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I want to tell you that it is okay to ask for help. That even now I still struggle to do it myself. That just the other day, when I finally admitted to myself that the eating disorder was worsening again, that it was okay to say something.
That I must.
I want to tell you that no problem is too small to keep to yourself. That you deserve to speak for your body, and that perhaps those of us who suffer from eating disorders or other modes of self-harm have some of the toughest times asking for help because we have learned to speak with our body instead of our tongues. That we do speak, but in a language of silence when we leave the dinner table too soon, when we skip lunch, when we creep to the kitchen at midnight to fill our bodies too quickly and too guiltily, when we stow away to the bathroom after every meal–because doesn’t it feel like your eating disorder will always be there for you? That it will keep you company when you feel your worst, and no one else will get hurt but you? That you don’t have to “wear anyone down” but yourself when you feel stressed and hurt and angry and frustrated?
I am angry. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I also know I have a fantastic life, that I live day-to-day with a smile on my face, that I have so many good things going for me. But there is still that girl who needs to be listened to–the girl deep inside of me screaming and shaking the bars of a prison she feels she can never escape because I keep ignoring her, because I keep telling her to shut the hell up.
I want to tell you that you deserve to speak–because when I tell you this, I have to say it to myself, too. Because not but a day ago did I think, I shouldn’t bother people with this, I shouldn’t let them worry, I shouldn’t seem like I am trying to seek attention.
But when I awake each morning to peaceful silence while everything inside of my head screams, I drown the Rachael inside of me as I go about the day, as I hear her pounding to get out, as I carry on with my chores and work and crawl back into bed, where my chest tightens and aches and it is not until then–when I close my eyes and face myself again–that the tears emerge. Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t worry, that I shouldn’t feel concerned when I take it out on my own body, because I know I am not alone in my feelings. Someone, somewhere in the world may “have it worse” than me, people say. But how many times have I stressed to others–and to myself–that it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to speak!
WE DESERVE TO SPEAK.
I will speak because I encourage you all to speak. And as I returned home from a day of errands the other day thinking I didn’t need to tell anyone I was hurting, I realized I would never want you to do the same.
We must speak.
We must speak.
WE. MUST. SPEAK.
It is the best tool we have.
WARNING: The following content may be triggering if you feel you are not at a good place to read about another person’s experience with their eating disorder.
A wonderful reader and supporter of this blog agreed to share her eating disorder story. She has her own great blog (Carrots and [Candy] Sticks), which I am constantly reading for her quirky insight and strong, brave thoughts through her struggles with food and life. Thank you, Florence for sharing more of your story here.
It’s been about three years since my eating disorder began. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and tended to overeat especially at parties, but I was an athlete in high school and never worried too much about it. It wasn’t until I started drinking that my eating disorder began, because I would drunk-binge and feel terrible about myself. It lead me to gain a lot of weight right before college, which only got worse my freshmen year.
My first year of college I was stressed out, overwhelmed, and my eating was super unhealthy. I’d have dessert for dinner, drink too much on the weekends then eat lots of pizza, snack all day, eat lots of fried foods and no vegetables, plus eat way past the point of fullness. I thought the only way to improve my terrible eating habits was to go on a diet. I was sick of feeling lousy and being unhappy with my body and figured dieting was a step in the right direction.
I lasted three weeks on the Dukan Diet, which was majorly restrictive: no carbs or sugar, not even fruit or nuts. I lived off of soy milk, hard boiled eggs, and dry tuna. It felt good to be in control and I lost a lot of weight…until I snapped. I got so hungry in the dining hall one day and bored of the monotonous food that I binged on ice cream and cookies and bread with butter. Horrified at what I’d done and worried I’d gain all the weight back I thought I should throw up everything I ate. So I found a secluded bathroom and had my first bulimic episode. I joked about it with my parents and friends because I thought it was a one time thing and that there was no way I could actually develop an eating disorder. But over the next six months I was embedded in a terrible cycle of dieting, bingeing, purging, and starting all over again. I was vomiting two or three times a week and alcohol definitely exacerbated things. I was reluctant to admit anything was wrong because I still thought the episodes were sporadic. Plus I convinced myself that every time would be the last time and so I never got help.
