After I graduated from high school, I developed an eating disorder.
It wasn’t something I set out to do. It isn’t like I woke up one morning and thought, “Hey! I think I’ll try developing an eating disorder today. That sounds like fun.”
No. That’s not how it happened.
My experience was more like an alcoholic who takes one drink, and then another, and then another – and suddenly wakes up one morning to realize the drink that was once recreational has now consumed their life.
I guess it’s like anyone who has ever been on a slippery slope they didn’t realize they were on.
Sliding and sliding and sliding. Down. Down. Down. Until suddenly they find themselves at the bottom. Wondering how they got there – and who they’ve become.
My eating disorder began with a series of small choices.
I don’t think I’ll eat that anymore. I think I’ll workout. Every day. I can’t miss a day. I don’t think I’ll allow myself to eat another bite past dinner. I think I should begin to count fat grams. And on. And on. And on.
The more pounds I lost – the more people noticed, and the more validated I felt.
Have you lost weight? What have you been doing to lose the weight? You look great!
It fueled my fire.
I would look at my stomach in the mirror. Am I small enough? I would pinch my arms and wrap my hands around my thighs. I was constantly feeling for excess fat on my body.
Every day, at the end of the day, I would recite to my then boyfriend (now husband) what I had eaten. I had this. And this. And this. And this. Do you think that’s too much?
The numbers on the scale kept dropping. At just over 5 foot 6 inches tall, I was almost down to 100 lbs.
I looked sick, but I had a goal in mind. I was so close to 100. What would it take to get there?
And as the pounds kept falling off, the comments began to change.
I heard family members asking other family members at Thanksgiving if I had a drug addiction, or if there was something wrong with me. My parents were concerned. My friends were concerned.
I was not.
I thought I looked good.
Well, maybe not good enough. There’s always more weight to lose. Right?
I would explain to my parents, and anyone else who expressed concern, that I was just being healthy.
I would tell them how I was working out daily, eating the healthy options at school, and walking to all of my classes. All of which were true; but I had taken it way past any point of health.
No matter what I told anyone, and no matter what I tried to convince myself; it wasn’t about being healthy. It was about body image, and becoming as small as I possibly could.
Finally, a friend of mine convinced me to attend a group with her at the hospital. She told me she had an eating disorder, and she thought maybe I did, too. At this point, my period was irregular; I was very tired; and beginning to develop other symptoms that led me to believe that maybe she was right.
At the support group, I finally came to the realization that what they were talking about did imply to me, too. I was ready to admit my problem.
I had an eating disorder.
And that meant I had to start eating more.
Once I began to allow myself to eat again, it was hard to stop. I would eat and eat and eat.
My anorexia went away and bulimia was left in its place.
I was ashamed.
What had I become? What was I doing?
I wish I could say one day I woke up and said, “That’s it! No more!” But it wasn’t like that for me.
Just like it was a series of small steps that took me down the slope; it was a series of small steps to get me back up.
I attended the support group with my friend. I met with counselors. I began to change my thought patterns and my habits. I knew I had a problem. And that problem could kill me if I wasn’t careful.
I knew I wanted help.
My eating disorder has been gone for many, many years, but I’m still aware of it. I have to pay close attention to my thought patterns and behaviors. Am I obsessively working out? Am I getting on the scale too much? Am I making choices because of overall health? Or because of weight?
I want to be healthy, and am grateful to have learned over the years how to have a positive relationship with food and exercise, but I always need to be careful. I need to keep myself in check.
And, thankfully, I have good friends who will check on me, too. I had lost some weight a couple months ago because I had to eliminate some foods from my diet to combat my autoimmune diseases. My best friend did not hesitate to ask if I was okay. She didn’t think my eating disorder was back, but had to ask. Just to be sure.
I was so grateful she was willing to ask the hard question – and thankful that I could honestly say, “No. Thank you for checking on me. I’m fine.”
If you have struggled, or are currently struggling, with an eating disorder – I hope you find the strength to seek the help you need. There is no reason to hide in shame. Or feel guilty for the choices you have made that have led you to this place.
Many women, and men, struggle with body image. Especially in today’s culture of social media where comparison, the thief of joy, is easier to fall prey to than ever before.
If you have struggled, or are struggling, please know you aren’t alone. There are many women, and men, who have dealt with anorexia, bulimia – or both.
I am one of those people who has struggled. I am grateful to be better, but always need to be aware – so that I don’t find myself accidentally sliding down the slope once again.
I believe the more we share our hurts, struggles, and ways we have overcome with others – the more people are encouraged to open up and share theirs as well.
We all have stories. We all have things we have come through.
This is just a small part of of my story.
And I’m grateful for the opportunity to share.
*This originally appeared on my Facebook Page – Truly Yours, Jen – Jennifer Thompson, Writer. Follow along for more stories on life, family and faith.