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!
Restriction, binging, purging, restriction, binging, purging.
ED is sneaky.
We need an army to fight him.
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.
And one day I WILL BE FULLY ED free.