Numbers are very defining to an Eating Disorder. No matter how bad you may want recovery, if you suddenly have to go up a pant size, all bets are off and ED is back to controlling your actions. When in treatment, I took recovery very seriously—I was doing pretty well and for that reason I was afraid to go shopping; what if I don’t fit into the same size clothes?
Shopping during recovery:
I decided to grab three sizes (I knew my roundabout number). Without looking at the tags, and making sure I did not WATCH myself in the mirror as I was putting them on—I changed clothes until the right pair fit. Then I bought the most comfortable ones WITHOUT checking the number on the inside. “It doesn’t matter because these look the best on me” I repeated to myself.
Before going shopping:
Goals during ED’s reign over me: Buy the smallest size. Buy the sexiest belly shirt. Keep these in my closet in order to motivate myself to lose weight and work to look like the skinny models that wear them.
Goals during recovery: Search pinterest for models/actresses with REAL bodies (tweak the wording to find different size beauties ex: plus size, curves, real bodies). I discovered so many celebrities with sexy bodies that were not a size 0. (After finding women I admired I started searching specifically for them and copying their style)
(Below: Kelly Brook, Iskra Lawrence)
Honestly, I have no idea if their figures were bigger/smaller or the same as mine, I just know that they inspired me to be proud of my shape just the way it is. They accentuated their best features instead of focusing on bones the way my ED always wanted to.
I made collages of these woman and hung them up on my mirror.
I also made collages of things I wanted in my future, things that only a life without ED could give me.
Grab a small mirror and spend lots of time on your make up and hair. Focusing solely on your face, as to not get distracted with your body.
I would carefully curl my lashes, paint on my cat-eyes, and line my lips. I pampered myself until I genuinely smiled and felt beautiful. Then I threw on my clothes. I took a quick glance in the full length mirror and tried to focus only on that smile.
Make a List of Go-To outfits:
Getting dressed with ED can be really difficult. I took hours and I changed clothes every 5 minutes. Whenever I thought I was happy with how I looked, he would point out an imperfection that forced me into changing again. Truthfully: ED was full of shit–when you stare at something long enough, your bound to find a flaw. Therefore, I devote all that wasted time and effort coordinating the outfit I want to wear before it goes on me. Trust your style! They are your clothes after all (and get help from those pictures you’ve pinned).
The trouble is that this is not always realistic. Sometimes we get caught up trying to make sure we look okay, and spend a little too much time analyzing. Suddenly before we know it, we are getting badgered by ED.
That’s when I turn to PLAN B:
Lay down. Take a deep breath. Distract yourself with a show or texting a friend. After ten minutes throw on a GO-TO OUTFIT.
What’s a GO-TO outfit? These are outfits that you’ve worn in the past that you’ve been complimented on; that you’ve found yourself attractive in; that you’ve actually managed to smile about when looking at yourself in the mirror. Write every single detail of this outfit down and DO NOT question how you felt last time you wore it. Throw it on and walk out the door.
My only disclaimer is that you have to be VERY committed to recovery. Do not get tempted by ED when he tries to lure you in (checking the tag inside your pants, scrolling through social media) Be proactive.
I spent last night drowning in self-pity. I was angry, embarrassed and ashamed of my eating disorder. I called it “disgusting.” Why did this have to happen to me; why is it still happening!?
That’s crap. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I’m not saying it’s not okay to fall apart. Everyone has hardships, and crying about how difficult it is does not make someone a weak person. The difference here is that I was questioning my life and judging an uncontrollable illness. Of course I do not want an eating disorder, but no one knows what cross they will bear. It’s ok to cry when life gets rough, but I was only focusing on the bad.
I was angry. And I’m torn about that emotion because everyone tells me I should feel angry sometimes, but why? Feeling anger is a slippery slope. In this case, like many others, it assigns blame. “Poor me” because of what so and so did. In this case, my ED. And who was I blaming for having an ED? Life? So I was angry at life? That’s not okay.
