NEDA: On a personal note…

Ever since National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (see Caitlin Boyle’s blog, Operation Beautiful for more information!) I have wanted to share my story. So here goes…

I’m pretty short – just about 5’3. At the end of my freshman year in high school, I was 125 lbs (22.1 BMI). I was very muscular. I wasn’t fat but I wasn’t “skinny” either. I was a size 4 or 6 in jeans depending on the store. I was never all that concerned with body image or with my weight.

The summer before sophemore year I decided to try out for an athletic position that would require me to lose 15 pounds. My mom agreed to help me lose the weight in a healthy way, so that summer I set out to lose 15 pounds. I started out doing 45 minutes on the bike and 45 minutes on the treadmill everyday, cutting out junk food and eating healthy food instead. The first 7 or 8 pounds came off pretty quickly because of my change in habits and also because I was losing muscle mass. I had stopped strength training and lifting weights because muscle weighs more than fat.

After that, I hit a plateau. It was really hard to get the scale below 117. Then, I was at 115 for a while and I needed to find a way to get those last pounds off. So I started to engage in some very unhealthy behavior like starving myself or purging after meals. It wasn’t an every day occurrence, but I just didn’t know what else to do to get the weight to come off. After struggling with different unhealthy methods I ended up at 110 (my goal weight) and I was so excited. Not only was the number on the scale exactly what I wanted, I noticed how skinny I looked. I bought my first pair of size 0 jeans.

Being 110 lbs at my height is still within the healthy BMI range (19.5), but the way I had reached that goal was very unhealthy. The obsession I had developed with the number on the scale was dangerous. And I became more and more concerned with the way that I looked. When I got back to school that fall everyone was telling me how amazing I looked. It was a good feeling, but in the back of my mind I knew something dark was growing in me.

For the next seven years I weighed myself daily. It was difficult to stay at 110 and eat normally. I went through periods of starving myself, over-exercising, trying things like liquid diets, not eating after a certain time of day. I was even a vegetarian for three years – telling everyone it was “healthier.” In fact, I just wanted an excuse to tell people I couldn’t eat certain meals because they had meat in them. In the middle of all this I struggled with depression, a broken heart or two and my recreational drug use was getting worse and more frequent. My life was spiraling out of control but my weight was one thing I felt like I could dictate. If I could control the number on the scale, everything else in my life seemed a bit more bearable. The lower the number the “happier” I was. But it got worse. I stopped drinking a lot of liquid so I wouldn’t carry any waterweight, so I was always dehydrated. I even started to travel with a lightweight scale in my suitcase – I brought it with me on various trips to Europe! Crazy, right?

At my lightest I was probably 103 lbs (18.2 BMI) – which means I was never severely at risk, but it’s technically underweight. In the words of most of my friends, I was: skin and bones

That was the summer after my sophemore year in college when I was heavily invested in my active addiction. Doing that stuff made me less hungry, gave me more energy and sped up my metabolism. However, it also destroyed my life. When I told my brother years later how sick I was that summer he said to me, “All I know is I wanted to feed you a danish and I wasn’t sure why.”

About a year later, I got clean but I still struggled with my weight issues. It got to the point where if I was over 107 lbs I was depressed and angry at myself for the rest of the day. The number on the scale also dictated what I would eat that day. Additionally, it was incredibly hard for me to be intimate in my relationship because I was so self-conscious about my body. Not to mention it was never fun to take me out to dinner.

After being in the program for 1 year, I moved to NYC.  I had graduated from college and put my athletic career to rest. In the program, I was beginning to understand that I didn’t have to live a self-destructive life anymore. That meant becoming healthy in all aspects of my life, not just staying clean. In October of 2008, I stopped weighing myself. I’m not sure what provoked me to stop, but I just didn’t want my mood to be controlled by the number on the scale anymore. When I stopped weighing myself, I started to get my life back.

I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder or sought out treatment specifically for it, but in hindsight I have realized that my disfunctional relationship with my weight and with food is all a part of my addiction. The need the control a part of my life is one aspect of addiction that people don’t normally think about. Abusing a substance is an attempt to control the way that you feel. I wasn’t using drugs specifically to stay at a low weight, but the fact that it helped me stay skinny (without having to go to the gym or eat healthy) fed my addiction. My disordered eating was also an expression of my low self esteem and my fear of failure.

In my opinion, recovering from an eating disorder is very similar to recovering from addiction in that you have to be prepared to change your whole way of life in order to get better. I know that with an eating disorder, you can’t just stop eating like you can stop doing drugs/drinking. It’s a longer, more difficult process but you can get better. For me, finally deciding to stop weighing myself was the only thing that helped.

Being in recovery of any kind takes vigilance. You have to turn your thinking upside down and be willing to try something completely different. For me – not checking the number on the scale (I don’t own one anymore) and feeling free to eat whatever I want – within reason – has helped me so much. I have given myself permission to love myself and to love my body.

As I thought about NEDA and possibly telling my story, I weighed myself a few weeks ago after Physique. I know, I know, bad Clarissa. I was curious. I’ve probably weighed myself twice in the past 2.5 years – and once was at  doctor’s office. I told myself before getting on the scale that the number would not dictate my life. I was prepared to be close to 120 since I love junk food and I only work out once a week (trying to change that!), but I was only 113. A totally healthy weight and healthy BMI (20), yay! Did I change my eating habits for the rest of the day because I wasn’t 110? No way. Progress! I’ve deprived myself of so much happiness in my lifetime – it’s just not worth it anymore.

I am still conscious of the amount of food I eat and I like my clothes to fit, but beyond that, I’m not controlled by a number anymore. Three years ago 113 would have broken me. Today, I’m totally fine with it. The truth is I’m much happier not knowing the number at all.

Have you ever had issues with eating and weight?

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