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Her Story: Instagram Gave Me an Eating Disorder

Instagram. It’s the app we have all come to know and probably check at least 60 times per day. While most of us think of the app as something to scroll through when we are bored, what we don’t realize is how much it influences our daily lives far beyond the likes and comments.

I found that the start of my freshman year of college was when Instagram’s success story started soaring. No longer was it just a place to share just “any picture”. Instead it was now a place where only the most glamorous pictures were “breaking the internet”. Coincidently enough, these were also the exact ones that just so happened to be highly edited and staged.

Before I knew it, all my followers I once thought I knew looked like a celebrity in their posts. Everyone was looking for the perfect angle to show off their perfect body in the perfect outfit showcasing their most perfect night ever.

Prior to my college days, I barely worried about my body. I was naturally pretty skinny and was able to eat whatever I wanted.   Like most teenage girls, there were barely any visible consequences to the late night indulgences or summer ice cream trips.  Was I the smallest girl ever? No. Did I care? Also no.

For most of my life, I considered myself to be awkward. I didn’t have much self-confidence. But after coming to college, something strange happened. I had friends. People liked me. I had more of a social life than I ever had in my entire life. With all of this came more confidence that I had ever felt before. I suddenly had pictures to post on Instagram and I even had tons of people who wanted to like them.

Like I mentioned, having being someone who never thought too much about the shape of my body, I suddenly was became chronically aware of all creases, lines, and rolls that the other girls didn’t seem to have in their photos. Why did my stomach look larger when I posed the way they did? Or why does this light make me look pale?

The summer after my freshman year I felt I wanted to do something about this. I started off just trying to eat healthier; you know more fruits, veggies, and lean proteins. I tried to limit my intake on processed sugars and red meats. I also started working out more, which means naturally, I started weighing myself weekly, and by the end of the summer I lost 4 pounds.

While this may not seem like a lot, I was already pretty thin to start with. So for me this was a huge difference in my appearance. My stomach looked flatter and my face looked less puffy from eliminating the excess sugar. In pictures I finally started looking how I wanted or how I felt I was suppose to. I learned once you start seeing results, you start becoming addicted.

 

I downloaded the app My Fitness Pal over that summer, but I didn’t use it too strictly. I put in a set amount of calories for each day and would use it to see the stats of foods. This allowed me to start deeming some of these foods “unhealthy.”  At this point, I had honestly made a good change to my lifestyle in order to benefit my health.

When I headed back to school for my sophomore year, the abundance of healthy food I had been eating over the summer was now gone. I was now confined to the college-dining hall. My solution to combating the dining hall was simple: count calories. This is where my health journey became detrimental. 

Before I knew it I was tracking everything. From the pieces of fruit I ate, to the tablespoons of ketchup on the side of my grilled chicken. I allowed myself about 1300 calories a day. Since I didn’t know any better, I figured this was for the best. Even though the number of calories was already extremely low, I pushed it even further by trying to be at least 300-500 calories lower than my “allowance” for the day. If I was able to achieve this goal, I considered it a “good” day. It leads me to believe I was successful, I was completing my goals, I had more self worth.

I was also going to the gym regularly and working extremely hard. Since I was exercising all the time, I was always starving, especially at night. I spent many nights in my dorm room telling myself it was past 8 p.m., so I could not have anything else to eat for the day. I would go to bed many nights with my stomach growling.

There were days where I couldn’t take how hungry I was. I would binge on a bag of chips or a large meal at a restaurant. I would nearly swallow it whole because I was so hungry. Once or twice a week I would do this to combat for my low-cal diet.

This is where my obsession was taken far past Instagram. It had turned into a lifestyle.

If you knew me, you probably just thought I was extremely concerned with being healthy. My friends considered me the fitness/health junkie of the friend group. No one really knew what I was internally going through.

By December, I had dropped 12 pounds in conjunction with the weight I lost from the summer. I don’t like to disclose numbers because everyone’s body composition is different depending on height and bone structure, but I can assure you my numbers were extremely low. I hadn’t been this weight since middle school.

I soon knew I had a problem. I told my boyfriend one night when I was starving for a bowl of cereal but wouldn’t let myself have it. We talked about it briefly, but I didn’t let on to how bad my disorder really was.

I knew I had a problem when my boyfriend and I went into New York City to see the tree lighting. We stopped to get burgers before heading to the lighting of the tree and the anxiety of not knowing how many calories were in that burger nearly killed me. This was the first time I had eaten a “fear” food in awhile.

I wish I could tell you I went to counseling and faced my problems head on, but this was not the case. During winter break, I educated myself through YouTube videos. I watched so many girls who were battling or had beat their eating disorders. They showed me your self worth is not reliant on your weight or how you look. Even though I heard their message, I didn’t apply it until much later.

Over the next 6 months, I deleted and re-downloaded My Fitness Pal consistently. I was working on getting better. Everyday I had an internal debate with myself of what I should eat. I slowly introduced fear foods.

In the summer I tried my hardest to break out of my old ways. I slowly gained back some of the weight I lost, but still kept a keen eye on the scale. While I do genuinely enjoy exercising, I tried to teach myself missing a few days in the gym won’t kill you. 

Fast forward to today. While it has been a little over a year since my low point, I still daily fight with my eating disorder thoughts. While I now eat when I’m hungry, skip some days in the gym, and eat my old ‘fear’ foods, I still weigh myself constantly and put emphasis on my weight. Sometimes I binge on food that I use to restrict.  I wish I could tell you that I fully recovered, but I am not.

Not many people know that I suffer from this, even those extremely close to me. It’s not a topic I like to share with people. I don’t want the attention that comes with people knowing about my disorder.

While this story may not have a happy ending, I hope this is a prevalent issue amongst college campuses that I am bringing to your attention. Let this serve as a daily reminder that you never know what someone else is dealing with.

Eating disorders exist and the people you would least expect could be suffering the most.

Be kind, everyone is fighting his or her own battle. 

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