Today I woke up, initially embarrassed for having fell apart to my boyfriend. What if I lose Rob over this? I started to panic. Then I remembered my dream last night:
I was dating someone named Kevin, but had been calling him Rob for the duration of our relationship lol. He never corrected me because he thought it was cute (weird) but even dream ME knew it was because I’m only in love with one person and it’s Rob.Believe it or not that’s what made me realize I need to stop drowning in self-pity and pointing fingers at life for what it dealt me. I needed tough love.
What if I lose Rob… What if this….What if… What if… What if…
What do I have right now in this moment? I have a wonderful boyfriend that loves me. I have my family. I have the experience of treatment behind me. I have overcome mountains and tackled many fears I had about life. I am thankful to continue down this road with the knowledge I need when things get hard. I have my emotions and the ability to express them: laughter, adoration, gratitude, pride, generosity, compassion, love.
(Below is a tattoo I got– my grandmother’s handwriting to remind me of what I have)
What about the emotion of Anger? I only need anger to show me when I am being treated unfairly. But, that’s a very specific purpose. It takes two seconds to make that sort of realization. And then I can let go of the anger.
Without anger, I could not recognize that a co-worker acts the way I acted last night every single day. She self-pities and what-ifs and convinces me how hard she has it. I really believe that surrounding myself with someone with these beliefs had an effect on my psychology.
I started questioning if she was right about life. I didn’t know how to react to her opinions..
“I should feel bad for her. I’m a bad person because I judge her sometimes. I want to yell “cut it out, it could be worse!” … Does that make me apathetic? MaybeI would be just as ungrateful in her situation. I wasn’t dealt her hand in life. What if these things happen to me and what if I can’t handle it. Is something going to happen to me now…
STOP. Rre-evaluate this situation:
Anyone can drown in self-pity.
Let’s take someone else, perhaps with a similar situation (there are many people who have gone through hardships in life). And yet they wake up everyday and manage to smile. You would never know all the things they go through. They genuinely ask others how their days are going. They appreciate the big things: like what family they may have left, a roof over their heads. They take notice to the small things: like the beauty outside, the laugher of others. They may cry and breakdown, even get angry sometimes, but they always pull it back together. Empathizing is okay, but pitying someone is not. A strong person will appreciate compassion, but will never ask for pity.
And so, if my co-worker is asking for pity I have every right to walk away from the situation. She is reminding me of old fears about life. But I don’t like the person I am when allowing those anxieties back in! I don’t want to be afraid of life! And, I need to gently remind myself, that does not take away from my compassion as a person, but merely adds to my strength as a fighter.
Today, I gave myself a pep talk when I woke up. I know my situation isn’t as bad as I made it seem last night. But I had built up a lot of very real emotions inside me: frustration, confusion and (fleeting) hopelessness (have faith, always find your way back to it in lost moments). Therefore, I forgive myself for the breakdown. Today, I have to go to work and face the person that is angry at life and I don’t want to. I cannot just walk away from her (I’ve tried).
I made the realization that perhaps she influenced my way of thinking because it reminds me of old habits and anxieties.
I don’t want to have any pent-up anger, and I really don’t want to be surrounded by that way of thinking especially if I am clearly affected by it.
I don’t want someone talking about life as if it such a bad place. (I have to live here too!) I am grateful for it, and anyone can be, even those with hardships.
I am a stronger person after last night. And in choosing strength, I have to let go of badmouthing life and myself. I will not be embarrassed or ashamed for how I acted last night—I am human. But, I can commit to change. I am stronger today. And I am grateful for everything I have in this moment.
I was sitting in my car outside of work, sobbing. My mom was in the driver seat watching me fall apart.
We both knew I needed to get out and go to work. I was already late. We knew I needed to pull myself together.
But every time I wiped my tears, more would come. I was exhausted. Before finally getting out of the car, I said
“I have to do something different…”
I’ve said those words countless times over the last few years regarding my Eating Disorder.
That morning, I had binged and purged relentlessly. It was ongoing from the night before. And this had been a cycle I got stuck in for the last 3 months. I hadn’t experienced a lapse this bad since the dreaded act had crept into my life 6 years prior. (My ED started with restriction at 17, but I didn’t realize my diagnosis until the binge/purge symptoms started at 18)
(At 18): I would count the months at first: “Wow, 8 months later and I still have an eating disorder. I need to do something different.”
I’d buy books, I got a job, I went to therapy.
