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What I Learned to Embrace After Letting Go of My Eating Disorder

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I learned about body shaming in sixth grade, when the boy I had the biggest crush on told me to “go home and take some growing pills,” because my breasts hadn’t yet developed. I did go home, but I cried to my perplexed mother instead, who encouraged me to shake it off.

This silken-haired boy with the one perfect dimple was my true love. I couldn’t get over it.

That moment was a defining one in my young life. I was transitioning. The way people viewed me was changing, and this acknowledgment became the first tendrils of confusing judgment. It was disruptive to my world, where I had played with my toy goat and dreamt of owning a kitten.

Little did I know deep inside me, flanking my panic disorder, an eating disorder was brewing. It wouldn’t rear its tenacious head until many years later, but it stuck the landing when it did.

When I was a junior in high school, my weight reached the highest it’s ever been. When I look at old pictures of myself, I am shocked by how, at any time in my history of being alive, I could be captured as a hint chubby. And it’s not to demean myself in any way, just an observation, as I have spent so much of my life thin… and painfully so.

I don’t recall how it started, but the advent of my eating disorder came on the heels of crippling anxiety. The kind you have to ride out as your body is possessed, stiff in bed, as goose bumps spring out along your skin, as you shake and cry and retch and try to be as still as possible as the tsunami overtakes you and you think you might actually die. The kind that makes you hide, that flips into action at a hair trigger. Most especially, the kind you can never ever reveal to anyone else because you fear an exorcism of sorts.

In one of my many attempts to exorcise this demon, I found myself in a therapist’s office. A famed place, where I would plunk my purse and coat down and we would skate on the very uppermost tip top of my problems and history. This therapist, a female with an encouraging smile, kept prodding me to go deeper, and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with her drive to unravel the spool of my anxiety. But before I dumped her and fled (Anxiety! Take 32!), she instructed me to get a workbook to explore my emotions. This anxiety workbook was purchased in the relative safety of a bookstore and then brought home for me to stare at with wide eyes and a lurching stomach as I fought to keep the very thing it was supposed to prevent at bay. I hid it away. To glance at its cover was to ignite the holy hellfire destined to devour me once again.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

And through it all… I was thin. These were my go-to replies: “I have a high metabolism,” “Oh, I don’t know…genetics, I guess.” “I do eat! Boy, you should see me dig in at home.” “Yes, you can take my plate now. Everything did taste wonderful.” “I guess I’m just not hungry.”

When body dysmorphia creeps in, you won’t see if coming!

I read about “Lollipop heads” as my own weight, stabilized, dipped, increased by one or two pounds, and then repeated the cycle. And I stayed this way for years, unconcerned about numbers or what I looked like in the mirror. Terrified I would never find a way to stay safe forever. To freeze time, to stop death, to stop tragedy, to stop loss and abandonment.

To stop infernal change whenever I got attached to anything, whenever truth unhinged me.

In 2007, I learned my father was going to prison because he had broken the law. During that period, a doctor casually mentioned, at a routine exam, that I had an eating disorder.

I cried, railed, metamorphosed into a knot pulled tight. Everything clenched inside my body, loath to release, unsure how. Hyper-vigilance, waiting, as they put it, “for the shoe to drop” controlled my body.

I had not known I was sick.

Relatives insisted they had been aware of it for years. “How could you not know this about yourself?” They asked as I clutched the phone, my tears making the receiver slick in my hand.

“Restrictive eating disorder,” as my psychiatrist called it. I was forced to see him as well as a nutritionist and a general doctor twice a week when my weight bottomed out. I had to eat to stay alive, but I didn’t know how. I would forever, it seemed, be in the grips of the series of traumatizing events that had been the catalyst in my life to this point, in the form of an illness that would cause eventual heart damage and continual devastating anxiety. Food was not safe to me, but an avenue to sickness, thanks to expired products in the fridge I had been exposed to as a kid; thanks to a father whose beefsteak boiling tomato face screamed at me to “Eat dammit!” while I sat in my high chair choking on my dinner and gasping to breathe. Thanks to ongoing abandonment, loss of family, thanks to moving our home 19 times before I was 21. Nothing felt safe, but food had been the only thing I could control.

