15 August 2017 · posted in self-care
After relaunching in May, I archived all my old blog posts because I wanted a new start, a fresh look and relevant new inspiring content. Some of my old blog posts though are so close to my heart and part of my story that I want to share them with you again. So today I'm reposting an updated version of the hardest, most vulnerable blog post I've ever published. But hard as it was, it's been so worth it ever since.
Here's my story
I have been battling an eating disorder for more than 8 years now, and for 7 of them, I hid it from everyone I love. Still in 2017, there's a taboo surrounding mental health issues and invisible eating disorders and it's time for that to stop. I really believe in the power of sharing our stories to raise awareness to the reality of mental illness and eating disorders. This post is deeply personal but I think it's time I tell my story too.
Ever since I can remember I've had difficulty with food. I liked the taste of greasy, salty, crunchy fast foods, but not the taste of healthy rice and vegetables. I liked the taste of chemically made sweets, but not the taste of healthy sweet fruit. I was the kid who craved fries for dinner every day.
I was the teenager who would eat bags of crisps and sweets every single day on the bus ride home after school, because I could. I was the kid who only ate fruit and vegetables if someone put them on her plate, often with a long face. I was the teenager who always felt unsure about her body.
I was the teenager who always wanted to lose weight, be thinner, look better. I was the teenager who told herself that once she'd be thin, life would go so much better. I was the young adult who would order takeout 5 times a week when living alone at university, just because she could. I was the young adult who didn't understand the warning signals of her own body. Seven years later, I finally became the young woman who was fully aware of her struggles.
Our body is designed to give us signals,
but I never learned to understand them.
I'm just going to come out and say it: I have binge eating disorder. Or had. Or something in between. I'm not a fan of labeling, but defining a problem helps you solve it. I've been struggling with nourishing myself for a long time now and for an equally long time I've been ashamed about it.
There were times I had a ton of empty bags of crisps under my bed. There were times I took food from the pantry up to my room and when my mom asked about it being missing, I told her it wasn't me. I even got angry about it: how could she accuse me of something like that? There were times I would tell my friends I was eating at home before going out and tell my mom I was eating with friends, to get takeout fries and eat them alone in my car. There were times I called my boyfriend to ask him if he would be home for dinner and was happy he said no, just so I could get takeout and binge. ... I can go on and on and give you a hundred more examples but I think you get what I'm trying to say. I am horrifically ashamed I did all of those things. But I'm not ashamed to admit to them any longer. I have/had a problem, a mental illness, an eating disorder.
The first time I carefully tried telling someone about my struggles to nourish myself properly, 4 or 5 years ago, the answer was "well, then just stop eating those bad foods so much?" It was quickly dismissed. It couldn't be that big of a problem as I wasn't really overweight, certainly not obese. Just a little bit on the bigger side. A few fat rolls around my belly. I tried to reach out at a time when I was very fragile and in a very vulnerable mental state, but all I found was a wall. "Just eat healthy." As if it was that simple. Struggling with an eating disorder goes so much deeper than just food.
Although nobody could really see it, I was miserable and alone. I was ashamed. I became more and more isolated and I was completely addicted to certain types of food. The urges kept growing stronger and stronger. I lied more and more to get my "fix" of junk food. Some months I would feel a little better as I tried out different things to counteract this addiction: dieting, weight watchers, carb restricting, ... I tried it all and it only made it worse. I even tried vomiting after binges but I couldn't do it. I so badly wished I could because in my mind, getting thinner would solve everything. Luckily it didn't work. If it had I'd probably be here telling my story about bulimia.
I was all alone with it and I was losing.
When I'd be on the latest diet, the urges to binge kept pushing back stronger and stronger every time until I gave in and had a massive binge. Having this eating disorder, this constant spiral of negativity and binges, became a secret part of my life I was so ashamed about that I'd hide it from everyone. My friends didn't know. My family didn't know. My boyfriend didn't know. I was all alone with it and I was losing. I kept on giving in to the urges and my addiction grew stronger every day.