Before I knew it, I was counting each year that passed: “My twenty second birthday, and I still have a problem. I really do have to do something different.”
I went through new therapists, I went back to school, I was put on medication.
(At 22): All my efforts seemed to be paying off. I didn’t restrict for days on end anymore. I didn’t stay in to binge and purge on nights my friends were going out. I was experiencing milestones with my anxiety and accomplishing goals that I set for myself with my body.
I began to go days without binging and purging. Pretty soon I was going weeks—
2 weeks to be exact.
I would eat healthy and exercise during that time. But as soon as those two weeks were up, I’d slip back into binging and purging. It was a vicious cycle that I felt tied to. Each time I climbed out of the binging and purging, I would say THIS IS IT: THAT’S THE LAST TIME I PURGE. I didn’t anticipate another lapse. In fact, I worked my ass off to push through that 2-week check point. Why couldn’t I do it? I wanted recovery so bad.
Finally, Halloween 2014 (The evening that started my 3 month tailspin)
I felt like I had accomplished my goal. I was still purging, but only on rare occasions.
I could keep some of my “unhealthy” foods in my tummy (that is, if the guilt didn’t force it back up)
I was very close to eliminating the binging (which is the part of my ED that I hated most of all).
And I wasn’t restricting (I didn’t go days without eating and only replaced some meals with a very hardy protein shake).
I looked in the mirror October 31, 2015. I was in my Princess Leia costume and I looked great. I had finally reached my goal of lean muscle and losing weight—oh yeah, right, and recovering, too.
Then I ate dinner.
I ate a salad. It caused indigestion–“why did I use all that dressing!?” It caused bloating–“I should have picked something that digests faster!”
(Looking back of course, the real reason my stomach hurt was related to how little I had been eating those last few weeks. The acid from the dressing hurt my stomach because I had recently purged. And I’m sure some of it was mental, and some of it is unknown. Stomach problems are magnetic when it comes to having a relationship with ED).
Relax, it’ll pass–I said to myself. Fighting for recovery was really important to me. I hate ED and all the things he makes me do.
The boys are on their way to pick us up.
“Crap! Do something to get rid of this feeling… Exercise!”
I started doing crunches with weights until I could feel my abs burning. Adrenaline coursing through my veins as I kept thinking: “I have to look good. I have to look good.”
I stood up and that indigestion/boating feeling was still in my stomach.
“Fuck it, I’ll just do it this once. I’m wearing a belly shirt in public, after all. And I really need to go through with this. Wearing this costume is one of my goals.”
I purged. But, I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again (as I always did).
I was so proud of my body. And yet, still insecure. I had to keep body checking and I absolutely HAD to wear stockings because my thighs jiggled.
Fast forward to crying in the parking lot. Halloween was the last time I actually felt good about my body (if you even call that feeling good).
I thought I was on the brink of recovery. The scariest part is how well I THOUGHT I was doing at that time.
That night spiraled me into 3 months of binging and purging—which was, without a doubt, a godsend. If I didn’t feel the helplessness I experienced through this horrific lapse, I would never have realized how sick I was. My thoughts were consumed by ED. And most of my eating disordered actions were completely ignorant to me. I was only working to rid myself of the obvious symptoms (binging/purging and starving myself). But, I was still tied to the symptoms because they gave me the easy out when I needed to feel good.
And I would have never finally said to my mom: “I need to do something different… I want to go to treatment.”
I wish I could take you step by step thought what treatment did for me, and all the things I learned. It truly granted me freedom. And although I’m not ED free, I have the tools to combat him.
“I have an ED, but I don’t really restrict. I eat,” I thought as I entered treatment.
“I want to lose weight and my eating disorder makes it very difficult for me because I end up binging and purging and messing up all my hard work. This place will teach me how to lose weight the healthiest way.
I’m not like the other girls here. They will need to gain weight because they can’t see how thin they are, but I’m definitely at a healthy weight and my weight loss goals are realistic”
I was weighed by my assigned nutritionist immediately.
She told me that I was a ‘healthy weight’ (I was a little disappointed even though I anticipated that. I just wished I was thinner). She wanted me to stay at that weight.
