Warning: if you have had or currently struggle with an eating disorder this post could be triggering. Please skip it!
Did you know this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness week?
This is a cause close to my own heart. Today I want to write about what my life was like when I had an eating disorder and how it has changed for the better since I started taking recovery seriously.
I’m not writing this because I think someone with an eating disorder will read it and then reach out for help. In fact I think that is a very unlikely scenario. From my own experience when you’re deep in “the game” you know you’re slowly killing yourself but you just don’t care.
I’m writing this for the healthy people reading who might not yet realize someone they know is struggling with an eating disorder.
It’s a common misconception that a person with an eating disorder must be super thin and frail, or that unless you’re underweight your disorder isn’t serious, but that is not the case. Drastic weightloss can be an indicator that someone has an eating disorder, but it is only one of many. I hope this post will help you pick up on some of the signs that have nothing to do with weight/size.
For instance, did you know:
- People suffering from bulimia usually appear to be of average weight
- People suffering from binge eating disorder are usually average weight to overweight
- The idea that you have to be super thin to be suffering from an eating disorder stops some women from seeking help
I’ve bounced from one side of the weight spectrum to the other in my journey towards health.
I was, at points in my life, extremely restrictive.
This picture here is of me when I was about twenty-five pounds heavier than the lowest weight I ever reached. I’m half smiling, but I remember being really upset this day. I HATED being in a bathing suit.
This was the last picture I allowed anyone to take of me for a very long time.
Back then I liked keeping my daily caloric intake around the 500 calories per day range, and this is how I felt:
- Tired all the time / no energy
- Constantly irritated by everything
- Always hungry, always angry about being hungry
- Worried about blacking out/fainting in front of others
- Lots of guilt from lashing out at others for no reason
- Non-stop negative self talk
- Self worth tied to the scale
- Rarely spoke with my parents
- Depressed and suicidal at times
- Cut almost all friends out of my life (at the end of my lease I not only didn’t tell my roommate – who was previously my best friend – what my plans were, but I completely left the city without even saying goodbye)
I lived that way for about a year and a half before I started binging/purging and then finally found myself meeting the clinical criteria for bulimia nervosa. While I had more energy, wasn’t hungry all the time and no longer had suicidal thoughts, everything else on that list remained part of my life.
Purging took it’s toll on me fast; I was never really cut out for it. I always hated it and eventually I just stuck to a cycle of binging-restricting-binging without purging. As you can imagine, I quickly ballooned up to my highest weight ever, feeling just as unhappy as ever.
With Adam’s help I eventually crawled out of the awful dark pit I was living in and today this is how I feel:
- Can run pretty long distances without getting tired
- Can pick up heavy weights
- Can enjoy a nice meal out without freaking out
- Never worried about blacking out/fainting
- Never binge/purge
- Rarely fly off the handle for no reason (there’s still PMS, guys)
- Happy to get together with friends and enjoy myself
- Very close with my parents
In short, I still have things to work on, but I am happier than I have been in a very long time. Possibly ever.
If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder I would not recommend confronting them without preparation. (The National Eating Disorders Association has resources for friends and family.)
In my opinion, having an eating disorder is not like alcoholism where it’s hard to admit you have a problem. The person usually knows he or she has a problem, but perhaps doesn’t want to change.
When you’re deciding whether you should eat 200, 400 or 600 calories in a day you know you’re not behaving the way other people do. You actually get a sick pride out of not behaving the way other people do. When you’re eating to the point that you literally throw up without even meaning to, well you know that’s not normal. When you’re purging, yeah, you know that’s not normal.
I can’t tell you what to say to someone you suspect has an eating disorder because I don’t know what you should say. For me, the time to change came when I recognized how my behaviors were affecting the person closest to me. I realized it was unfair and I decided in that moment that I wanted to try and be better.
Truthfully, I had wanted to get better for quite a while. I had gotten sick of being sad and angry all the time, but I didn’t know how to get myself out of the situation.
My first visit with a psychologist was terrifying, and I ended up finding that she wasn’t a good fit. I later found a psychologist who I got along with well. She had an eating disorder when she was younger and had found the path to health. I knew she “got it” and I trusted her advice.
She was the one who told me to find an exercise I could do without getting obsessive, which seemed like a really difficult task at the time. I had been weightlifting for a little while but I was terrified of adding muscle weight. I associated the stationary bike and elliptical with dark days when I would spend two or three hours on them with no food in my system.
I used to drag myself home from the gym and I would literally pass out. Hours would go by and I would wake up not knowing what had happened. My body would just shut down from not having any fuel. One time I was standing in the bathroom brushing my hair, and then the world got woozy and the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor. This workout routine was not working for me, and I was worried for myself, but I was also a really f’d up kind of happy with myself.
When I started recovery and my doctor told me to find an exercise I could do that would make me feel better, healthier and stronger, I wondered if such a thing even existed.
On a whim, I tried running.
Running was completely new to me. It was hard, but it made me feel strong instead of weak. I hated it, but I also really liked it at the same time. Running really helped me. It wasn’t my therapy, but it helped supplement my therapy until I no longer needed professional help.
When I ran my first couple of 5Ks I was still at my highest weight ever.
Today I’m down about 30lbs, but I still have a ways to go until I’m at a healthy, comfortable weight.
I know there is a fast track that can get me down to a specific number on the scale pretty quickly, but there is also a longer route that will allow me to be myself.
I’m in it for the long haul.
Working out for me, now, is not about burning calories to get skinnier or being able to eat whatever I want because I exercised for three hours. It’s about pushing myself to be better than yesterday and treating my body the right way to get there. I trust that by doing this my body will reach a healthy and happy weight.
Over the weekend someone I know ran a half marathon and finished in 3:02. She was bummed because her PR is 3:01 and she was trying hard to break it. My initial reaction was, “she’s so skinny, how can I have a faster half marathon PR than her?”
But I, of all people, should know that skinny doesn’t mean anything when it comes to fitness or health. When I was at my skinniest I could never have even finished a half marathon.
That also means that I can’t rely on losing weight to make me a better runner. I think there is such a thing as an ideal racing weight, but I also think elite runners are the ones who benefit most from that. Instead, I need to take my speedwork seriously, try to eat right most of the time and enjoy the process.
I’m never going to run a 60 minute half marathon, but I think someday I’ll run a sub-2 hour half marathon.
Call me crazy, but I really believe it will happen. I’ve got about 30 prime running years left to get there!
I like that my goals are now related to doing things that make me feel good about myself. It’s a nice mental space to be in.
I hope that this post wasn’t a gigantic over share that made you uncomfortable, but I do think it’s important for the world to understand that eating disorders are serious mental disorders.
Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition. Eating disorders are serious. You can’t treat them with a sandwich.
If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder please visit the NEDA website.
(In the past I have received emails from others who struggle with an eating disorder. Please note that if you email me about your disorder I can only recommend that you seek professional help. It’s not in your best interest or mine for me to correspond with you beyond that about any disorder. I wish you all the best. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Happiness does exist and you deserve it.)