I finally understood. I had finally cracked the surface.

Years of never letting up on the desire to get healthy, on the constant dissection of learning what made me sick and panicked, of gradual and then severe tie-cutting of the negative reinforcements of my own worst beliefs about myself (in the form of people). Years of redrawing boundary lines and then erasing them to redraw, redraw, redraw. Decades of therapists, prescriptions and today? I have a muffin top that amuses and delights me when I spy it spilling over the top of my pants.

So, when I read body shaming comments about a woman’s thick thighs, I cringe. When I hear chastisement of droopy breasts, I fume. I love my muffin top because I traveled dark and haunting paths to earn it. I lit the torch to my own recovery, even when I could not see the corridor, but all I knew was to “go forward.” And I kept going because my faith in myself, although smoldering, disintegrating and tenuous at times, never disappeared.

People hid things about themselves because they are paralyzed at the prospect of hearing judgment, because they don’t have the tools to heal, because they don’t know such tools exist, because they are cowed into accepting mistreatment. People hide things because echoes of laughter resound in their head from times when they were vulnerable and didn’t know how to protect themselves. Because these memories plague them as proof they can be weak, and so, they can be eliminated and forgotten as if they had never existed. Because they compete with the famous and perfect, because they wonder at their resilience to survive senseless loss. People hide things and it chews them up one bite at a time as they search for the answer to safety in a mangled, questing state. People hide things because their childhood is a pulsing mass of pain, because they are beaten into blaming themselves for events out of their control.

But I want to urge, that instead of hiding, help. Instead of shrinking, enlarge and speak. Embrace. Hold tight to the people around you who are determined to set you free and who love nothing more than to uplift you. But most vitally, hold tight to yourself and all your parts as you release the bindings of trauma, as you release the diseased root, the source of your pain. And then celebrate every bit of you…the powerful and the unsure… And if you are in recovery from an eating disorder, then especially, celebrate your wondrous, bulging, breathtaking muffin top.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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To My Daughter, Who Walked In on Me Judging My Body

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Daughter, I failed you today.

I’ve been a hypocrite. You may only be 3, but I work every day to teach you that your body is your own. Your body is more than the size it takes up or the shape it’s formed into. I want you to know your body is something so much more than something to be looked at and judged. I want you to always hear my voice in your head telling you your beauty and worth are in your spirit, your words, your kindness and actions. I want you to echo that out into the world to other women.

I know I am your greatest influence. I know how you view your worth and your body may ultimately come from me.

As I refused to eat the dessert at the Christmas party because “it’ll go straight to my gut,” I let you down. When I commented on a woman’s appearance on the TV, complimenting how great she looked after weight loss, I messed up. Today, as I stood in the mirror, half-clothed, crying, thinking about how uncomfortable I was in my own skin, I failed.

But I didn’t remember that until your beautiful face came in, until your little arms hugged me. You grabbed me right on the stomach I had just wished away. You ran your fingers over the stretch marks I try so hard to hide. You looked me right in my puffy, tear-filled eyes and said, “Pretty Momma!”

Most days I am confident with how I look and how I feel, but I worry I may never be able to completely banish those thoughts about my flaws and imperfections. I know every time you catch me focusing on my physical insecurities, you learn a lesson that could hurt you or force you into this battle I face.

I want more for you. I know I can’t protect you from the messages you receive from the outside world. I know life is messy and you will struggle to understand or see your worth.

I will treat my body like my friend. I will practice self-forgiveness. I will practice gratitude. I will use not only my voice but my actions to teach you through example that you are beautiful and worthy and whole, just as you are. I failed today. I will do better, for you. And for me. Because as you grab my body, the same body I cried over moments before, I see through your eyes. You see me just as I am: beautiful and worthy. And I remember it, too.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Why Christmas Is Hard Even Though I'm 'Recovered' From My Eating Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When you’ve had an eating disorder in the past and people are aware of this fact, you are no longer protected in that safety blanket of the unknown. People now have suspicions. They are more aware. They know you once suffered and are now tracking every move you make, every bite you consume. There’s no hiding it now. They know and you can’t take this back. This is the scariest thing about recovery. The raw revealing of yourself. Your entire thoughts and battles on show for everyone to stare at. This is what makes Christmas so hard as a person in eating disorder recovery.

