This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week in the U.S, apparently Canada’s was earlier in the month and I had no idea. Just goes to show how well these "awareness weeks" actually raise awareness. But, I believe that there needs to be more discussion around EDs every day. Not just for one week. Eating disorders are the most common chronic illness in the female adolescent population and they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yes, they are a mental illness. They aren’t just about food, weight, or getting attention (http://nedic.ca/know-facts/statistics).
So what happened to me?
Going into my 3rd year of university, I wanted to lose weight and start eating healthier. So that’s what I did. But being someone who’s NEVER been active, I didn’t really know what or how much to do. I started off "cleaning" up my diet and getting on the treadmill. Also, at this time I was heavily consumed by "fitspos" on Tumblr. I scrolled through them on the daily. Looking at pictures of women with flat stomachs with a motivational quote on them that said "Don't stop when you're tired. Stop when you're done".
By Christmas I had lost weight and was feeling good. Then I went on vacation with my family and that January I came back with the mindset that I had to make up for all the “damage” I had done (lack of exercise and a lot of junk food). So that meant longer workouts, and less food.
I was consumed by exercise and eating as little as possible, yet I told everyone that I was just being “healthy”. Then, it got even worse. People started to CONSIDER me the “healthy one”. When I would go out for dinner with friends and family people would make comments, “Oh, Steph is probably just getting a salad because she’s healthy”. People started praising me for it. Those times when I WANTED to order a burger or cake, I felt like I couldn’t because people had this assumption that I had to be healthy. And if I deviated from it, it was a huge deal.
People weren’t completely oblivious. Eventually my mom spoke up and took me to see a dietitian. I was told my BMI was healthy, I was fine, and was given tips on how to eat more.
What was my reaction?
1. Happy that I didn’t have to face my problem
2. Absolutely stunned at the “professional” help I was given.
So, I continued on. Never admitting to myself or others that I had a problem.
It was about a 2-year battle with myself. Looking back, those 2 years were a blur. I was lying to my family, my friends and myself. I was tired, sick, sad, and had no idea what to do. Thinking about food and exercise consumed my life. I would weigh myself multiple times a day. The scale dictated my happiness.
But eventually something happened that saved me. Social media. Crazy right? Social media can be the culprit of eating disorders, but it can also be a path to help. I was on Instagram and I saw all these fit and healthy people eating food. All kinds of food. Wait, what? You can eat peanut butter and still be healthy? That blew my mind. Somehow the fitness community on Instagram literally saved my life. I was tired of being sick and tired. So I started to change. See you later cardio and hello food. No, I didn’t “recover” in a day. It took months, years. Some days better than others.
Looking back now, I wonder why this happened to me. Perhaps it has to do with my "perfectionist" personality. Maybe those Tumblr fitspos caused me to get so deep into the diet mentality. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I was in a period in my life where deep down I didn't know what I wanted to do in the future. I was in university, but I was unhappy. I felt like I had no control. So, the one thing I could control was what I ate, how much I exercised, and my weight.
The summer before I had planned to go to Teacher's College was a turning point for me. I remember sitting in my kitchen thinking about the year ahead, and how much I dreaded it. So, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. I threw away my childhood "dream" of being a teacher. I had to tell my family that this wasn't what I wanted to do. The "smart" girl with the big future ahead was throwing it all away. But, I did it. I did it because I knew in my heart it was right.
What does all this have to do with my eating disorder? I made peace with my decision to be free from a life I didn't want. I decided to take the time to figure out what life has planned for me. This was the time when I started to recover. I no longer felt like I had to control or restrict my food. I no longer felt like I had to run for hours a day. I felt this essence of relief. I felt like I was becoming who I was meant to be. I was discovering myself through my recovery.
Eating disorders aren't about food or weight. I love food, we all love food. They are about control. About trying to control your life when you feel like you have no control at all.
Here's my message to you: When you feel like there is no way out, I promise you there is. On the darkest of days you need to keep fighting. Those dark days will lead you to the light. I promise.
If you think you might need help, below are some resources to look into:
My favourite ED podcasts:
Recovery Warrior Show
*There are the only podcasts I have listened to. There are many more out there pertaining to EDs.