I have a really good friend who has lost over 200 pounds, and I am SO PROUD OF HIM! I want to say that right off the bat because I don’t want this blog to be taken the wrong way, by him or anyone else. I was reading his blog today, and I just can’t imagine how hard he’s worked to get where he is, and how hard he must continue to work to stay where he is now. So Kenny, I love you and you know it! At the end of his blog though, he encourages everyone to tell people how good they look when they lose weight. I agree that a lot of times, congratulating people on their weight loss can be a positive influence on someone whose weight loss will lead to them living a healthier lifestyle.
Now this isn’t something I’m used to sharing with people, but I think enough time has passed and I need to finally come out and say it, mostly because I lie to myself and pretend that it never really happened, or that it was all because of the medication I took and I had no control over it because that’s not true. I was doing it to myself and I was doing it on purpose. So here goes: I used to have an eating disorder. I was obsessed with how much I ate and when I ate. I was terrified of being fat. I thought about it all the time and looked at other people’s bodies and was scared of being like them. People of average weight scared me. Sometimes I took my medicine when I didn’t need it so it would be easier to not eat during the day. As I got older, I also learned how to make myself throw up so I could eat when I was out with friends and nobody would know anything was wrong. Then, when I got home I would throw up, or if I couldn’t go home, I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I honestly don’t think anybody ever caught on because I had been thin my whole life.
I think because I was SO young (9-13) everyone tended to ignore it and pretend like it didn’t exist. We don’t think of children that young getting an eating disorder. We all had reasons for why I didn’t eat much. I was busy, it was my meds, I didn’t like the food, I just wasn’t hungry, etc. I would often say “I already ate” even when it wasn’t true. I remember my friend’s parents being offended if I didn’t eat much of the dinner they offered. I can’t even tell you how many times I heard the words “Are you sure you had enough?” My mom tried to feed me all the time because I ate so little. Any time she could get me to eat cheese and crackers or yogurt or a cookie she would jump at the opportunity, but even she didn’t see the symptoms.
I think the other thing that made it easy to hide was that as a kid I danced almost every night, and in the classical ballet community, it is normal and even expected that you will be of normal weight or on the thin side. I am NOT however blaming the dancing community for my eating disorder. While certain environments may make it easier to be thin, this is not to say that my dance teachers were walking around telling me I was fat and I needed to lose weight. The eating disorders occurred in my head and were not a result of the people around me.
I think after a few years when I realized that I barely had enough energy to keep dancing and my lifestyle became harder to maintain, I slowly realized that I needed to eat more and things started to change for me, both mentally and physically. Over the next few years, I managed to maintain a pretty healthy, average, and normal weight, and was sometimes even a little over what I needed to be, but at a healthy level.
During my freshman year of college as things started getting stressful, I found myself slipping back into my old ways; eating less, not eating for days at a time, and forcing myself to throw up, especially after eating unhealthy foods. By the end of the spring semester, I had lost so much weight that I could see my ribs in the mirror. I had a pair of pants that used to be really tight on me that I could slip on without unbuttoning. While at this point my weight wasn’t necessarily at an unhealthy level and I didn’t have a full-blown eating disorder, I lost a significant amount of weight right before finals week. After several days of studying and no calorie intake, I passed out under a tree on campus, and was woken up by two guys who were really worried about me. They offered to call an ambulance, but I told them I was fine. I went back to my dorm room and spent the next 2 days so weak that I couldn’t get out of bed. Luckily it was the weekend and I wasn’t missing any class. The next day I called my parents and told them I was sick. They drove me to the hospital where I got an IV.
After I had some fluids in me, I felt better instantly. Once again lying about my behavior, I said I didn’t know what was wrong and I just hadn’t been feeling well lately. After that, I realized that it was getting serious and if I didn’t want to have an eating disorder, I had to make sure I ate every day. It came slowly. Some days I had to force myself just to eat a cup of yogurt over the course of a few hours. But eating SOMETHING every day has been the most helpful part of my recovery. I think for the most part it also keeps me from binge-eating. Today I am doing well and that pair of pants is once again tight on me. I try to keep up a positive body image and not compare myself to other people who’s body chemistry is different than mine and whose brain chemistry doesn’t make them prone to eating disorders.
So the point of this blog is, as someone who had an eating disorder, I have to caution against congratulating EVERYONE on their weight loss. As I got thinner and thinner, I got so many compliments about the weight I was losing and how much college agreed with me. None of my family or friends seemed concerned. And getting compliments only makes keeping the disordered eating habits easier to justify to yourself.
My advice: Congratulate people whose weight loss or weight gain will make their lives easier. Don’t congratulate people if their eating habits are unhealthy. And find help for someone if you think they might have a problem.