When I give my Eating Disorders 101: Presentation tomorrow, this is the personal anecdote I plan to share:
“I developed an eating disorder when I was 14, during my freshman year of high school. Though when I think back, I know that the negative thoughts and self-talk that led me there began much earlier. Maybe when I was 10 or 11.
At first, I met the criteria for EDNOS, but I was never diagnosed. I was engaging in Anorexic behaviors, and was beginning to experience some of the health complications. For example, I was always cold. I was wearing long sleeves and sweatshirts in the summer I. lost a significant amount of weight, in a short period of time, but according to Body Mass Index, I wasn’t “underweight”. I didn’t receive treatment until a few years later, when I met the diagnostic criteria for Bulimia.
Set point theory is a concept you may be familiar with. It basically states that our bodies are prepositioned to maintain a certain weight range, and if we go below that range, all kinds of mechanisms kick in to maintain homeostasis. This is one of the reasons that people who diet may have a difficult time losing weight and keeping it off. It’s a biological adaptation.
My set point mechanisms kicked in when I was malnourished. No matter how much I exercised, or how little I ate, I couldn’t lose any more weight. In fact, I started to gain weight. Which at best was annoying, and at worst, was absolutely terrifying. And this is part of what triggered the development of my bulimia. Looking back at pictures of myself, I see that I was thin. By no means emaciated, but thin. But at the time, I wanted to lose more weight. When I had bulimia, I weighed more. So I looked even less like the archetypal eating disorder patient most people seem to visualize.
I constantly felt like my problem wasn’t serious, or that I was too fat to have an eating disorder. Being told directly by people in your life, or indirectly by society, is a barrier to entering treatment for a lot of people. And so is being told that men, people of color, or those that grew up in poverty can’t have an eating disorder. Because all of these are myths.
So there was no intervention for me. Yes, there were people in my life that supported my decision to get help and I owe them so much, but throughout the process I had to be own advocate. In fact, I faced a lot of opposition from others in my life when I tried to get treatment. Because they were in denial that I actually had a problem.
I didn’t develop this problem because of airbrushing in magazines, or because runway models are extremely thin. But I feel that the media shapes society and how both my peers, as well as the adults in my life reacted to my unhealthy weight loss. There was a vocal minority that expressed their concern- but the general consensus was that I had done something “good.” As if there’d been something wrong with me before, that my ED had fixed. People would tell me that I looked “so much better than I did before”, even though my grades were slipping and I had no goals for myself, beyond losing more weight. Teachers complimented me, and so did my high school guidance counselor. And some of the time, this gave me a sense of pride. But for the most part, I was just ashamed because I was harming myself, and people were praising me for it.
When I was ” overweight” in my preteens, I was harassed.
When I was thin in my teens, I was praised.
And when I was “normal sized”, in a sense I was ignored.
To me, that really says something about how society treats people of different sizes.
I was in treatment for three months, in an outpatient setting. Though for a period of time, I was in a “partial hospital program”. Which meant I stayed at the clinic all day, but got to sleep in my bed at home. And I was very blessed that my parents had the money, and the health insurance, to get me this level of care. Eating disorders are some of the most expensive conditions to effectively treat.
And what a lot of people don’t understand, is that it’s physically painful to eat during the early stages of recovery. Either, because you haven’t been eating- or you haven’t been keeping it down so to speak. Or a combination of both. Your body isn’t used to it. Which is why people with eating disorders need the support of their friends and family, to push through that discomfort. Because, it does get better. I am proof of this.
One of the hardest parts of treatment for me were the people in my life who were dieting, and would criticize their bodies out loud and talk about how many or few calories they were eating.
Those of you who are dieting, that is your personal choice. And I commend anyone who is making positive changes to improve their health. But I would caution you to think before you before you speak, because never know what’s going on in someone else’s head. And what effect your words can have on them.
And I know a lot of people are going to fight me on this one- so we can agree to disagree. But no scientific study has ever found a proven weight loss method, that allows person to maintain their weight loss beyond 5 years. Certainly there are people that do keep weight off. But that number is very small.
And I can honestly say that I feel better about myself now, than when I was 100 pounds lighter. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t gotten the help I needed, I wouldn’t be where I am in my academic career. I didn’t get treated for my eating disorder until my senior year. And I feel that’s a real contributor to why I graduated at the bottom of my class. Today, I’m no straight A student. But I have made the Dean’s List in the past, and I maintain over a 3.0.
If I hadn’t learned how to properly care for myself, I wouldn’t be able to help others. And that’s what I want to do with my life- I want to help people cope with their own trauma through either counseling or art therapy- or perhaps a combination of the two. I know if I hadn’t committed to recovery, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be a Resident Assistant next year, which is something I wanted so badly for myself. And achieved.
And I hope that you all can take something positive from this- rather than feeling like you came here to listen to me tell my boring life story. I hope it may change the way you see yourself, and see other people. And perhaps the things you say to yourself, and to other people.”