I’ve never explicitly talked about this on my blog, but most people who know me have some idea of my history with an eating disorder. I tend to feel like I’m being special snowflakey when I mention it, but I’ve learned that that mindset is incredibly common and incredibly problematic. It keeps so many people from seeking the help that they truly need, because they don’t see themselves as “sick enough.” I never want anyone else to feel like they can’t talk about it, so I know that I should.
Though I was never institutionalized or tube-fed, I had an eating disorder. It consumed me for more than three years, despite the fact that I looked “healthy” for two of them.
After a rough first semester of college, I have decided to work to embrace intuitive eating as a way to normalize my relationship with food and give my energy to far more important things. I want to chronicle this experience because I know how hard it is to believe that letting go of controlling food can be a good thing.
So, the short version of my story, for background:
For all of my memorable life, I have had a less than healthy relationship with food and my body. I vividly remember my four-year-old self pulling my mother aside one night because I was so ashamed of my “fat” belly. I recall trying and failing to restrict food as early as elementary school, and exercising in hopes of being skinny. I also recall eating to the point of sickness fairly regularly.
During my sophomore year of high school, this disordered eating escalated into severe restricting. I lost weight, but all I could think about was food, which scared me. I overate because my body was starved, and then I hated myself and restricted more.
A therapist recommended I use an app to track my intake, and it told me my calorie allowance for the day. Because I was exercising twice a day, though, that number was far too low, and I continued to lose weight, despite doctor’s orders to stop. By the beginning of my junior year of high school, I weighed less than I had at age nine. I was depressed, lonely, and food consumed all of my thoughts. I didn’t get my period and I was always cold and exhausted. The next time I went to the doctor, I had lost enough to be sent to both a therapist and a nutritionist, and put on a meal plan to restore my weight.
Commence the long road to figuring out how to feel “normal” around food, despite the fact that I had never, in my memory, experienced such a thing. I ate more. A lot more. I didn’t want to gain weight, but I was really, really hungry, and the fact that someone told me I needed to eat more was all the encouragement I needed. I hated the way my body bloated and expanded and changed as I ate, but I couldn’t stop. I restricted my regular meals but ate sweets and carbs until I felt like I would die.
I got my period back within about four months of that appointment, and people stopped worrying so much. I was theoretically healthy, but felt like an absolute mess. I struggled to look in the mirror and wore the same few outfits because I was afraid to try on my other clothes. I cried after lunch almost every day. My stomach had no idea how to process food anymore, so I had constant stomach aches.
As my weight continued to go up, I fought it violently. I tried to go back to the same restriction I’d used the last time, but I could never manage to keep it up, and often ended up bingeing because of it, which of course made me feel worse.
Over the next two years, I tried many different ways of eating, always hoping to get back to the tiny, sick little body I had at the start of junior year. Whole foods, sugar free, gluten free, low carb, low fat. Nothing made me skinny, nothing helped my stomach aches, and everything led me to overeat to the point of sickness.
After senior year, I went back to the nutritionist I had seen years before and was given a maintenance meal plan, which went through several developments until it became a balanced series of three meals and three snacks daily, along with two weekly “spontaneous meals,” which were essentially cheat times. These were allotted to keep me from missing out on spontaneous outings with friends and things like that.
For a while, this worked really well for me. I think meal plans can be so incredibly helpful, and are important for anyone who lacks hunger signals or is unsure “how” to eat. It provides a baseline to ensure adequate nutrition. It takes a load off of your mind if you embrace it. Mine worked for me for a while, giving me an idea of how much food my body regularly needed. But it was still limiting. It began to make me feel restricted. I worried constantly about getting the right combination of macronutrients in my college dining hall. I waiting anxiously for my evening snack after dinner, but was afraid to eat it in case I needed to stay up later or if someone suggested going out. And I still felt desperately hungry for every meal. I practically ran from class to lunch. I ate way too fast and felt awful after every meal. It didn’t occur to me that it would be “okay” to deviate from the meal plan until a conversation with a counselor. We were talking about how it’s good to be able to hear from your doctor that you are healthy, but it is better to already know it for yourself. In the same way, it is good to have a meal plan to make sure your diet is nutritionally sound, but eventually, it is ideal to live without one.
I had heard about intuitive eating before, but I had known I wasn’t ready to try it myself. I also kept holding on to the idea that I could lose weight if I tried hard enough. I started to consider, though, that even if I could do that, I would have to keep trying that hard for as long as I wanted to stay that size (presumably, forever). Already, going to the gym was taking up a considerable amount of my time, time I knew I could be using to make friends, study, or work on my creative pursuits. This made me question if it was worth it. After reading all about how diets do not work, about health at every size, and about eating freely, I finally decided to jump in. I bought the book, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, and resolved to follow the principles she provided in order to find a body that I could maintain without sacrificing my life or peace of mind.
I want to keep a public record here, both to keep myself accountable, and to show others the possibilities of a life without restriction, food anxiety, and self hate. I have a lot of faith in this program, and I can’t wait to see what it can do for me.
Here goes nothing.