I built up strong unhealthy habits by binging over and over again in the same situations and after a while it became second nature to sit in bed all day watching TV on my laptop while stuffing my face with as much french fries, crisps and sweets as I could possibly eat, before anyone else got home. Then, with a stomach ache from too much food already, I'd force myself to eat dinner so nobody would ask questions. At times I'd feel like I was about to explode. My stomach hurt, my body screamed at me to stop but I didn't. I kept binging out of habit and addiction. I didn't even like the taste of my favorite binge foods anymore but my portions kept on growing. I gained more weight and became even more unhealthy. I was utterly and completely lost.
Fast forward to September 2015. I wasn't sleeping and I was having terrible back pain. I went to see my doctor, genuinely worried there was something wrong with my back. No, he said. Stress. Muscle cramps. He asked me what was wrong. I told him I didn't have a job and was extremely tired from our renovation and he just looked at me and said "Okay, but that's not all, is it?" And I burst into tears. I fell apart.
For the first time in a very long time I felt like somebody understood. Like finally someone took me seriously. I told him everything and he urged me to seek help. Go see a therapist. Talk about it. And I did. And even though it was hard, forcing myself to be honest about everything, it helped me so much. For me, seeing a therapist was not about finding a cause or "why" I have this eating disorder. It was about learning to accept my current situation and look to the future. Talking about having this eating disorder really helped me see reality: what I do to my body, how mean I am to myself in my head, ... It helped me work through shame and anger. It helped me voice my fears and frustrations. And for the first time in those 7+ years I felt as though I might be winning again. That maybe one day, in the future, I'd be able to fully understand my body and listen to it. Take proper care of it. One day, six months after starting therapy, I didn't feel the need to go to my sessions anymore. I felt just a little lighter and happier and stronger. Strong enough to be a warrior on my own.
I've been working hard on recovering for the last two years, trying to restore my inner harmony and to teach myself how to eat right. It's not easy, but one day at a time, I come closer to being able to feel the needs of my body and respect them without restricting. I no longer want to hide my eating disorder, that's what made it so powerful to begin with, but some days that's easier said than done. There have been ups and downs in the last two years, there have been a few hidden bags of crips. There have been sneaky runs for takeout fries. There have been moments of massive guilt and shame and destructive thoughts about my appearance. But these relapses, they're getting fewer and fewer and less powerful every single time and I'm learning to accept that even though my progress is not a perfect road, it's recovery nonetheless.
It's been a while though since I talked about it with my friends or family and that's what's dangerous sometimes: this topic, me struggling with an eating disorder, it slips back into the forgotten, secret part of life and the urges somehow find their way back when the opportunity is there. Honesty still wins though, bursting the bubble of shame, but opening up after a relapse is so incredibly hard because once again you're filled with guilt and shame and everything that comes with it and you feel like you've let everyone down.
I'm trying my best though and slowly I feel that I am more in control of my choices and my urges. Educating myself about nutrition and making a conscious effort to nourish myself with good, whole foods has helped a lot. I'm learning to prepare healthy foods in a delicious way so I don't need to go and find my "fix" elsewhere. Slowly I'm shifting my focus for the future to becoming strong and healthy instead of focusing so much on appearance. Very slowly I'm also learning to be kind to myself, to love myself the way I am now, to look in the mirror and smile back at the reflection, even though I'm not yet where I need to be. One day at a time, I'm trying to restore balance between body and mind. I'm choosing health above everything else, no matter how difficult the road is.
Even though it's hard, even after all this time, I want to tell my story, because others who are fighting their own battle against an eating disorder, need to know that they are not alone. I want to voice my experiences to show you that no matter how far or how long you walk in the wrong direction, it's never too late to turn around. I used to think that this eating disorder would dominate my life forever, but I now see that it won't. Day by day I am winning this battle and so can you.
You are not alone.