As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again
Fifteen years ago, I jokingly repeated those words as I embarked on a journey to heal my body and mind from the grips of food obsession. Or not so much food, the food was only a symptom of the emotional pain I felt, along with an intense desire to simply vanish into thin air.
I had an eating disorder.
It started out innocently enough when I was about 11, and in the terribly awkward preteen stage. I had started to put on weight that summer, and was concerned that my body, always strong and muscular, was turning into something I couldn't abide- fat. I was raised to be intensely aware of my appearance, and to never look unnattractive. I felt it was my duty, to my family and to others, to appear as attractive as possible, and I remember catty conversations with my female relatives about women who were X pounds and "can you believe she wears a size xx?". I began to see my natural growth and development as something to fear, and so I started counting calories. Except...having no real idea how many calories I SHOULD take in, I thought that aiming for 1000 calories a day was plenty. I memorized food labels and calorie charts, and realized that for a hungry 5ft 3" adolescent girl, it was really HARD to stay under 1000 calories! So I cut out fat, all of it, sugar of course, and meat.
That left me with dry toast and salad with no dressing.
I weighed myself 10 times a day and when I didn't see the results I was hoping for, started skipping meals as well. I did this all through my adolescence, until my eating disorder spiraled out of control when I was 17. I had been having problems at home, and my stress caused me to lose 12 lbs in 10 days. My clothes were hanging off me, and I was thrilled! In order to continue this "progress", I decided to stop eating entirely, except for crackers when I felt I must eat, and my latte addition (which is probably all that was keeping me going at that point). I went as long as three days without eating at all, during this time I was supporting myself by working full time and lived in my own apartment. Day after day I trudged home and went straight to bed, with no energy to do the things that a normal 17 year old girl would do. My employer started bringing me breakfast and insisting I eat it in front of him. I did, because I wanted people to think that I was normal and the secrecy in my condition was huge. My hair stopped growing, my muscles, gained from a lifetime of walking everywhere, turned to pasty flab. My skin cracked and peeled. I looked terrible and felt worse. I didn't date, I didn't have the energy and since I looked like death warmed over, no boys asked. I developed narcolepsy, falling dead asleep in the middle of a conversation with my friend who stopped by to watch a movie with me. She let herself out and worried about me.
Then I started having heart palpatations. This wasn't the "skip a beat" feeling or the fluttering because of having low blood sugar. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest and I woke up one night from a sound sleep feeling like I was about to die. That sobered me up quick. I had covered my skin problems with makeup the thickness of spackle, but this I couldn't ignore. I got up and went to the kitchen right then and there, opening the unused pantry, where I had a can of tuna, a package of saltines, and a jar of mayonaise that somebody had given me. I was starving, and crammed crackers into my mouth while I prepared a very bland tuna salad (with no salt because of course I didn't cook). I ate half the sleeve of crakers and all the tuna. I knew I had to change.
I had no resources for counseling, I was on my own and had to work, so I devised a very basic plan. I would teach myself how to eat again. Every day, I went about my non-food day as usual, but came home and started making a meal for myself. I always liked breakfast, so I started there. At first, I chopped up one small potato, and cooked it in a dry pan. Then I fried one egg, with no butter. After I learned to eat that without hating myself, I increased it. After a month or so, I was eating a pretty good meal every day, two eggs, with a tiny sprinkle of cheese, a smidge of olive oil in the pan to make them more palatable, and a good sized potato. Soon I added dry toast. Then I added a pat of butter. By the time summer came around, I was eating 1,000 calories a day again. That was huge for me and I finally felt strong enough to eat other meals as well, yogurt for breakfast, a bagel for lunch (this was the low-fat high carb 90's!).
I read a study years later that found that girls with eating disorders have changes in their brain that make them literally forget how to be hungry and to eat, and that simply provding scheduled meals reversed those changes. I had stumbled on an effective treatment quite by accident.
I have not been free of relapses, during periods of stress I have to remind myself not to listen to the inner dialogue that tells me that I don't "deserve" to eat. I have gained a lot of weight from having my babies, but every time I would embark on a weight loss plan, it would trigger me to begin starving myself, and I'd have to abandon the plan.
Fifteen years later and I've FINALLY made peace with food. I don't think about it, obsess over it, feel bad about it, crave it, love it, hate it, I just EAT what I need and no more. This healthy plan was motivated by James and we're in a healthy competition to regain our pre-marriage bodies! At the age of 32, after white-knuckling through most of the last fifteen years, I feel like I've turned a corner.
Yay for that!