Hi all. Today for Shattering Stigmas, I have my friend, Rebecca sharing her story with eating disorders. There are content warnings below. As a reminder, please check out Shattering Stigmas co-hosts posts as well! Taylor, Shannon and Mari are sharing great posts.
CW/TW: Eating Disorders, Anorexia
I wrote about my battle with anorexia a few years ago for Shattering Stigmas and I protected someone I shouldn’t have protected. I felt like I owed him some kind of respect because he was my doctor for seven years and it wasn’t always bad. However, you can’t heal if you rewrite history and I’ve hated myself for the past two years for not calling him out on what he did. So here’s my unfiltered story.
If you’re still struggling with an eating disorder and are easily triggered: PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS.
Growing up, I’d known several people who struggled with eating disorders. I sympathized and understood the mechanics, but I didn’t understand it. Food was good to me.
Until it wasn’t.
When I was in my early twenties my General Practitioner lost patience with me. He was concerned about my health, specifically that I would develop diabetes. At first he told me to eat 1800 calories, but when that didn’t help me lose weight? He told me I could eat 1800 only if I exercised enough to burn off 800 of them. As a disabled person, at that point in my life there was no goddamn way I could burn that. So I ate 1000 calories a day.
But I struggled with it. I was hungry and picky. Everything I liked used up all 1000 calories in a meal and a half. I was so hungry that I would end up overeating (all 1800 calories without that exercise) and staring at my failure in the calorie counting app I used. Eighteen hundred calories should not have felt like a failure. But it did. A month passed and I hadn’t lost weight. The GP bullied and fatshamed me at my next appointment.
He told me I needed to lose the weight as fast as possible and that, for now, I needed to eat 500 calories a day. So I did. And, like many things in my life, I took it too far.
I’m not often guilty of hubris. However, even knowing all the red flags my behavior was putting up? I thought I was too smart to develop an eating disorder. But I did. The reality was I had always been a perfect candidate for an eating disorder. I’m very Type A and I’ve always had control issues. It’s what led to my self harm. And in a lot of ways? An eating disorder is self harm. And boy did I harm myself.
Food hadn’t been my enemy…until it was.
I started counting calories to the point of obsession. I was COMMITTED. If I fucked up, went over by any little bit? I took it out of my calories for the next day. At a certain point, it became a point of pride when I got by on less and less calories. I couldn’t control my weight. But fuck, I COULD control this.
I was obsessively learning all I could about food. After awhile I could eyeball food and tell anyone the approximate calorie count of anything they ate. I read nutrition labels like it was air I needed to breathe. I was fixated on what made food “good” or “bad.” Carbs were my ENEMY. It got to a point where seeing them caused an anxiety attack. Food was a war zone. I was so convinced I was in control that I didn’t realize that food was controlling me.
Adding insult to injury, I still wasn’t losing weight. I was GAINING it.
I probably shouldn’t have kept doing it when I wasn’t getting results. But, at this point? It was a habit, it made me feel safe, and I couldn’t stop. No one bothered to tell me that due to having PCOS and insulin resistance, my body doesn’t lose weight like everyone else. It doesn’t know how to process certain foods correctly, so it turns food into fat, rather than energy. I never ate as much as my friends did, but I gained all the weight they didn’t.
The scale stopped going up after awhile, but I still didn’t lose weight.
The GP talked to me every two weeks. When I told him how hard I was trying he accused me of lying. He told me to have more self control and asked me why didn’t I want to be pretty. After four months or so of this, I stopped going to him. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t handle him always pointing out my ‘failure.’ I had already internalized a lot of what he’d said. I called myself a lot of really disgusting names, wrote some of them on parts of my body that I didn’t like to remind myself not to eat.
Nothing was working.
As I continued to struggle with my lack of progress I started eating less and less. Some of my friends and family started noticing something was off. So I got better at hiding it. But sometimes I had to eat to appease them. Even if all I ate was a celery stick? I would hate myself for it. I could swear I felt it in my stomach like a concrete brick that was going to murder me if I didn’t get it out.
As more time passed I kind of just stopped eating. I only ate when necessary. Necessary was being so dizzy I couldn’t sit up and water wasn’t helping. Necessary was eating after I passed out on the floor of my closet, bedroom, and bathroom multiple times.
One of my most vivid memories is from when I visited my brother Alex in Atlanta for a few days. It was our tradition to order a meat lover’s pizza and split it. I remember eating one piece so he wouldn’t think anything was up and having to go to the bathroom and cry. I hated myself for loving the way it tasted and for not having the strength to hide the food instead of eating it. I felt so fucking weak. I had brought some stuff up to cook and a ton of water. I would cook for Alex and his roommates, but I didn’t eat it. I only drank the water and kept telling Alex that I had eaten while he was at work.
I woke up super dizzy on the third day of my visit and had a feeling I should go home. My aunt was sick at the time (which was why my family hadn’t noticed) and we knew it wouldn’t be long until she passed. On top of that, I was scared Alex was catching on to the fact that I wasn’t eating. I also just really wanted to be with my cat. I shouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel. But I did. And I drank 6 bottles of Propel to keep myself from passing out. I got home ok. I was still dizzy and convinced I had to lose that water weight asap, but my aunt died the next day. And for the next few days I made myself eat a little bit because after the funeral I was back under the microscope.
