The mission of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to facilitate open, honest preventive communication about the attitudes, perceptions, and pressures that shape eating disorders and body image issues.
An eating disorder is not a choice; it is a life-threatening illness.
In light of the fact that 91% of women on college campuses have attempted to control their weight through dieting and that 1 in 3 of those dieters develop compulsive eating and/or exercising behaviors, it is crucial that those of us who have overcome the frightening, destructive grasp of an eating disorder open up and share our story of hope.
My personal fight with an eating disorder started innocently as a goal to get fit and healthy as a freshman in college. I was never overweight, but I suddenly became very self-conscious in a dorm room filled with girls who were prettier and thinner.
I began joining in on the nightly runs and workouts with the other girls – not only were helping me lose weight and get in shape, but I was making new friends as well.
It was very difficult for me to be in a new place with no one I knew. I had grown up in a small Christian high school where everyone knew my name, where it was easy to be popular and liked, and where I identified my worth with the achievements, awards, and titles that I held. Now, as I began to compare myself with my new friends, I suddenly felt insecure and as if I had lost my worth.
With the praise that I began to receive about how great I looked, I started to believe that being skinny would be what could make me happy and feel self-worth.
In an effort to see more change faster, I began to cut carbohydrates and meat out of my diet, soon only eating fruits and vegetables at each meal. My sense of accomplishment for having lost weight with just cutting back on “junk food” and exercising every day fueled a deeper desire for more control over life.
During this time, my family was going through some very difficult issues and I had always had a hard time voicing my anger, hurt, and frustration. Restricting my body of food and pushing myself physically through exercise allowed me to “voice” my negative feelings.
Rather than sharing how I felt about my insecurity and pain, I turned inward and began to find solace in controlling my own body. During my second semester I had let my eating take over my life to the point where I had lost 30 pounds in two months. My RA had finally convinced me to go to the doctor with her and when I was officially diagnosed as an anorexic, and the dean of women immediately sent home for treatment.
Rather than accepting the help of doctors and therapists, I decided to cling to my eating disorder even more tightly. I had fallen beyond the point where I was choosing not to eat, and was now in a place where I was so overwhelmed with the fear of letting go and losing control that I couldn’t make myself eat.
Over the next two years I was sent to different hospitals and treatment centers as my weight continued to spiral down. I had lost sight of the goals and dreams I had for my life and the only goal that mattered was seeing the numbers on the scale decrease. It felt the a war was going on inside of me – one side of me wanted to never let go of anorexia, I had found comfort and control in the disease, yet the other side of me was screaming for help to get my life back, to feel like myself again and to be able to stop thinking about my weight.
It wasn’t long before I hit rock bottom. At 68 pounds I was labeled a chronic anorexic and my doctor told my parents to prepare for my funeral.
I was once again admitted to a long inpatient stay and tube-feed in order to regain weight. The experience was unpleasant to say the least and after gaining enough weight to stabilize, I left against medical advice, swearing that I would never be back.
While in the hospital I caught a glimpse of my life passing before my eyes, of the time I couldn’t get back, of the friends I had lost, of the years I spent in hospitals and I finally realized that I had to take action if I wanted to stop anorexia from taking my life. Right then I promised myself that I would get better. I took responsibility for my recovery and began to see the future that I could have once I decided to live healthy and accept the help of others. As I began to nourish my body physically, I began to feel better emotionally and mentally.
With daily baby steps of accepting myself and setting goals -physically, mentally and emotionally, I was able to get back on track. Most importantly, I knew that God had a greater plan for my life, that I was not meant to live trapped in an eating disorder.
I did not recover overnight. It took roughly two years for me to begin experiencing life again without turning toward anorexia’s habits. With the help of counselors, family, and friends, I was able to voice my disappointment and hurt in order to move on from past pain. A big part of my recovery was finding something that I loved to do that would help others. It is when you help someone who is in need that you realize just how grateful you are for life.
I still had difficult days where I wanted to turn back to anorexia and feel the self-satisfaction of not eating, but I continued to press on toward my new goals of finishing college and starting my career.
Now, after having attained my bachelors degree and being on a career path that I could have only dreamed about, I am overwhelmed with peace and joy. Life is not about what size jeans you wear or how much skinner you are than the girl next to you. Nor is life about hiding the pain and hurt you feel to look perfect on the outside.
Life is about giving and receiving love, cherishing the time you have with friends and family, and becoming the person you dream of being. If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder, press on, for life awaits you.
If you know someone with an eating disorder, continue to support and pray that they will see their true worth. Together, we can overcome the deadly trap of eating disorders.
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