You can no longer pass off not eating the cake because you’re a little full or you’ve already ate. You can’t make up a believable excuse as to why you’re exercising nonstop. It’s not to be healthy or to practice for a sports tryout. Refusing a meal is no longer simply overlooked, it’s scrutinized and studied.

But the thing is, when you’re “recovered” people expect you to reintegrate into the normal family unit. It isn’t about food anymore. Now you’re recovered, you must automatically love food. People expect you to eat everything on the plate and ask for seconds. That fear of food you had – that’s gone now. They want to forget about the past and have a “normal Christmas.” You’re recovered now, so your health and weight are no longer concerns. People expect you to fit into their shared experiences, including the overindulgence on Christmas day.

But I want to tell you something. A person who has “recovered” from an eating disorder may appear fine and healthy on the outside. They may eat without guilt or have a dessert after dinner. They may not exercise anymore and seem confident about their body. But the thing is – they’re likely not fully recovered. Eating disorders have a heavy hold on those who have them. “Recovered” may mean better, but it doesn’t mean the eating disorder has just completely disappeared off the face of the earth.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Eating disorders can build up their own identity. I could no longer tell the difference between who I was and who the eating disorder was. It felt like I wasn’t me anymore. The eating disorder invaded my mind and every single part of my body. It felt like I was no longer in control because the eating disorder was.

Recovered does not mean I now have a healthy and positive relationship with food.

So on Christmas Day, please remember the recovered. Remember an eating disorder used to be the only thing they lived for. Remember they struggled to look at food and eat it. Remember exercise was their life. Remember they struggled to eat during family gatherings and did not like social events that included food. Remember their eating disorder was valid and so is their recovery. Please remember recovery is a long and treacherous journey and relapses are 100 percent normal.

On Christmas, be forgiving. Be loving. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open minded.

But most of all, remember.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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How I Fight My 'Eating Disorder Voice' During the Holidays

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Since my eating disorder has been a part of my life for decades, I sometimes find it challenging to feel the truth in my recovery voice. Especially when my eating disorder voice has his volume up so high it drowns out all positive self-talk. So this year I’m trying something new. I took a moment this morning while the house was still quiet before the bustle of the day to spend a few moments acknowledging some of the thoughts and questions I find myself already contemplating in the weeks before Christmas. While my eating disorder voice is saying one thing, my recovery voice has some thoughts of its own.

You can’t enjoy hot cocoa. You’re just drinking calories and fat.

“It’s Christmas, and baby it’s cold outside! Enjoy a warm cup of cup of cocoa.”

Don’t you dare think about enjoying a roll with dinner. You don’t need bread.

“Starches are an important part of balanced nutrition. It’s good for you to have a roll with dinner. “

Make all the delicious desserts you want, but they’re only for others to enjoy.

“Just as everyone else is enjoying the treats you made, you deserve to enjoy them as well.”

If you don’t workout hard every day you might as well not even eat.

“You may not have an opportunity to work out every day, and that’s OK. However, you must eat every day in order to stay strong and build muscle for when you do have time to workout.”

Everybody at the table knows I have an eating disorder and is watching me.

“Everybody at the table are family and friends who love and support you in your recovery. If they are watching you eat it’s because they are proud of the progress you’ve made and continue to make each day.”

Sometimes putting your eating disorder voice to paper really allows your recovery voice to not only appropriately respond, but take a little bit of power out of the eating disorder’s voice. It also allows me to have a proper plan with recovery-based answers in place. If you find yourself struggling this holiday season with your eating disorder, try to be still and remember it’s one day, one hour, one moment and one meal at a time. Remember to breathe, ask for support if needed and don’t give up. Your recovery is worth it. You are worth it.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

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