Disclaimer: This is *my* story and all thoughts and opinions are my own. In no way am I telling anybody with an eating disorder that this is the correct way to heal. Each journey is different! I simply want to share mine, in the hopes that it might help others.
The year I was in eighth grade, something changed.
It wasn’t anything immediate. It was more of a slow progression.
I was sick of being the chubby kid at school. I was sick of being teased.
So, I lost weight in the one of the only ways our society teaches us how: by going on a diet.
Fast forward to being on the swim team: we had practice in the morning and after school, three days per week, plus swim meets. I lost almost 40 pounds in two months — a full blown eating disorder was born.
When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, I had never heard of it. And I did not know what an eating disorder was. My parents put me into therapy right away, which can be helpful if you’re the type of person who likes to talk.
But for an introverted 14-year-old girl who was angry with the world, and extremely uncomfortable in her own skin, it was a nightmare.
From 13-years-old to 18-years-old I would “heal”, then relapse again and again. The cycle repeated through the end of eighth grade, all the way through high school, into my freshman year of college.
At my lowest point, I was going to an out-patient eating disorder clinic once per week to have my blood drawn and be weighed. I was suicidal; I didn’t care if I wasted away to skin and bones. I was an all-consuming furious fire. I was threatened with being put into the psych ward at the hospital if I didn’t put on weight, but the micromanaging only made me retreat into myself further.
I didn’t even have it as bad as other people I knew. I knew several people who died because of their ED. Not just women; men, too.
Every eating disorder is different, because every person is different. It’s not actually about food, if you haven’t guessed.
For me, it was about emotions and control. Dealing with a loss of control during my crazy childhood meant what went into my body was the only thing (at the time) I felt I could control.
Then, the year I turned 19, something else changed.
I had been flip-flopping through so many different diet dogmas, and I watched this documentary Forks Over Knives. It was a sort of catalyst, if you will.
This film blew my mind. Seeing people heal all types of “incurable” diseases by simply changing what they put into their body was incredible, not to mention culturally taboo at the time.
Could food really be healing instead of hurting?
I know, I know. That’s probably not what everybody wants to hear.
But going vegan quite literally saved my life.
With this new way of eating — it’s truly a lifestyle, not a diet — I began to heal my emotional attachments to food.
It taught me about nutrition. It taught me about how everything I put into my body matters. That it’s not just about calories, but nutrients. That, yes, food can be healing, instead of hurting.
It gave me back control.
I’ve been plant-based for over eight years now, and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
And you know what? Changing the way I exercised helped me heal, too.
It wasn’t about punishing myself anymore. Exercising became a pleasure. I stopped running because I f*ing hated it, and started doing yoga, Pilates, HIIT, hiking, walking, meditating — stuff I looked forward to doing. Stuff that helped me de-stress and made my body stronger.
Instead of restricting myself and looking at my body negatively, I changed my perspective. I started to look at everything I put into my body with love.
Don’t get me wrong — I love food. I love to eat. Someday, I want to open a restaurant. But, eating too much is also a form of an eating disorder. (I’ve struggled on both ends of the spectrum.)
Before I started starving myself, I was binge eating. Eating my feelings. Plain and simple.
I have a specific memory of being in middle school, probably about 12-years-old, and devouring an entire box of zebra cakes, alone, whilst crying about something.
But it stands out for me as a moment of supreme unhappiness. And I wish I could go back in time and tell that little girl that everything was going to turn out better than I thought it would be. To stop this foolishness — because it was unnecessary.
Veganism gave me a way to eat in abundance and enjoy nourishing food that kept me at a healthy weight. It gave me a way to find balance in a world that is out of wack.
So, I was finally able to heal my eating disorder because of these crucial steps:
- Letting go of emotional attachments to food
- Changing the way I ate and exercised
- Changing the way society wanted me to view my body (as if there is always something to hate) to a much more loving, gentle perspective .
But this took years and lots of life experience.
Also, and I’m sure I’ll get some hate for this — but I think having an eating disorder can be a first-world problem. Not always, of course. But it can be.
There are people who don’t have the luxury to starve themselves or overeat, because they don’t know when their next meal will be. It’s taken me a long time to realize an eating disorder is a “privileged” mental illness, because when you are in the throws of your own pain, it’s hard to look at it objectively.
But I recognize this now.
I grew up privileged compared to most people. I went to a school where it was normal for a kid to get a Porsche on their 16th birthday. The type of school where image was everything. Where you were socially ostracized if you wore the wrong jeans. Where everyone hated themselves. Judgement was rampant.
It was basically the Beverly Hills of the Midwest.
And while looking at this from an outsider perspective, especially as an adult, it’s easy to see this is totally ridiculous. It was hard for a teenager who felt they did not belong in the superficial world in which they were trapped. And because of this, I internalized my pain, which in turn, manifested as an eating disorder.
We live in a society that eats by the clock. Breakfast when you wake up. Lunch at noon. Dinner at six.
As children, we’re told to clean our plates, even if we’re full. Food is treated as a reward or a punishment (Broccoli if you’re bad; dessert if you’re good). Thus, we lose the instinctual hunger cues we are born with.
In my twenties, I really started listening to my body and eating only when I am actually hungry. Am I truly hungry? Or am I eating because it’s such and such time?
Eating mindfully, and intuitively, were also factors in my recovery. What does my body truly need? What am I actually craving?
Finding veganism (Forgive me if I sound like I’m talking about finding god) helped me to examine my body from a third-party perspective.
My body is a machine. What I put into it is either fighting disease or contributing to it.
Personally, I want to live a long, healthy life where I can be active until my dying days. That’s not for everybody, but it’s what I want for myself. I love my body, it is my home. Not in an egoistic way — but Jesus, we should all love ourselves. We’re stuck in our bodies from birth to death! They should be our temple.
Truly loving yourself, in my opinion, is being able to detach from ego and look at ourselves from an objective standpoint without emotional attachment.
Everything seems to be a paradox these days. Feminism is rampant, yet I watch so many beautiful women trash talk and bring down other beautiful women, because they are insecure about themselves.
No matter what our body type, we should never bring down others because of our insecurities. I’ve realized most of the problems we find in others, are usually just a reflection of our internal struggle.
If we see a person who is in shape or we see a person who is confident, we should praise them, rather than tear them down. And vis versa, if we see a person struggling or tearing themselves down, we should lift them up.
While I love some of what the feminist movement is doing to change culture, I think of myself as a humanist rather than simply a feminist. I love all humans. We need less of the labels that keep us divided.
While it is beautiful to celebrate individuality, we are all ONE — sharing this planet, this moment, this time, TOGETHER.
We have one life. (Let’s hope, because I really don’t want to be reincarnated.) So let’s spend our precious moments on this planet helping make positive change rather than adding to the negative toxicity that already exists.
We must be the change instead of waiting for somebody else to lift us up.
For if we are always waiting, it will always be too late.
It is easier to sit back and do nothing. But it can start simply: by becoming mindful of your own thoughts — being aware when you think negatively about yourself or others.
Let’s help change the way others view themselves by being body-positive, eating healthful, nourishing food, and complimenting others instead of being jealous, negative, judgmental or petty.
Let’s be open to those who are struggling, and not treat them as lepers, but as a human being having a human experience.
Let’s set positive examples for our children and raise them to love themselves for the unique being they are.
Love your body! Treat it right!
And maybe then, we will live in a world full of people who do not struggle with eating disorders and other mental illness.
Feel free to share your experience or any thoughts you might have in the comments below.