I have always had a preoccupation with food, exercise and my weight. I remember, even as a child as young as five-years-old, putting myself on diets of lettuce and apples. Of course, these diets never lasted more than a couple days, sometimes not even more than a few hours. After all, when you’re young, you have to eat what’s on your plate, or you’d face disciplinary actions.
I wasn’t a large child, in fact, I was quite the opposite. I was thin and petite. Smaller than most of my classmates, and about average height. I was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, but I remember always feeling I was ugly. I was constantly comparing myself to my brunette sister with brown eyes, my mom with her dark hair and perfect make-up, and even the other kids in school, who weren’t wearing hand-me-down sweaters, with big bulky pictures of cats and unicorns embroidered onto them.
Some say an eating disorder can be the result of trauma, and having a mother in and out of marriages, and having been abducted when I was just five-years-old, there was no lack of trauma in my early formative years. I cannot recall a time where I wasn’t obsessed and preoccupied with my weight and my appearance. The signs were all there, and they had all been there since before I could remember.
I never thought anything was wrong with me, and I didn’t recognize any of my behaviors or traits as being eating disordered until I was around thirteen. I read a book. I can’t remember the title, but it was about an anorexic girl, and all I could think while reading was “Why are they making such a big deal over this or that? I do that all the time…” After reading the book, it hit me, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, that maybe the things I was doing weren’t normal. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder, after all I was a normal weight, but that was the first time I recognized the traits of an eating disordered person in myself.
When I was fifteen, I was sexually assaulted. The assault itself wasn’t extremely traumatic, but the repercussions of reporting the assault were. I was mocked, humiliated, hit, kicked, spit on, and given notes detailing step-by-step instructions on how to kill myself and do the world a favor in school. I lost all of my so-called “friends.” I was jumped in the hallways on two occasions. I became horribly depressed. My family didn’t understand and I became even more isolated than I already was.
I was at home one day I hopped on the bathroom scale. I thought I read wrong. I had lost over thirty pounds and didn’t even know it. For the first time, in many long months, I had a smile on my face. I was proud of myself. And from there, it became an obsession.
It started slowly. I was offered a piece of cake, and I thought “If I don’t eat this… I’ll lose even more weight…” and I’d pass the plate. Eventually, it got to the point I was counting and recounting calories obsessively. I because nervous and fidgety. The only thing that made me happy, was when I stayed under my calorie limit for the day (usually 300-500 depending on the day) and when I weighed myself, every morning, to find I had dropped even more weight. This was something I could do. This was something that made me special, that set me apart. This was something not everyone had the willpower to do.
As sick as it sounds, my entire life because a made up ritual of games, and obligations. I had to drink a bottle of water every waking hour. Every time I used the bathroom, it was fifty jumping jacks. Every time I at something with more than 150 calories per serving (regardless of how many calories I had consumed for the day) I purged. As soon as everyone in the house went to bed, I began my hours upon hours of endless and unrelenting exercises. I skipped breakfast and lunch. I went on walks after dinner, every day, to hide my purging. I used cooking spray and bread crumbs to dirty up dishes during the day and make it look like I had eaten. I picked up empty McDonald’s bags and threw them away at home, to make it look like I had gotten food while I was out, and that’s why I wasn’t hungry. When I went shopping, I created rules. I couldn’t buy anything with more than 120 calories per serving, as as others passed me, I’d guess the calorie contents of everything in their carts. Not surprisingly, I became quite skilled at guessing calorie content.
My habits and rituals increased, while my weight continued to decrease. It became an addiction. I felt high. I felt beautiful. I felt superior. There was nothing in the world that could bring me down as long as I had my willpower and my self-control. There was nothing anyone could do or say to me, because I knew I was stronger than they were. I was in control of myself. I wasn’t a slave to food like everyone else was. I found comfort in knowing that I ate to live, rather than lived to eat.
Eventually, the pounds lost became to obvious to hide. I began layering my clothes. Two pairs of pajama pants or a pair of sweats under my jeans. Two sports bras, a bra, and a bra-tank under my shirts. Coins in my pockets to make me weigh more at doctors appointments. I spent hours layering on the makeup, hiding the palor of my face. I went to great lengths hiding my affliction. I didn’t want it taken away from me. I didn’t want anyone to force me back to the way I was before.
And the hiding worked. At least for a while. Eventually, it was all too apparent. I was sent to a rehabilitation center for six months, but the center did more harm than good. As soon as I was released, three days before my eighteenth birthday, I was right back at my old habits, except it was done frantically. I had so much lost time, and lost progress to make up for.
Then I found myself pregnant. This was my turning point. I won’t get into the details of what exactly occurred during this time, but I found a way to separate myself from the needs of my child. Although it’s easy to relapse (even after giving birth) I am in control again, but in a different way. My disease will always be there. It’s always in the corner of my mind, and those thoughts are always there, but now, I have the control not to act on them. And that is the difference between being sick, and recovered. There is no true recovery, no absolution, or solution to this disorder. It is always there, and I’ll never be rid of it. But it is my choice whether or not I act on it.
And that, is where my control is from.