In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I am sharing my story.
Dieting – Let’s talk about it.
We’ve all been there, including myself. Wanting to lose a few pounds, trying some quick fixes, growing more and more frustrated when the weight came back… Sound familiar?
If you answered yes, than you probably know: being on a diet is not a fun process. “A diet” could mean anything from restricting certain food groups, avoiding social situations, or becoming obsessed with counting calories and limiting fat.
There’s a fine line between dieting and disordered behavior, and it gets crossed all too often. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, over 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
The dieting industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It works hard to convince us that we are not good enough so we’ll buy into weight loss products. More often than not, whatever diet we invested in fails and we gain the weight back. Who feels better at the end of this?
At 15 years old, the dieting industry won and I started my first commercialized weight loss program.
I had gained a little extra weight during my adolescence (as many girls naturally do) and decided that I wanted to lose 10 pounds. Little did I know, my innocent diet was about to turn into a rollercoaster of disordered eating.
Ten pounds quickly turned to twenty pounds, and just like that I had developed every symptom of anorexia nervosa. Within a year, I had lost over 30 pounds. With that weight loss my metabolism slowed, I lost a great deal of muscle, developed low bone mineral density, never had an appetite, and my menstrual cycle stopped.
Yet, the compliments were rolling in. “You look amazing,” was a message I heard over and over, and interpreted as “you used to looked fat.” So I kept restricting. My mind was fixated on calories and nobody could understand why.
Little did I know, under-eating had an impact, and was inflicting consequences on my health. My body had gone into a fat-preserving zone, and I had become deficient in vitamins and minerals my body needed to function. Even though I had achieved my weight loss goals, I certainly was not happy. My brain could not think about anything but food. What did I eat at my last meal? What did I plan on eating next? Did I need to cut down on a certain food group? These were all thoughts that went constantly through my head. I was always cold and tired. Eating out became a stressor, I even remember crying while on vacation after learning that sugar free ice cream still contained calories. Seriously, who wants to live like that?
At my annual checkup, my doctor noticed that I had lost weight. Instead of referring me to a psychologist who specialized in disordered eating, she told me to come back in a week. Then, she would weigh me again to make sure I did not continue to lose weight.
The unfortunate truth was that my doctor was doing what she thought was best. Healthcare professionals receive minimal training on eating disorders and holistic health in medical school, and yet situations similar to my own are far too common.
One day, I said fu*k it to restricting any more, and I began bingeing. I trained my body to eat even when I was not hungry. After being deprived for so long, my metabolism was out of whack, and I began gaining weight quickly. To me, gaining weight was better than constantly obsessing over calories—so I kept eating. With time, I had restructured my brain chemistry to eat out of every emotion that was not hunger.
Disordered eating became my norm. My passion for true health and wellness went undiscovered– until my junior year of college, when I walked into my first class in nutrition. I didn’t know it, but my entire life was about to change for the better. This time, I was learning about nutrition from a place of nourishment and not restriction. I learned to treat food as fuel, and physical activity as strength. My classmates began to speak openly about their personal battles with food, and I realized my story wasn’t unique. It was actually pretty common. With time, I began changing my behavior and began loving myself enough to live a healthy lifestyle.
My final words to you: the struggle is so very real. It’s okay to struggle. You are not alone. Treat your body as your prized possession and stop being mean to it, with your words and your actions. Honor the functions it does to keep you alive every single day. You have one life to live, so embrace everything that you have and own it! Don’t fall into the trap I did at fifteen, because you’re worth so much more.
If you are experiencing symptoms similar to what I mentioned above, help is available. Call the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237.
It is ok to speak up about these issues. Here at Fit U, we are speaking up: check out these 13 Articles That Get Real About Eating Disorders in College.