I didn’t want anyone to know and I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t stop. I knew what I was doing was not helping me, but NOTHING mattered more than losing the weight. Which by the way still wasn’t coming off.
With my aunt gone, my mom started catching on to me. My mom is super intuitive and I knew it was only matter of time before she put the pieces together. It took about two weeks to figure out that I wasn’t eating. One morning she tried to get me to eat a Chik-Fil-A biscuit. All I could think about was that it was fried AND had carbs. I started freaking out so badly that she stopped at the nearest Publix and bought a banana. She tried for a hour to get me to eat it and as the minutes passed by so did my patience. I was so stressed and scared and hungry, but I didn’t want to eat it. I started crying and screaming. If I ate that banana I was useless. Eating it meant I had no self control. I was just a fat nobody and I’d never be worth anything. What had started out as a means to control something in my chaotic life? It had morphed into the standard I measured myself by. When my ex GP had asked me repeatedly if I wanted to be pretty, somewhere I started believing that I wasn’t. I wanted so badly to be pretty, but I what I wanted even more so? I wanted to be good enough. And food had become a way to judge myself instead of using it to fuel my body.
Everything spilled out. I told her about the doctor. I told her I was a failure. I told her what I’d been doing for nearly 8 months. She was horrified.
My mom got me in to see my psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with anorexia. I then was sent to a nutritionist by my endocrinologist. My blood levels were really fucked and I needed help. Which I finally got. I responded to goals and rules so my doctors forced me to reframe my goals and intake. I was given an accountability system because I couldn’t be trusted to actually do what I was supposed to.
The rules were as follows:
-No calorie counting. No apps. No food journal.
-No weighing myself unless I was at a doctor’s office. I wasn’t allowed to own a scale.
-No more cutting out entire food groups
-I could exercise only as much as my body would allow. No pushing myself to the point of pain. It didn’t matter if I walked two laps around my neighborhood or walked five miles. Exercise was exercise. It only mattered that I did something.
-I had to eat three meals a day.
The nutritionist taught me about healthy substitutions, portion control, and good/bad carbs. I found ways to bring more veggies in my diet and cut out soda. I made a lifestyle change and I’m far better for it. But it took a long time. I had spent so much time ‘learning’ and internalizing a lot of toxic patterns concerning food. They say that it takes double the time that you’ve had a habit to break it. I had a lot to unlearn.
And here’s the kicker: After I started eating more I actually lost weight. A lot of it.
I still struggle. So much. There are days I have to make my mom hide the scale and I have to cover up my mirrors. There’s a voice in my head, I call it my ‘eating disorder voice.’ Sometimes it tells me I’ll never be good enough or ‘pretty’ or that I need to eat less because I don’t deserve food. And I know it’s a liar, but haven’t we all trusted a liar at some point?
I found a new General Practitioner in late 2018. It was a long, hard search. I was so fucking scared to trust another doctor. I didn’t need to be harped on about my weight, especially since talking about it was, and is to this day, triggering. I couldn’t make my first appointment because I was hyperventilating in the parking lot. I did go to the second appointment and I love my new GP. She’s great and she never focuses on my weight. When I go to see her because I’m sick, she actually treats my problem and doesn’t automatically say my weight is the issue. It seems like a small thing, but it’s helped me a lot.
Society puts so much emphasis on size. If you’re smaller, you’re treated better. People don’t try to police what you eat, they don’t assume you’re lazy, they don’t try to diagnose you with diabetes or some other weight related illness, or treat you like you’re stupid. For the record, weight is not always a great indicator of health. I was really unhealthy at my highest weight, not because I ate too much, but because I wasn’t eating. When someone loses weight we applaud them and telling them they’re doing a great job. However, what if they’re not being healthy about it? What if they’re endangering their life to lose weight? Would you still compliment them if you found out they were slowly killing themselves by not eating?
There’s still a huge gap between straight sizes and plus sizes in fashion. And when people try to become more inclusive? People get in their feelings. Look at what happened to Nike when they had a plus size mannequin. Finding cute plus size active wear to work out in is a whole ass ordeal.
A lot of people assume eating disorders start because you want to be pretty. I didn’t start off being obsessed with how I looked. I just wanted to succeed. I don’t like failure and I only saw the progress I wasn’t making and the goals I wasn’t achieving. The more upset I got, the more I needed to control the situation. My life was crazy at that time and the stress didn’t help. Eventually it did turn into wanting to look a certain way and associating a number on the scale with the idea of being good enough. And everything I saw around me reinforced the idea that I had to be skinny to be good enough.
Representation matters. It matters when you see someone that looks and sounds like you in media. It matters how we portray things. Often when anorexia is shown in the media, it’s always a girl with her bones showing. And, yes that’s one example of what anorexia looks like. But it comes in all shapes and sizes. Anorexia and bulimia are not the only types of eating disorders. Some of them, like orthorexia, look very innocuous and ‘healthy.’ There’s so much misinformation floating around that people don’t know what to look for because they assume those red flags are only applicable if you look a certain way. In a lot of ways that misinformation translate into stigma and stigma can kill.
If you’re struggling with food related issues please get help. Eating disorders, anorexia in particular, are one of the deadliest mental illnesses because left untreated? They kill. If you’re doing it to be pretty? They take your hair, your teeth, your strength etc. You were beautiful before your disorder, not eating doesn’t make you any prettier.
Thanks for reading. I’m always around to talk or answer questions.