I started to panic. “Are you kidding, I’m in an eating disorder facility. If I don’t need to GAIN weight, then I’ve clearly failed. At least let me lose weight so I can be happy.”
But I want to be subordinate. I want to be here. How do I put this?
“I was really hoping I could lose, like, 5 pounds.” I said meekly (and I was compromising)
She clearly saw how bad I wanted recovery. And I wasn’t asking for anything crazy.
She looked at me for a little while. Her response, so simple:
“When you get there, would that be enough?”
She sparked a chain reaction in my brain: the last 6 years of my life all mapped out by my weight
**(I’m using ridiculous numbers. There’s no need to put real lbs. The actual weight is not the focal point. Focus on how much and why these numbers fluctuated over the course of 7 years.)**
When my ED started, my goal was 12 lbs. Then, after a brief celebration of accomplishing that, my goal became 8 lbs.
Binging and purging among other things sent my weight up a bit,
Feeling disgusting and ashamed, the goal is to lose X amount of pounds.
I exceed that goal. But I wasn’t as unhealthy as when my ED started. I totally know how to eat and exercise to lose weight without starving myself. I could be a pro.
Now I’m back to my goal being 12.
Binging and Purging sends it up,
Goal weight: 14.
And so on and so forth,
Reflecting on that, I’m staring back at my nutritionist as she waits for an answer. And to be perfectly honest: “No, it wont be enough.”
You see, all this time I thought I wasn’t restricting. But, while I was attempting to “recover” by myself, I had a conflicting goal of desperately needing to lose weight.
I was asked in an interview before treatment: Do you restrict? To which, I responded “No.” What the interviewer should have asked was:
“When was the last time you ate white bread without purging?”
—“7 years ago”
“How often do you accept sweets?”
—“God, never. Unless I plan on purging after.”
“Can you eat just one cookie?
—“I can have the INTENTION of eating just one, but it will inevitably turn into the whole box. So, I’d rather avoid them, as well as many other foods.”
“Do you have a “binge/puge” list of foods and an “everyday” list of foods?”
—“Hmm, yeah, I guess I do. But the binge/purge foods don’t count when I’m talking to others. They are all accidental mess-ups.”
“If you eat anything outside of what you deem ‘healthy,’ what is the result?”
— “The inability to stop thinking about food. Perhaps purging. And endless guilt.”
“What’s usually the deciding factor when you are choosing a meal at a restaurant?”
Those are just a handful of ways ED tricks us into thinking we are not restricting. My answers don’t necessarily have to mimic yours, but if you suffer with ED you will see similarities.
Alas, the mysterious cycle was resolved. What caused the binging and purging episodes as I attempted recovery by myself: restriction!
The best decision I ever made was going to treatment (I’m sure I will write a whole ‘nother article on that: I could give you 1,0001 reasons why I’m forever grateful to Renfrew).
It taught me so much about myself: how to shut down ED, how to have real confidence, how to counter the idea that ‘I need to lose weight,’ and most importantly how to be a badass in this fight for self-love and recovery.
And although I am still working on these things, I have the knowledge and coping skills I need (and amazing people who can relate to me in ways I never thought possible).
I love writing, sometimes I don’t know what to write about. I decided to go on this tangent because I want to share the love I have for those who experience the struggles/successes that I did and do. The binging and purging is an obvious issue that we usually want to put an end to (but never be ashamed, it is an illness that many share, and your story will inspire others to work towards recovery, even if you are still in the process of ridding it).
But the constant body checking, and fear of being fat/undesirable;
The (short-lived) satisfaction of reaching a number on the scale, as well as the worthlessness you feel when going above that number;
The tiny high you have when your reflection rewards you, and then having it ripped out from underneath you after a simple meal or night’s rest;
Competing with yourself to eat less than the day before;
Using ‘nutritious’ drinks, or the lowest calorie meal to fill the hunger you feel. Or ignoring hunger cues completely (especially when out and about, distracted with friends);
The lingering sting of comments made by peers about your image, comparing yourself to others in the room, feeling judged each time you do or don’t reach for food.
Life isn’t meant to be lived in this way.
No mirror or meal should be feared. No person should be adorned for their bones or shamed for their body.
