I don’t look like your typical eating disorder patient. I am neither thin nor fat. I’m pretty average, but I struggle with every piece of food that goes into my mouth. I have an addictive personality. There’s been booze and cigarettes, thankfully no drugs or gambling, but now it’s food. I’ve binged and purged and starved, but now, it’s an obsession. I can’t eat anything without thinking about it. How many calories? How much fat? Where will it land on my body? Will black yoga pants and a T-shirt cover it all? It’s exhausting and depressing and I can’t get past it. Even with therapy, food is my biggest weakness.
Giving up beer and smokes, that’s easy! You quit, you go through withdrawal and you come out better on the other end. But you can’t just quit eating. You have to have food to survive. That’s such a difficult concept for a person with an eating disorder to cope with. I want the food, but I can’t handle the food. If I restrict myself, I end up binging later. If I eat, I obsess about every morsel that’s going into my mouth. I can’t enjoy any food that I eat because it is such a mind fuck.
I think I’m hiding my disorder, but anyone who knows me can see through it. But if you’re new, you might not even notice. I always have a Diet Coke with me. I try my best to fill my stomach with liquid so I am not tempted to eat. If I do eat around other people, it won’t be much. I’ll take just enough food to be polite, but not enough to be satisfying. But if there is dessert, I will absolutely have some. I may even eat enough to make myself feel sick. Then the guilt will settle in. The rest of the day, I will kick myself for doing it.
This isn’t an issue of willpower. If it were, I could just stop doing it. I quit smoking, which The American Heart Association says is just as difficult as quitting heroin and cocaine. But I just can’t eat like there isn’t a consequence on the other end. Because there is always a consequence and it’s always negative. It’s either too many calories or too much fat or too much sugar that will make me more hungry. I can’t win.
And God, don’t I want to eat like other people seem to be able to — just to have normal eating habits for one day. I honestly thought that I was normal until I started talking to a friend about eating habits. She knew I struggled, but I don’t think she realized how much. I asked her if she thought about all the food that went into her mouth. Like every bite and the repercussions. Was it possible to actually savor the food without guilt within minutes? She looked at me like I had a monkey on my shoulders. I was stunned. I truly thought that’s how people deal with food. I’ve done it my whole life. I don’t know any other way to be.
People who don’t struggle with food don’t understand. It’s not just a switch that can be flipped. I won’t just wake up one day and have a normal relationship with food. I have some autoimmune issues that have caused weight gain. For myself and for my health, I know I need to lose a few pounds. And it feels like every Sunday night I promise myself that Monday morning will be the day that I start eating healthy, exercising normally, and getting back to where I need to be in life. There are far more failures than successes with this plan. I have such a hard time getting myself on board.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 9% percent, or 28.8 million Americans, will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders are a mental illness and the ANAD says that it is one of the most deadly, second only to opioid abuse. About 26% of those with an eating disorder will attempt suicide in their lifetime. It is a catastrophic illness that makes me so sad.
Here are some frightening statistics. The ANAD reports that 42% of first through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner. 81% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat. 46% of nine to eleven year-olds are sometimes or very often on diets. 35% to 57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives. In a college campus survey, 91% of the women interviewed admitted to controlling their weight through their diet. And why? Because Hollywood gives us unrealistic standards that our girls feel that they must live up to? Yes, that’s part of it, But anywhere from 28% to 74% percent of those with an eating disorder have genetic heritability. Their minds are totally wired differently than those who don’t struggle with food. They truly cannot help it.
Why not see a therapist? I have, but I haven’t had that breakthrough yet. The one that will allow me to love myself no matter what I look like. The people who love me do their best to build me up, but when you don’t believe it yourself, it’s a never ending battle. It can truly be debilitating.
I suppose you can say that I am one of the lucky ones. If any of us are truly lucky. I have never been hospitalized or attempted suicide, but I have done all the rest. I am the mother of a young daughter and it is my ultimate goal in life to keep her from this deadly disease. Knowing that a propensity for disordered eating is running through her veins just as alcoholism could be, I have to be vigilant. Like I said, this isn’t going away for me anytime soon, and I will continue to hide it from her any way that I can. She deserves a mom to be a role model for good, not an example of bad behavior. So I’ll stick to therapy and setting goals and working hard so that I can be the best version of myself for her.
And a message to all of the folks out there who struggle: You are beautiful, you are worthy, and you are just as you were designed to be. Go out and slay the day. The world is a better place having you in it just the way you are!