*This was originally published anonymously in 2013 when I decided to share this journey in the blog world. Now, in 2016, I am sharing publicly to those I know and don’t know in hopes that it will provide a springboard of healing to those who find themselves on a similar path*
I want to begin by saying it’s hard for me to disclose this process. It sort of “goes against the grain” of society to reveal such brokenness before finding healing and breakthrough. I have found through experience that sometimes disclosing myself in process can compromise my qualifications to teach, to lead, and to contribute to community in the ways I feel called. Nonetheless, here I go…
I’m at a different place today with my eating disorder than I was yesterday. And I’ll be in yet a different place tomorrow. Healing from something so delicate is a process, not an overnight experience. From glory to glory I find breakthrough.
Sometimes I feel I have a unique perspective of eating disorders. I’m a therapist who works occasionally with women who are actively engaged in eating disorder behaviors. I am also one who personally wrestles with this thing on a daily basis.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far – it’s the power of agreement. I need to be aware of my thoughts and what I choose to come into agreement with. We often are people who think, then feel, then behave. If I can train myself to take captive the thoughts that are destructive, rather than come into agreement with them, then I will prevent the feelings and actions associated with this thing. I need the strength of Jesus in me to do this.
Around age 12 I noticed my body. I come from a family of athletes. Good athletes. I was not one of them. I’m not saying I didn’t play sports or that I wasn’t good at some of them sometimes. It was a sort of rule in our household that we were to play sports in an effort to stay active and make friends. I really did not enjoy the competitive nature of sports that I played and I did not find life in them. I wasn’t bad. In fact, I won several races, matches, and games. I just didn’t enjoy them, and I definitely didn’t thrive on them the way my 3 siblings did. I believe my parent’s desire was for us to be healthy, and to develop friendships through joining a team. As I was consistently around athletes I got this impression that my physical performance and the shape of my body mattered. A lot.
This was the message I received as a young girl from my environment and society and the message that I’m still tangled in today. In fact, I think a lot of women are wrestling with this idea that “my body determines my worth.” I continually heard people speak negatively about “overweight” individuals and make judgments of their character based on their appearance. Their words terrified me. I wanted to be accepted.
The first time I purged my food I was 13. I was dressed for dance class and eating chips with my sister before it was time to leave. I noticed how my body and my belly seemed different than hers. I melted. Nobody noticed the embarrassment and shame that pierced my heart at that moment as I internalized this comparison. I went upstairs and locked myself in my bathroom. I proceeded to throw up my food. It felt good, and I felt qualified for relationships and life again.
Being an athlete and in a town that obsesses over athletic performance, I was constantly surrounded by comments such as “You’re looking good these days!” or “You look so fit!” – words that should have been compliments. In fact, most people can handle such statements in a healthy way. I have friends who say “I feel unhealthy, perhaps I should eat an apple today instead of chips.” – but that’s not how I experienced those comments and thoughts. To me, they were life changing and shaped my perspective on life and my body. Nobody intended for that to be the case. It’s really not anyone’s fault…it’s just how it all unfolded.
I knew somewhere in my heart that this behavior was wrong. The thing of it is, I never “binged and purged,” I just ate a normal amount and purged. And then I’d go to the gym. For hours. From age 14 until…
I eventually opened up to some close friends about this habit. They actually found it interesting and decided to start purging too. My conscience really began to tick then. One day, my mother caught me throwing up. I will never forget that day. I felt so broken and confused. I was trying to please everyone, including but especially my mom, but I broke her heart. Yet I was now addicted to this behavior at just age 14. While the thoughts and fears about my body shape continued to haunt me, I opted to no longer throw up, but instead to carefully track my diet and exercise as often as possible. Exercise then became my lifeline. My source. My idol. I was (and am) completely terrified of gaining weight because it qualifies me to participate in life without shame. And with acceptance.
I must say, my husband totally did not understand this. He was one of the first people to find out about my behavior (we met when we were 13), but He didn’t fully understand how to make me stop. And the truth is, he couldn’t. I leaned into God with the help of friends and tried to replace the negative thoughts about my body with the truth that my friends showed me in The Word. It was hard. I do not know that they understood the depth of my obsession. And I’m not sure I did either.