Life is short and meant for so much more. Let us work towards that together.
And I am so grateful for every moment of my journey (all 7 years of it—even the struggles you may be going through now) because it got me here. I know what I want out of life, and I am here living it.
“You’re not super-skinny, but you’re not, like, fat”
I think that was supposed to be a compliment.
A friend said this to me earlier today. In the past, ED would have encouraged me to use symptoms after a comment like this
I would have drowned in self-loathing because someone doesn’t think I’m skinny, and skinny=pretty. Not to mention she hesitated before saying fat… so she definitely thinks I’m a cow.
Today I laughed. I laughed because bodies change and mine has been through way too much for a label. Because I couldn’t believe how little I cared what she thought. I was feeling a mixture of shock and pride for feeling so little.
I was too busy thinking about something else.
I was at work when this happened. Moments earlier one of the mothers was dropping off her toddler to my class. She is pregnant with her second baby and today she was glowing. I admire kind people and good moms. She is one of those people.
I was thinking about my future, and hoping I’d be like her someday. I was daydreaming about being pregnant. And I wasn’t letting ED get sucked into worrying about how anyone judged my body. That felt like a recovery win.
I wish that the word ‘fat’ could be eliminated from other people’s vocabulary. Fat is considered an insult. God forbid we are ever tagged in a photo that makes us look ‘fat.’ FAT is the important substance protecting all of our organs. HELLO we need fat. But that definition doesn’t change the way people interpret being called ‘fat.’ That word, along with many others, can really fuel eating disorders.
I still remember my best friend at 17 telling me, “be careful, you’re getting fat.”
I am still good friends with her today, and I’m sure she doesn’t remember this moment like I do. But then again, I was in the midst of developing an ED. And she had just struck the fear of God in me. I was changing after eating a meal together, and didn’t give a second thought to how I looked until she spoke. I had been losing weight consistently. I thought I looked skinny. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t get my clothes on fast enough.
“I know,” a very naive 17 year old me agreed in response. She must be right if she called me out like that.
To this day I wonder if words like that helped to fuel my body dysmorphia.
Words can really sting.
My weapon against this is having my own voice.
(I know it isn’t as simple as words, but If they can hurt enough to fuel eating disorders and body dysmorphia, then I can see the importance of “self-talk.”)
24 year old ME would have responded this way: “That was really judgmental. I have to eat every meal because I have an Eating Disorder. So thank you, but I didn’t ask.”
I am also not the most confident dresser. As much as I love my style, the action of putting clothes on can be challenging(#EDproblems). However, I have lived by the saying: “fake it till you make it.” SO THEN, I’d also throw in:
“Besides, I think I look smoking hot.” (Even if I don’t fully believe it).
Most people who make ignorant judgements aren’t bad people, they just need a new outlook. I initially want to rip their throats out, but that wouldn’t help.
By choosing to ignore negativity and try to build up my own self-esteem regardless of other people’s standards, I hope to make a difference.
My dream is that self-love becomes real and stomps out poor body image. That the ‘everybodyisbeautiful’ movement replaces all the diet fads.
Ultimately, that’s why I post what I write.
But, besides spreading awareness, writing helps to take away the sting that some words leave. This entry helps remind myself how far I’ve come, the vast difference between the voices I choose to listen to now (voices like iamiskra, nourishandeat and lindseyhallwrites), and to also commend myself for being one of those voices in my own small world.
This weekend was so much fun for me. I did things that I was so proud of; things I had said no to in the past; things I was afraid to do because of my eating disorder. But, in the moment I thought the fun was worth the fear.
What could I possibly have to fear while doing a slip and slide, you ask?
Well, I was already experiencing a huge recovery win not only by publicly wearing my bathing suit, but also eating in my bathing suit.
“A slip and slide?” ED asked in disgust, “You’ll be running in your bikini? You’ll be jiggling everywhere, and not in the good places. And what if your top or bottom slide off? You think you’ve tricked these people into thinking your attractive, wait until they see your real body.”
I’ve heard this all before. Every time a fun summer activity was mentioned. Everyone around me would get so excited, and I would be listening to ED in a panic. The words would get louder and meaner as he relentlessly repeated them.
