Eating Disorder Awareness Week: My Story

My name is Beth, and I had/have/continue to fight an eating disorder.

Clear enough for you?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  But that, my friends, is my eating disorder story, just in time for NEDA's Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  All of my posts this week will center around eating disorders.  Why?  Because I think eating disorder awareness is important.  And because eating disorders are deadly, devastating lives regardless of whether the disease causes physical death or not.  And because I think that eating disorders are a disease, a matter of mental health and addiction, and because I battle this addiction every single day. 

It strikes me that I've never told my full eating disorder story before.  At least, not here on the blog.  I thought that today is just the day to do it.  Here we go!

Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I had an eating disorder.  I had recently moved from Boston to the middle of nowhere in Montana (literally -- the closest town was a 10 minute drive away, and boasted a population of 90ish) after finishing up my Master's degree in elementary education.  I was working on a ranch, coming to terms with the at time insane Montana winter, and I thought I was totally healthy.

At the Corn Palace in 2005, en route to Montana after grad school.

Except I wasn't.  I can see it now, but at the time I thought that eating large quantities of food to soothe myself was normal.  But it's not -- it's called binging, and not only does this type of eating lead to poor physical health and weight gain, but it also numbs the binger from feeling anything uncomfortable ever.  And this is how I'd been dealing with life since puberty.  Not so healthy, but I didn't think anything was wrong. 

Day 4 / Suffering from acute distraction due to muffin
In late 2006 I began restricting food, and so was obsessed with food by the time I took this photo in early 2007.

Two years later, I found myself married to the Best Husband Ever, happily living the newly wed life.  Except we weren't.  During the summer of our engagement, I dropped a drastic amount of weight, requiring a last minute refitting of my bridal gown.  I was either starving myself or "saving" my calories for a binge/purge episode at night.  But I was getting thinner, so I thought I was okay.  I thought that once the stress of the wedding was past, things would naturally improve.

I was already beginning to look unhealthily thin by our fall 2007 wedding.  Looking at my wedding photos now makes me feel sad, uncomfortable, and angry at how disordered eating robbed the Best Husband Ever and myself.

But they didn't.  Instead, they got worse.  I didn't expect my new husband to eat my preferred meals (such as massive salads that had nothing but vegetables and fat free dressing in them), so I had to cook more substantial dinners . . . and eat said dinners.  Afraid that I would blow up to blimp-like proportions, I joined a gym and began exercising like crazy.  I pushed myself through an hour or more of hardcore cardio each day, biked around town instead of driving, and sometimes threw in some extra yoga for good measure.  I never took a rest day.

This was taken in August 2008, when I was about 5 months into therapy and still deathly thin.  I couldn't see how ugly and terrifying my malnourished body had become. 

My weight plummeted.  My skin was constantly dry and cracking, and my hair was thin.  I experienced chest pains.  My skin was sallow.  The slightest cut or bruise took ages to heal.  I was incapacitated by cold and hunger all the time.  I had difficulty remembering things.  My brand new marriage was strained, and the Best Husband Ever was overcome with despair and helplessness.  I couldn't hold down a job due to extreme fatigue and hunger.  I hadn't had my period in over a year.

Eventually I asked my doctor about my lack of period, and of course she told me that I was underweight and so my body could not support such frivolous functions as supporting a reproductive system.  I tried to return to my pre-starvation/overexercising way of eating (which was to binge myself into numbness) and of course had a meltdown when I overindulged in the treats I'd been denying myself.  I went back to my doctor with this news, and she sent me to a nutritionist.

My 2008 EKG results.  The news was not good.

The nutritionist freaked out, and rightly so.  I had to go into her clinic for a daily weigh in, and I had weekly blood tests.  I learned that I had an extremely low heart rate.  The nutritionist and her team of nurses were afraid I was on the verge of death.  I probably was, but that didn't stop me from exercising or spur me to up my food intake.  They told me that I needed to go into an inpatient eating disorder program.  I balked at the idea, as that would have required moving away from Montana, and so they settled for hooking me up with a local therapist.

I began seeing the therapist twice a week.  I hated going.  I hated the way she looked at me and expected me to talk, how I was expected to admit that I was broken.

By early 2009 I had gained some weight, but was still overexercising, getting in two hours of exertion daily.

But I kept going.  And excruciatingly slowly, I began to get better.  I improved my nutrition and eating habits.  I gained much-needed weight.  I was allowed to cut back to one therapy visit a week.  I even started to like going to see my wonderful therapist.  I know now that she saved my life. 

It would be wonderful to say that I am now fully recovered and can eating like a normal person.  But I'm not.  When I was thin I thought I was anorexic (generally, a person who restricts food as a means of gaining control), but now that I look back over my life, I think that I was (and am) bulimic -- someone who eats large quantities of food and then tries to purge this food through vomiting, use of laxatives, or overexercise.  I see now that even during my recovery process, I was still "binging" on huge low-calorie salads and "purging" through overexercise.  But when I left what I thought would be my last therapy session in late 2009, I thought I was cured.

By early 2010, I was no longer overexercising and had achieved a healthy, sustainable weight.  I thought I was done with ED.  Alas, stressful life circumstances led me to resume binging as a coping mechanism.

Except (you knew it was coming) I wasn't.  I don't know if I will ever be fully "fixed," although I certainly have come a long, long way on the road to health.  Right now, the fact is that I have to be mindful about what I eat.  I have to record my intake, because intuitive eating only gets me into trouble -- like I'll "intuit" that it's okay for me to binge and purge with laxatives just this once.  Attempting to be intuitive caused me to fall back into my old binge-for-numbness pattern this past year, and to gain about forty pounds.  So I write things down, I journal, and I blog, all in the name of keeping myself honest and learning how to not use food (or exercise) as a drug. 

My story is not finished.  While at times I find that frustrating, there's also something good in there -- while I'm living, I am working on living well.  Sometimes I'll stumble and fall, like I did in the past year, but that's okay as long as I can keep learning and keep trying.  I'll get there someday. 

DDC Hooping at Old Navy
Today, I'm overweight, but I'm also happier, mentally healthier, and my life is about so much more than food.  I am working on my eating and hope to lose some weight, but this time I am doing it the right way.  No more restriction and overexercise for me!

But I won't get there alone.  Over the course of my struggle with disordered eating, I relied so much on the strength and love of those around me -- the Best Husband Ever, our united families, my therapist, my friends, and my church family (who were the first "public" group that I let in on my struggle), to name a few.

I wish I knew how to conclude this post.  But all I can honestly say is that I'm still here, and that by the grace of God I'm still learning/trying/healing/growing.  And really, isn't that amazing?

In honor of NEDA's Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let's inundate the blogosphere with our personal stories of how we eat and relate to food/life!  I encourage you to blog about your story and the link to it here in the comments. 

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