I Had To Stop Associating Food With Will Power To Finally Beat Anorexia
Skinny is a word that ironically, carries a lot of weight.
I don't like to define myself as skinny anymore because it's a word that carries a stigma around.
As a baby, I was a lean 7 pounds. My childhood was fraught with skinny-shaming comments and booster seats until the sixth grade because I didn't meet the weight requirement.
It's a part of my life that I've always denied, just like our culture denying the reality of disordered eating among all walks of life.
Spring semester of my freshman year of college was a downward spiral into extreme restriction, and purging via exercise. I noticed the freshman 15 making an appearance in my midsection, jowls and thighs.
Many freshmen let themselves go with a plethora of pizza, beer, sleep deprivation and Diet Coke. I was no exception. What's more, my grades were low (for me) my first semester and the Dean's List seemed light years away.
I could taste the shame in the cafeteria potstickers and Twinkie cakes.
This was a problem, and I'm a problem solver. The solution was to do a sift of all the food in my dorm room and discard “enemy food,” or foods rich in saturated fat and calories.
I set up a system by which food was restricted if my grades fell. Bad grades = failure = punishment = calorie restriction. B+ on a microeconomics exam? No dessert until I aced the next one. A- on a paper instead of an A? Tall skinny lattes instead of grande skinny lattes.
The more I pushed myself to excel in school, the less I ate.
Interestingly enough, my grades improved significantly, and my weight dropped so fast I adjusted my belt loop every few weeks. This weird game was not unique to me. In fact, I've learned that many anorexics thrive on pushing themselves and attaining the unattainable.
In retrospect, I have no idea how I lived through four years of calorie restriction because this is what I experienced as an anorexic:
My clothes drowned me and I lost sleep due to intense hunger pangs. Headaches were a normality I learned to live with, and I could barely climb the stairs to my lectures. I had irregular or nonexistent bowel movements, lack of a menstruation cycle for almost four years and absolutely no sex drive.
The list doesn't end there. Being anorexic caused me to have an extreme obsession with counting calories and keeping a food (and weight) journal. In addition to this, I checked the scale every day and the results affected my mood. I had to have a workout at every hour of the day or night (even at 11:30 pm after a midterm).
I would frequently cook and bake food, but I would never eat it. The only things I ate during the day were English muffins, and I quickly became obsessed with them. I used vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets as my excuses for eating super healthy.
All of this eventually led to depression. It came to a point where I had no desire to go out with my friends, or even to experience life.
During fall semester of sophomore year I subsisted on coffee, yogurt, English muffins and water. I remember one October night I ate a piece of pumpkin cake and subsequently cried to my mom for an hour over the phone.
The harder I studied the harder I pushed myself to restrict calories, and run for hours on the treadmill. It was a vicious cycle. By the time I got home for winter break I weighed 88 pounds. I was the modern day Irish famine victim.
My family, after not seeing me for a few months, commented on my emaciated figure and quickly put plates of cookies in front of me. “Eat! You're so skinny!” It oddly made me feel better because I knew that my laborious efforts to stay thin were working. I had a sense of euphoria because I was in control of something -- this was real, tangible change.
I lied and said stress from school and being away were the root causes of my drastic weight loss. They played a part, but I was too afraid to say anything concrete. I wish someone had asked me what was wrong.
Today, I'm a healthy, fit, 24-year-old marathoner. So what changed?
It wasn't until my senior year of college when I realized I was (and am) more than my body. I would be graduating with high honors and a successful marketing career ahead of me. This game I played with mind and body had to stop.
I wasted so much time counting calories, running for hours and hating myself. I could barely get up the stairs, so how was I supposed to lead a successful career?
It took time to fully grow into this healthy mindset and body because it's hard for anyone to admit they have a problem.
This is a process. There are still days when I have an intense desire to count every calorie and replace lunch with two hours at the gym.
Distorted body image is a battle, with the mind as a casualty. I know this because I'll put on my size 2 pants and feel shame. Why should I wear a 2 when I could wear a 0, or 00? Why am I a failure? Where is my will power?
I have to remind myself that the pain associated with this disease must be tamed. I turn to my friends and family when I'm feeling down. I enjoy a scoop of custard because it's what I love, I get popcorn at the movies and I skip a day at the gym to relax. I live my life.