In college I remember living with this obsession. I would religiously exercise every single day. Fellow alumni that I see today still recall, “I remember you always being in the gym, sweaty and working your tail off.” Embarrassing. I would stop eating before distant friends or family came to visit to try and slim down a few pounds from my tummy. I had to combat the “freshmen 15”. The obsession consumed my life. And for some reason, it felt that everyone recognized my “slim” body only after I’d starved myself.
Then I got engaged. I had been waiting for this moment for 7 years. I wanted it to be perfect, memorable, and more than anything, I wanted to feel happy about myself and for myself on my wedding day. I still remember developing my plan for losing weight and getting ready for the big day and the perfect white dress. I would consume no more than 1,000 calories a day and work out for 2 hours every day. That should do the trick, I thought.
I knew it was probably unreasonable, but I also felt my body was different. Most other people who work out the way I do/did would be a lot more toned. I felt that my body required this extreme. I remember going home to the first showers and people commenting on how fantastic I looked. And for the first time since I was 12, I felt satisfied with my body. My parents began to notice my eating habits and started commenting out of concern. Nonetheless everyone else noticed my slimmer appearance. Perhaps, on the outside, it looked healthy.
On the inside I was broken. I was so satisfied with something I knew was temporary. I could only go so long without a pancake. My (then) fiancé and I would dream about the honeymoon. He would speak of the awesome sex and cocktails. Me? I literally dreamt of pancakes. And coffee. And yogurt. I might have appeared healthy on the outside, but I was sick. I still remember fainting in various rooms of my house and waking up alone. I had awful headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, mood swings, etc. I looked good, but I felt like crap.
My future groom noticed my weight loss, and being quite in tune with my behavior and mentality regarding body image, he encouraged me continually. He asked what my goal weight was and constantly monitored me. He sat down with me and bought me healthy food and ate it with me. He was great. But as great as he was, and is, something inside of me needed/needs to change. Something that no other person can touch.
And then the wedding day came. I felt truly beautiful for the first time in my life. It was the most perfect day ever. I felt slim, and, thus, qualified to enjoy life and relationships.I later learned that I had married someone into my miserable internal struggle without even thinking about it. I felt awful.
I think I realized how abnormal my thought life was one night when my husband and I were cleaning up before bed. I began crying and pointing out rolls of fat that showed on my stomach when I sat down. He, being used to these melt downs at this point, bent down and gently put his hand on my shoulder. He repeated the mantra “you are the most beautiful woman in the world, and I love you.” I tried to receive it.
Then he asked, what percentage of your thoughts go toward analyzing your body, the food you eat, and your workout? I responded, “I don’t know maybe 70-80 percent” (and that was a modest estimate). I glanced up and noticed the stunned look that fell on his face. He said, “and what do you think that percentage is for me?” I answered with what I thought most mentally stable people’s percentage would be, “Probably like 50? maybe 60 percent?” He looked away and smiled, yet still looked sad. He said “More like 10-15% of my time is spent thinking about those things.” I sat paralyzed as my heart and mind digested this information. Wow, who would have thought most people do not even spend half their time planning their calories (burned and consumed), looking in the mirror, and stepping on the scale? This was not the moment of healing for me, this was actually the moment when I realized my instability and the weight of the problem. My husband has remained supportive, and my community has also continued to surround me with encouragement, accountability, and prayer.
But if we are being honest, most days I still feel stuck. I realize that most people do not spend the majority of their energy focusing on their body. It sounds silly. And superficial. And selfish. Especially when we are called by the Father to Love others, to reach out, to pour our lives out. And so I’ve recognized this gap. I’m taking steps toward healing. And this blog is part of that journey. I need to share my story. I needed to live uncovered.
10 Basic Steps I’m taking in this freedom journey:
1) Waiting on God to hear what He has to say about my body
2) Saying “thank you” to compliments and pondering them in my heart
3) Taking destructive thoughts captive and choosing positive thoughts
4) Serving others when I feel self-focused
5) Eating meals with my husband and friends
6) Having women who ask me hard questions and keep me accountable
7) Receiving my husband’s love
8) Spending the same amount of time I do in the gym as I do in the secret place with God/meditating
9) Forgiving people for the comments (even the innocent ones) they made that I internalized
10) Re-evaluating my measure and definition of self-worth
This is me in process.