon I started keeping track of every single thing that passed my lips. A journal from my senior year offers a list of every single thing I ate, memorized calorie amounts scribbled next to them. It had gone from serving-seize control to calorie restriction: no more than 1500 a day.

And I was running every day, longer and longer, I felt better and better about myself, but not because I was running more miles….because I was “being better.” I didn’t allow myself to miss a day, and I would walk home from softball practice and run because I didn’t feel like softball was enough physical activity.

That’s the big theme here: not being enough. It’s ironic really, that I was whittling down my body and my essence in order to be and do and achieve more. Looking back, my senior year of high school was a whirlwind of perfectionism and obsessive control. And then literally everything about my life changed.

I didn’t adjust to college well. Those first few months broke my sense of control, any self-confidence I had, any sense of self-worth I had. Freshman year seemed determined to make sure that I felt like I was never enough… only I didn’t feel that until a few weeks before I went home for winter break. The destructive habits I was cultivating seemed like normal things to do, high-achieving things. And those moments are still too close for me to analyze. Those habits are ones that still call my name every single day, taunt me at most of my meals, and pinch my thighs, stomach and upper arms reminding me that I’m not doing enough.

It’s been a year and a few months since the night that I realized I had ruined my grandma’s meatloaf for myself, the night that I had my second ever mental breakdown. My dad still talks about that night the way that we do about anything less-than-happy: with jokes and a smile. “I’d never heard so many f-bombs. I was kind of impressed to be honest.” He and my mom did, of course, immediately guide me through the diagnosis process and then boom: I had anorexia and was in recovery.

Recovery, honestly, has been hell. But I know that I can’t go back to my eating disorder, no matter how much I sometimes feel like I want to, so recovery is my only option right now. And recovery is the best option, because there are little moments that remind me that life is more than what I had made it into. 

The thing about recovering is that you’re never right, and that’s hard when, for so long, you always felt like you were doing the right thing. For the first few months I felt pretty good, but if I’m being honest it’s because I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of changes in my body, so I was fine. My appetite came back in full force over summer, and I started eating. I may have started eating emotionally? Does anyone not emotionally eat?  I started trying to prove to myself that eating wasn’t dangerous nor scary and that my body was something to love and I managed to think like that and feel stable-ish for a few lovely months. I read posts on Pinterest and Tumblr that showed “Recovery” as a weaving thread, with ups and downs, but I didn’t expect the downs to feel worse than the original problem. I would start a new paragraph now, but I’m too afraid to dedicate an indentation to what comes next. The dark hole I now find myself in is also desolate, lonely, and scary. It still consumes my day—only the flavor is a little bit different. Instead of pushing me towards a demented version of “success,” it speaks many slippery words into my head. Constantly. There are days I don’t want to wake up from sleep; in fact the only thing that gets me out of bed most days is the fact that I still harbor a fear of sitting and not succeeding. There are times I want to rip the skin off of my body and set myself free from the burden of having a changing and uncontrollable body. I still look at every woman as a body before a person, wondering how my body measures up, and knowing that it doesn’t, and never will.

But even writing these things, I can see how mental they are. My mind, in some of its most formative years of self-discovery and reflection constructed itself into a demon dedicated to my self-destruction. My body does not hold me back; it lets me live a life that will get better no matter how often it seems joyless, oppressive, and hopeless. People are more than their bodies; I am more than mine. The size of various parts of my body, and how they relate to some weird norm that has been instilled into the fiber of my being, and what other women can attain while I never will… well, all of those thoughts will get less prevalent in my head. The idea that I have any control over my body as it changes and grows will someday seem laughable to me. At least I hope so. Because, to be honest, I can’t promise that this thing won’t destroy me.  I can try my hardest to tell it to take a hike, but it’s hard to tell that to an intrinsic part of yourself. I really can’t make any promises.  

A little obsessive about food blogs, books, Netflix, running, and obviously sleeping. It's not what you do, I say, but how you do it.
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