Finally one day in October, after this had been going on for about six months, I realized I had a problem. When I tried to tell my parents they didn’t really understand (I had sheltered them from a lot of the disorder) and said that there must be something underlying my food issues, that eating wasn’t the real problem; stress was. And while that was true I really needed to talk to someone about my obsessive behavior around food (and find a way to stop vomiting). It ended up being my boyfriend who helped me with the vomiting. I would always confess after I vomited because I’d feel so guilty and so he asked me to start telling him before I wanted to. At first I couldn’t do it but after admitting to him once or twice that I wanted to he would sit with me until the feeling passed. He was like my buddy/built-in-babysitter.
Eventually I started realizing I didn’t have to give in to the urges to vomit. At that point I also went home for winter break. Since my house is small and my parents were home the whole time I physically couldn’t vomit anywhere. This two month span of vomit-free living was enough to break the habit for me and over the next few months I would vomit sporadically, maybe once a month, but in June I had my last spell and have not vomited in a year. Unfortunately that was not the end of my food issues. Over the next eight months I had an incredibly obsessive relationship with eating. I researched everything I could about nutrition, tried to stick to the paleo diet, but only ended up bingeing frequently (hence starting a cycle of dieting and bingeing with no purging). I tried gluten free and vegetarianism but ultimately I felt entirely lost. Every source had different information about what was “healthy” and I felt like nothing I ate was okay. That lead me to binge more, because I felt so overwhelmed and figured if nothing is healthy I might as well eat ice cream and cookies. This period of my life was terrible because I felt so confused and lonely and lost about how to nourish my body and the bingeing was uncomfortable and scary. I felt entirely out of control and really hated myself and my life. I convinced myself that the way I was eating was causing me stress and anxiety and literally making me sick, and if only I could find the “right” way to eat I’d be healthy and happy. It was so much easier to blame myself for my anxiety than admit I might have an anxiety disorder.
The turning point came when I read a book about eating disorders in the Barnes and Noble store and it said that any benefits of the special diet I thought I had to be on for health reasons were outweighed by the stress it caused my body. That really clicked for me. I was definitely doing more harm to myself by thinking gluten was evil (and then gorging myself on it after a week without it) than by eating it moderately and with a healthy attitude. And so that September I stopped dieting for good and took some time off from school. In that time I went to counseling and started an anti-anxiety medication and learned how to eat normally again without restrictions on any type of food. To give myself a little bit of structure I counted calories using an app and that was just what I needed to re-learn how to eat. Also not drinking for those few months that I was home really helped my stress levels and stopped binges prematurely (hang over binges were sometimes worse than drunk binges).
In the last six months I’ve been working to maintain a healthy relationship with food. I’ve stopped counting calories and am really trying to take it one meal at a time. I still binge sometimes, maybe three times a month, but I’m learning to eat intuitively. I wouldn’t say I have it all figured out but food no longer runs my life anymore and I’m so grateful for that. I also go to therapy twice a week which is the anchor I need, and am still on anti-anxiety medication. I also meditate and believe this combination is bringing me to my healthiest place yet. I don’t recommend the way I went about recovery. It was lonely and prolonged and I know I should’ve sought professional help awhile back. I urge you if you’re struggling to ask for help and keep asking until you find someone or something—an inpatient/outpatient support group, a mentor, anything, that helps you achieve a relationship with food that you’re proud of.
This month’s guest post is by Laura Burkett, a holistic nutrition counselor and eating psychology coach in West Michigan who works with local and national clients. I actually met Laura the summer I was learning and first experimenting with raw food. She came to speak at a nutrition workshop/seminar at Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids, and I met her in her office a few months later to discuss holistic nutrition. Even with the very few times we talked, I was very interested in what Laura did for a living so I hope you all can learn a bit about what she has to offer about intuitive eating.