What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. –Muriel Rukeyser.
Stories are powerful. They bring people together and tear them apart. They empower the meek and comfort the lonely. Our stories need to be told. I want to create a space for stories to be told. A space that allows us to be vulnerable and seen. Today, I want to share a friend’s experience with an eating disorder.
My friend told me she wishes to be anonymous. When I was talking to her about this project, I blurted—“You should share your story. Claim it.” She explained that she already had. In college, she did a presentation on eating disorders and told her story to her class. She explained to me that she had already claimed her story and moved past it. She wanted to stay past it. For me, that was the most powerful part of her whole story.
Here’s her story. I hope it empowers you to tell your own story….
For me disordered eating describes any attitudes or beliefs toward food intake or calorie expenditure that creates cycles of negative psychological, physical, or emotional turmoil. I suffered in a recurring battle with an eating disorder with varying intensity for around five years from late high school into college.
Like all major problems in life it started as a small seemingly harmless pattern which progressed to take control over my life. Like many women I had an abnormal body image for many years of my young adult life. I believe this stemmed from my perfectionist nature which was encouraged through both academics and sports, popular culture and the tight fitted, revealing nature of women’s fashion, and a strong internal sense of low self-esteem. I held a firm belief that categorized foods as good or “healthy” and bad or “unhealthy”, and possibly most importantly I had a severe lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress. On the surface I coped with life with a smile, always positive, always high achieving. Underneath I battled with myself in a vicious cycle of self-restriction and self-discipline in a push to control my world when I felt the terror of impending negative emotions (loneliness, fear of failure, sadness). Compulsively counting calories, planning meals, measuring my body size and weight calmed and focused my mind away from these sensations. I used this as a constant distraction to occupy my thoughts. As much as I thought I was in control during these times, these thoughts truly controlled me as I was ultimately completely unable to stop these intrusive thoughts and be fully present in the world.
I used food as an emotional tool to create a physiological high (sweets, “comfort” foods, over eating) which both helped me escape negative emotions but was simultaneously the creation of a new type of distress. After engaging in this style of emotional modification I became fixated on remedying this failure and forbidding myself from ever engaging in this type of pattern again. This return to restriction and self-control became the next part of the high as it was recovering from this state of regret and self-hatred for having allowed myself to enjoy foods that, as I saw it then, I could not be trusted to consume. Years of being unaware of this pattern and unable to determine the source of the issue left me hopeless and helplessly powerless against the inescapable lure, repulsion, and constant presence of food. Social events were fraught with anxiety and hours of planning how much I could eat prior, what I would eat there, how long I would need to exercise for afterwards, etc. When I began to become nervous about an upcoming exam, nearly immediately my mind shifted to disordered eating planning and rumination on the past weeks meals, workouts, and failures. It was a faulty coping mechanism to distract my mind away from stressful situations that I had developed no other strategies to handle. Looking back on the time, energy, and stress I created for myself during these years my heart breaks for the young women, young men, anyone who has ever felt powerless – a slave in their own minds to the unavoidable presence of food.
If this resonates with you, please share below.
And if you have symptoms of disordered eating, please seek help: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
We want to see you live your best life without food controlling your every move.