There have been times in my life when I have battled with anorexia, binge eating, and other food related issues. I want to share my story because I know others, especially young women, struggle with this too. And it isn’t talked about because there’s a stigma associated with it, and those who’ve struggled, carry a tremendous amount of shame and guilt about it . I hope that by being open with my story, it will comfort others who’ve been through something similar and let them know they are not alone.
I was a healthy, athletic kid. Maybe a little chunkier than my friends, but it didn’t get in my way. Clothes fit me fine and I was content with my body. Honestly, I was too busy playing, riding bikes, swimming, and dancing to really focus on it.
When I approached the teenage years, there was more emphasis on looks and “image” and fitting in. Friends started to vocalize what they thought about others a lot more. Everyone was critical. The insults were frequent and they were mean. I started being objectified by my body type. I was called fat and was criticized for my appearance on a frequent basis. I began to realize that others had really big opinions about my body, more than I ever did. It was hard for me to understand. That’s when I started to really struggle. I was 13.
I really tried to brush off the comments. I tried to stand up for myself. None of that made me feel better though. So I thought, maybe they’re right. Maybe I do need to lose weight. I started paying attention to what I was eating, wearing, how much I was exercising, etc. And it quickly became an obsession.
By the time I was 16, I was on and off diets… slim fast, Adkins, sugar busters, whatever worked. I was eating less than 1200 calories a day, waking up everyday at 5am to do my exercise tape, and taking diet pills. I was 113 pounds. My parents were concerned. But I felt a sense of satisfaction. I had successfully lost weight and no one could call me fat or criticize my body anymore. I could just blend in.
The unhealthy diet/exercise routine was not sustainable. I was a dancer and I needed energy, so I had to increase my calories. But once I started eating again, the weight came back quickly. I was hungrier than ever. It’s like my body was making up for those years that I starved it. By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d gained back all the weight I’d lost, plus some. Nothing fit anymore. I was miserable. I didn’t feel beautiful or worthy of attention in any way. I wore baggy clothes and didn’t want to be seen by anyone.
At this point in my life, food took over and I became a slave to it. I started to binge eat. I would eat a whole bag of chips or a carton of ice cream in one sitting, and then sleep it off. I tried laxatives and diet pills and starving myself again to lose weight, but it didn’t help. I wanted to ask other people if they struggled with the same things I did, but I didn’t think anyone would understand. So I kept the yo-yo dieting and pushing down my emotions with food. This continued throughout college and into my mid-20’s. In times of lower stress, I would lose some weight. In times of high stress, I would gain some weight.
I reached a point in my mid-twenties, when I knew that I had let this obsession with food take over my life. I knew it was time to move past it and make a long-term change. I needed to do it out of genuine love for myself, not because I would only feel worthy if I my body was a certain way. So I stopped over-thinking and focused on others. I stopped counting calories. I stopped comparing myself to others. I let myself be loved for who I really was. And I slowly started to appreciate my body again.
Today, I have a whole new perspective on our bodies and what they do for us. Despite all the things I’ve put my body through, it has never failed me. It has carried three healthy children, birthed them, fed them. It has run 5Ks and half-marathon races, it has healed itself from various injuries, it continues to get me from point A to point B everyday. It is steadfast and strong.
I’m grateful that I was able to move past my obsession with food, and begin to process my feelings in a healthy way. But I realize that many are not as lucky. I often wonder what I can do to prevent something like this from happening to my daughter. She will encounter criticism about her body, there’s no way I can stop that from happening. But I can try to instill a healthy self-image so she’s more prepared for it. I can proactively talk about body image in a positive way. I can remind her it’s more important to be strong than pretty. And more important to be kind than critical. I hope we can keep an honest dialogue when she does encounter these self-defining moments so we can work through them together.
The amount of pressure put on women starts early. It’s a shame that we have to deal with so much so quickly, but in a culture that prefers women to be nice, small, and quiet, it’s not surprising. Anything outside of these norms will be criticized. Most people are uncomfortable with women being strong, outspoken and complex. I’ve experienced this firsthand, and so I’ve made it my goal in life to champion women. To give encouragement, understanding and love through the struggles.
Sometimes we are too terrified to use our voices, because we were taught to respect fear more than ourselves, but let me be clear, silence will not save us. We have to talk about the hard stuff. Its the only way we can grow into the best version of ourselves.