This weekend, when his horrid voice started, I shut him down. “I’m in!” I said with a smile. My best friend and I shot each other a supportive glance—an anxious but genuine grin, as if we were about to bungee jump (funny how ED can create such fear around trivial things, that’s why its important to have someone who understands the magnitude of these victories).
The game began.
In my friends words “it was one big blur.”
One big blur of spraying water, sliding, falling and laughing, high fives, and checking to make sure my bikini was still in place (it was-so suck it ED), and then my only thought was to flip that solo cup as fast as I could so I could watch the next person slide.
I don’t know if I jiggled, if my rolls showed, if there was a wedgie while I was sliding. The videos taken showed me two things though: I flopped like a dead fish, and I was laughing the whole time. I was genuinely happy.
I wasn’t standing on the sidelines with ED hovered over both my shoulders. I was ME.
And then I played a water game of kick ball. Where I went sliding through oiled up tarps to get to our kiddy pool bases.
The following day, July 4th was more mellow. I lounged by the pool with my boyfriend, again in my bathing suit. I say this with hope, and some uncertainty: it gets easier to fight ED’s negative voice after you’ve shut him down before.
Nonetheless, I still expect that his voice will sneak up on me occasionally—a lesson I’ve learned time and time again—so I do not let my guard down in situations that I know to be triggering. ED can be sneaky.
A few other friends showed up, and I kept a cool head while walking around in my bathing suit. As the evening BBQ began, everyone around me was eating grilled chicken. Here comes ED: he wanted me to eat the chicken because it is the healthiest choice. I wanted a cheese burger. “Of course you’re going to ask for the greasiest food, you fatso,” I was literally being made fun of before even asking the cook. It would be easier to have what he is serving, but in the past ED would be so excited grilled chicken was my only option and I didn’t like that ED was getting his way.
I struggled to work up the courage to ask for the burger. I even struggled with knowing if a burger was a good idea since it used to be a “binge-food.”
Binge-foods used to only be eaten in privacy, when I am alone and drowning in self-loathing. They are the foods ED deems off-limits when I am around others because they make me look fat and disgusting.
Recovery has proven that this way of thinking is a lie. No particular food can make me fat, and every food can be enjoyed in moderation. It is nonsensical to prohibit food from touching my plate while with others, knowing full well that the deprivation will cause binges later.
So today, during my July 4th barbecue ED has confused me. Am I eating my old binge-food just to prove a point that I can, or am I asking for it because I genuinely want it?
Seems so complex, right?
The sole question I need to ask when things get convoluted is: what does my taste prefer, and what does my ED prefer?
The decision was made for me because there were no burgers left, lol. But, I was proud of myself for asking, and I did realize I didn’t actually want the chicken out of taste preference. It’s delicious, but grilled chicken is a safe food that I eat often. So, to spice it up I made myself a bowl of salad with some craisins and a little creamy dressing. In conclusion, I had an awesome dinner.
If it had been a cheese burger: I would have had it with ketchup on a white bun. Eaten slowly, and thoroughly enjoyed it. “Binges/binge-foods/fear-foods” are words from my past that ED likes to throw around and confuse me. I need to remember to trust myself.
A pretty victorious weekend. It was filled with all the things I’ve always looked forward to during my journey through recovery: saying yes, eating with others, asking for what I want, and finally instead of being stuck inside my head with insecurities and ED, I was able to really enjoy the people around me, the activities, the conversations and the laughs. These times don’t come completely free of anxiety, but I powered through it well and that’s all I can hope to do.
Today is Tuesday, my first day back to the real world. I am alone in my room waiting for my work week to start and I am a bit nervous.
Coming down from a fun-filled and successful weekend of trumping ED, sometimes means he comes back swinging. I don’t have my supports surrounding me, or an abundance of plans to look forward to. I picture him smiling at me like Cheshire cat in Alice In Wonderland. He never really went away all weekend, but he disappeared a little and now he’s coming back to life with that little grin on his face, kinda following me around as I walk around my house.
Things like journaling, art, Pilates, playing games usually keep him at bay. I just have to motivate myself to keep up the coping skills, and then the next day is usually easier. Today, I wrote this article, and hopefully there will be more to come.