To look at me today, you would not suspect that I have ever struggled with an eating disorder. Nothing about my body suggests undernourishment; even my hair is full-figured. Strangers might think my issue leans more toward overindulgence. The truth is not a day passes that I don't think about losing weight or how unhappy I am with my current weight. Frenemies at best, my temple and I have not gotten along for over half of my life.
The earliest memories I have of disliking my body go back to Mrs. Potter's fourth grade class, when I hated my hands. To me they looked boyish and ugly. They bore no scars, birthmarks, or other distinguishing features. For all intents and purposes my hands were ordinary in every way. Still, I kept them tucked beneath my legs to hide them whenever I sat. People could have told me I had the most beautiful hands in the world and I would not have believed them. I felt both different and defective at eleven years old.
Puberty gave me more reasons to dislike my changing body. Aside from developing curves, I began to focus on my size. Although I maintained a healthy body weight, I compared my adolescent figure to those of other girls and secretly berated myself for not being thinner. I exercised often in attempts to lose weight, unaware of the groundwork I was laying for an illness that would surface years later.
A love/hate relationship between me and food developed during childhood, as well. While my mother prepared healthy meals, she still allowed treats once in a while. However, because she rarely bought junk food, whenever something sweet turned up in the house I felt like I had to eat it on the sly. My mom was a perpetual dieter for years and sometimes I wonder if that contributed to the way I viewed foods as 'good' and 'bad.'
Mom baked from scratch when I was growing up and her chocolate chip cookies were a favorite of mine. Like a bandit, I snuck into the kitchen on many occasions and stole cookie dough from the bowl when my mother’s back was turned. Later, I ate the baked cookies I was allowed to have, but snuck a few more up to my bedroom, where I savored them in private, and felt bad afterward. I became a closet binger. That behavior followed me into my adult life. Hiding food and feeling guilty after eating it became the norm for me, but I never understood why.
In my early twenties, the sugar I had been privately bingeing on decided to set up shop in various parts of my body in the form of fat. For the first time in my life I gained a significant amount of weight. The extra pounds snuck up on me and I remember the shock I felt the first time I couldn’t zip up my favorite dress. Convinced that a defective thyroid was to blame, I saw a doctor. No such luck. As if a switch had been flipped, suddenly my eyes were opened to the ugly truth about the change in my body. I had put on weight, plain and simple. I felt disgusted and ashamed. The image in the mirror appeared fat and flawed. My brain saw a much heavier person than the one who, in reality, was only slightly overweight.
Following the birth of my first child, I began working out and dieting. I wanted to lose the pregnancy pounds, at least that's what I told myself. In addition to Tae Kwon Do classes, I exercised at home each day, in an effort to burn as much fat as possible. Encouraged by noticeable results, I further restricted calories, to as few as 700 per day, and swallowed laxatives after meals to speed my weight loss. I measured my waist, arms, and thighs almost as often as I weighed myself, which was every morning. Food and fat became the enemies I obsessed over. I dreaded any kind of social gathering which involved food because I did not want anyone to see me eat and I feared being unable to restrict my calorie intake. If only I could have purged the emotional pain and baggage as I purged the contents of my stomach.
When loved ones grew concerned about my thinness, I was too ill to listen and could not have stopped punishing my body if I wanted to. Each time someone commented on my weight loss, my reaction was twofold. First, I got a sort of high from the false feelings of accomplishment and control, then the negativity took over and told me that I must have looked terrible before I lost the weight. I was my own worst enemy.
Eating disorders fool the afflicted into thinking they themselves are in control, when the reality is that we have control over nothing in our lives at that time. Both Bulimia and Anorexia had their grip on me, and all I did was tell myself that if I were thinner everything in my life would be okay. Meanwhile, the opposite effect took place. I had a baby who needed a healthy, functioning mother, and my marriage of two years stood on shaky ground. My world crumbled around me and I remained helpless but to watch the destruction.
In December of that year I came down with the worst cases of flu and strep throat I had ever gotten. By Christmas Eve I became so sick that I spent the afternoon in the hospital emergency room. I broke fevers each night for the next two weeks and made a promise to God that I'd start eating again if He would only make me feel better. The reality of my illness had finally struck me and I wanted off the roller coaster ride. After all, my mother had spent forty dollars on the Christmas ham that year.
Following that low point, I began taking better care of myself. I no longer purge and I seldom binge. Every day remains a struggle between myself and food, but nowhere near as it was back then. While I've managed to break the habit of stepping onto the scale each morning, I still scrutinize every bite of food and continue to dislike eating in front of others.
Recovery is a process, and one in which I remind myself that it's okay if I'm not as thin as I want to be or once was. My four children need a mom more than I need to be a size six, so I try to keep my focus on what matters. How I live my life is more important to me than how I look while I'm living it.