*If you struggle with an eating disorder, please read this with caution, or don’t read this one at all.*
I can tell you the exact number of calories in a venti iced caramel macchiato with non-fat milk and very light ice from Starbucks. I can also tell you the exact number of calories in a skinny peppermint mocha because I like to treat myself during the holidays. I can tell you the number of calories in a bowl of turkey chili, a bowl of vegetable soup, and even a cup of french onion soup from Panera Bread. I can tell you the number of calories in a 6 count grilled nugget entree from Chick-fil-a and the calories in their small fruit cup too.
One thing I can’t tell you, however, is when I began to look at eating as punishment.
At the beginning of 2015, I set a goal for myself, lose enough weight that I’d feel comfortable at a concert I was going to in July. At the end of 2015, I was making myself sick in the bathroom of a restaurant in Los Angeles.
I also can’t pinpoint the exact moment that things began to slip out of my control, but I can tell you that in that bathroom in LA, I didn’t think I had a problem. Even now, typing this, I’ve erased and started over 3 times…the truth is…I’m still not convinced.
The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with eating, however, it is the longest.
Anorexia, by definition, is an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. If you go by that definition alone, I suppose I deserve the diagnosis…the words ‘obsessive desire’ and ‘refusing to eat’ have become synonymous with my name at this point. However, when you look at photos of people living with the disease and hear their stories, I don’t quite fit the bill, at least physically.
If I look at the last 24 months of my life, I can tell you that I’ve become obsessed with numbers. As someone who hates math and thrives off of literature, it’s been a shock to my system. I’ve downloaded calorie monitoring apps on my phone, exercised mental math in the line of fast food places or at tables at restaurants. I’ve perfected my photographic memory so I don’t look at the menu for too long, taking care of all the subtracting and adding and dividing in my mind.
So yeah, I guess obsessive desire sums up the way I’ve been living a lot more properly than I would like to admit.
The word anorexia first got brought up, in terms of my health, a few months ago when I visited my doctor’s office. I’d been feeling out of control, I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around anything but calories or a lack of them. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting people other than myself until I met a friend at Barnes and Noble, and my son, without thinking twice, told her that all I ate were pickles and apples.
My doctor, who has become a friend of sorts to me, looked at me with almost gratitude when I said the word and then told me she couldn’t bring it up unless I was willing to, but that she’d been worried about me for months. I remember laughing at her, months…how could she know what was going on in my head for months when I didn’t even realize it had become a problem?
She wasn’t talking about what was going on in my mind, she was talking about the way my body looked and that, to me, was even funnier.
It just made no sense that she saw a girl who was thin, borderline too thin for her height when I saw someone who could stand to lose 50 more lbs. It didn’t make sense that she saw my bone structure where I still saw fat and it made no sense at all that she thought I was beautiful 10 lbs ago when I hadn’t thought of myself as beautiful, quite possibly, ever.
I take photos of myself once a day, I used to post them on social media just as often, it wasn’t because I felt pretty (maybe once a month it was). It was, however, because I wanted to check my bone structure from day to day, see if my cheekbones looked the same or to punish myself for the extra calories I would take in that would make them less prominent. It’s hard to look at yourself every day and only see things you would change. It’s even harder when no one else gets it.
I’m not saying that for pity, or to draw in sympathy. I genuinely feel that I’ve never been the kind of girl that just…embodies beauty. I have friends who are beautiful, gorgeous even, and I’ve seen someone so stunning that my breath sort of got taken away from me, but I’m not one of those girls.
My nose is too big, my face isn’t structured enough, my hair isn’t long enough. My collarbones don’t stick out enough and my shoulders are too broad. My teeth aren’t straight enough and my lips aren’t full. I could write a list of all the things that I see wrong with me every day. My doctor says since I can do that, and because I see someone so much different than she sees, that I also have BDD.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder, also known as, the most confusing, painful, and annoying thing I’ve ever dealt with in the entirety of my life. I say this because those who suffer from BDD don’t understand that they have it, and we don’t understand why people see us as so much differently than we actually are. It’s confusing, it’s hard to accept, and it’s hard to live with because you never know who you can trust.
Do you trust yourself, do you trust who you see in the mirror? Or do you trust the people who tell you that you’re all of these things you don’t see yourself?
I again, don’t bring this up for pity or to ask for sympathy, I bring it up – and I’m using this month’s blog post to talk about it – because February houses eating disorder awareness week and I had to say something.
If you see me, especially in the last month or so, you wouldn’t think that I was sick (again, another reason it’s hard for me to admit that I am). Knowing the holidays were upon us and that I’d be spending more time with family, I upped my calorie intake. Then I got really upset about something, decided I was striving for perfection that I didn’t deserve, and upped my calorie intake even more. I’ve gained some weight since my lowest point in 2016, which has added to the pounds I have left to lose, but I don’t look sick. I don’t look frail. I don’t look like someone who is struggling.
A lot of people who suffer from eating disorders don’t understand that they’re sick, or they don’t say anything about it, simply because, they don’t see it. It’s hard to know you’re getting too thin when you see yourself as someone who needs to lose 30 more pounds to fit into that pair of jeans, or that dress, or that swimsuit, or even just to be thin enough to exist at all.
People ask me often, in what I think are attempts to help, “If you’re fat then what am I?” and it’s the most painful question I get asked at all. My need for perfection, to be so thin that people look at me and know that I worked hard to be so small, has nothing to do with anyone at all, nothing to do with anyone else. I have friends who are a size 0 and a size 18. I have never, and will never, push my need to be thin on anyone else. So when I say that I’m overweight, it means nothing in terms of how I see you. This is the case for people who struggle with eating, it’s never about anyone else.
In typing all of this out, there’s clearly a lot that I don’t know. I don’t know how to admit that I have anorexia when I think I’m just strict on my calories. I don’t know how to admit that I binge when I think I just punish myself for not being thin enough. I don’t know how to admit that I don’t see what everyone else sees when they look at me because I’m the one who knows my body best. I don’t know how to think about anything but these numbers and these calories and these jean sizes and these pounds.
I do, however, know that life is so much more than numbers, and I pray for a day that they mean nothing to me again.
If you are, or if you know someone who is, struggling with an eating disorder, please know that every single story is different. Just because someone responds to tough love doesn’t mean everyone does. Just because someone got told that they were scaring someone, doesn’t mean they can change overnight. Just because someone talks about their eating disorder doesn’t mean they’re begging for attention, and just because someone takes photos every day doesn’t mean they’re conceited.
Eating disorders steal more than just your self-image, they help ruin relationships, they steal pieces of your mind and your personality and they manipulate what they can’t take away. One day you’re feeling good and you’ve seemingly got the world at your feet, and the next day, you can’t remember what good ever felt like and you’re alone – looking at the world around you but feeling like it is miles away.
The saving grace, for me, is that I have a sweet tiny human that I have to protect, and he’s the love of my life, and one day…I hope…that I’ll be able to throw my hair in a messy bun, forget my eyelashes and contour, put on a t-shirt and shorts and just exist in happiness with him. My biggest dream for this eating disorder, or this strict calorie intake, or whatever it should be called, is that I’ll look back at it as something I went through and won.
Maybe one day, but for now, I only feel attractive when I’m starving.