It’s funny how things happen. I’ve wanted to write a post about eating disorders for a couple weeks now, but I was having trouble finding the right words or angle. This morning one of my FBFs shared this link:
Here are some of the comments that appeared below the link:
"0 is not a size! 0 is nothing!"
“They are marketing to mosquitos”
“I want to be slim and sexy but I want curves. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want to fit into a 000. That would mean I took up crack smoking.”
"I don't want to have the body of a 10 year old. I like my curves."
“You’re fine the way you are. You look like a human…not a lollipop”
And here’s my comment:
“I am a size 0 and it is indeed a size. And I have curves. And I'm not skinny or sick or anorexic. I am a healthy and fit woman, no matter what my size. And skinny shaming is just as bad as fat shaming. It doesn't matter what size anyone wears, as long as they are happy and healthy in their own skin. Please forgive the rant, but one of my biggest pet peeves is that people feel they can make derogatory comments about my body now that I've lost weight...and most of them never would have taken license to do so when I was obese.”
My FBF who shared the link is not a mean or malicious person at all. In fact, she’s a friend from my gym who shares a weight loss story similar to my own. However, her post opened a small can of worms and got me thinking deeply about my own history with eating disorders and how much I worry about raising my daughter in a world where it is completely acceptable for us to make comments like the ones above. To be honest, my own vanity is what has kept me from sharing my story as it relates to eating disorders. I have been so afraid that if I share, people will assume my 75-pound weight loss was the result of a dangerous illness as opposed to the dedication and hard work that actually got me there. But screw that. You know me and I’m not one to censor, so here goes.
I remember my first night going to a club in college. Everyone got dressed up in their shortest skirts, tallest boots and most glittery tops to celebrate one of our first nights of freshman year freedom. But when I tried to put on my tall boots, they wouldn’t zip over my calves. And when I put on my skirt, I grimaced at my thick thighs sticking out the bottom. I changed right away, opting for black pants that hid and slimmed my bottom half and a sparkly low-cut top to draw the eyes upward and show off my favorite asset at the time: the girls. This was the first of many nights of college insecurity for me, and before I knew it I had adopted some very dangerous habits. Always an overachiever, I gained about 25 pounds instead of the usual “freshman 15” during my first year of college. By the summer, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.
I decided to stay in Boston and work over the summer, and my awesome godparents let me live with them. Most of my friends had gone home for summer vacation and I was staying in the suburbs, so I found myself with a great deal of extra time on my hands. I started using that extra time to think about things too much…and eat. I would hide in my room with a bag of snacks that I purchased on my way home from work. I would eat one snack…then another…and another. Then I would eat dinner with my godparents and some nights we would go out for ice cream afterward. If there was any junk food left in my room, I would eat it before going to bed, telling myself that I wouldn’t do the same thing the next day. But I always did. I would eat until I was uncomfortable and felt overwhelmingly guilty. I was so ashamed of my behavior that I thought I would die of embarrassment if anyone found out. I would even take the wrappers back into the city with me the next day so I could dispose of them in a public place where they could not be traced back to me. Eventually I began to think of how I was going to gain more weight and be even more self-conscious, so I started to purge after every binge. My boyfriend found out about a month after I started and demanded that I stop. The doctor-to-be schooled me on the dangers of what I was doing and started to watch me carefully, making it impossible for me to hit the bathroom after meals. So I switched it up and began exercising excessively. I would go to the gym near my office after work each day for about an hour or two, then do step aerobics for 2-3 hours when I got home. When I finished, I would sit down and calculate the calories I had consumed (since I was still binging) and the calories I had burned. If it didn’t balance out, I would go exercise some more.
Most people think eating disorders are limited to anorexia (extremely restrictive eating, if any at all) or bulimia (binging and purging); in fact, I was one of them. When I began binging, I didn’t even think I had an eating disorder. I thought I was just embarrassed and that’s why I hid while I ate. I struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), textbook Bulimia (MIA) and also Exercise Bulimia (EB) without even realizing it. I dealt with each illness to varying degrees for years, although it was never as bad as that first summer of college. When I moved to PA in 2007, I was far from my family and friends, driving for more than 2 hours a day and working long hours at a job I hated. I found joy in visiting drive-thrus on my way to and from work, making sure to choose locations off the beaten path so no one would see me. I would order tons of food but ask for separate bags so the servers would think I was taking it somewhere to share and not look at me like “Wow! You’re gonna eat all that?” After my daughter was born, I lost my job and battled with postpartum depression, which eventually launched me right back into BED and resulted in significant weight gain. I remember eating a box of cookies on the couch one day, spilling the crumbs all over my newborn and crying from the shame I felt as I looked apologetically at my crumb-covered baby. Fortunately I regained control of my life in early 2012, which is when my now successful journey toward health and wellness began.
I have been blessed with success that includes relative freedom from eating disorders, a love of exercise, enjoying a “normal” BMI for the first time in years, and the adoption of many new, healthy habits over the last 2.5 years. But I have to be honest and tell you that I still struggle with my own thoughts. There are days when I’m at the gym and frown at myself in the mirror because I think I see a little too much jiggle when I’m jumping around in BodyAttack. There are days when I splurge on a muffin and am overcome with guilt before I even swallow the last bite. Earlier this year, there were days when I got on stage to teach a class and started to panic inside because I was certain that everyone could see the 10 pounds I gained over the winter. On the other side of the coin, there were days when I was at my lowest weight and couldn’t stand my body because I lost my hips and breasts somewhere during my journey. There are days when it just seems impossible to be happy with my body.
Everyone has something, right? I guess this is my cross to bear. I don’t smoke or do drugs. I hardly drink, and I don’t really have a vice other than food. Just like an alcoholic has to continuously focus on his or her sobriety, I need to constantly tell myself that it’s okay to eat and even to indulge sometimes. There’s no need to hide or try to “undo” every caloric splurge; instead I should just enjoy them and move on without obsessing. This is what I can do personally, but there is so much more that we can do as a society. We can stop comparing every woman’s body to someone else’s. We can stop the constant scrutiny of our physical appearance for the purpose of deeming some of us better than others simply because we have lighter skin, smaller thighs, a flatter tummy, more curves, fewer stretch marks, longer eyelashes, a lower BMI, fuller breasts or shinier hair. We can stop saying exclusionary things like “real women have curves” and “strong is the new skinny.” We can acknowledge that skinny shaming is no better than fat shaming because we are still passing judgment that isn’t ours to pass. We can teach our girls (and boys!) to celebrate each part of their bodies because they were made just as God intended them to be: unique and beautiful. If we don’t set the example and teach our children, how will they ever know?