For years, I refused to believe I was doing anything wrong. My denial was rooted in my unconventional habits. The reality is much darker as I was doing everything wrong, concealing an undiagnosed eating disorder.
Did you know nearly 80% of eating disorders go undetected? In the United States, there are roughly 28.8 million people with an eating disorder, which is about 9% of our population.Source
For years, I refused to believe I had an eating disorder. My denial was rooted in the fact my habits weren’t textbook. I wasn’t starving myself, binging and purging, or taking laxatives. On the surface it looked like I was following a healthy diet and daily workout plan. But the reality is worse. I was a young woman obsessed with her body, hiding horrible eating habits and seriously low self esteem. Through therapy as a 37 year old Mom of three, I have learned I was battling an undiagnosed eating disorder for way too long.
Can you not realize you have an eating disorder?
It’s hard not to notice how much Hollywood glamorizes and normalizes eating disorders at the same time. The nonchalant scene of a high school girl wiping her mouth in the bathroom mirror. The petite woman sadly nibbling lettuce while her friends dive into a plate of nachos. A group of girlfriends proudly comparing thigh gaps. The hints at the characters’ issues remain a snippet of the storyline – and it’s only the made-for-tv movies that end up elaborating on the scary reality of eating disorders.
Did I watch the serious movies? NO. I watched the good ones where the girls did anything and everything to stay thin (all while smiling and acting like there was nothing wrong). Remember Cher from Clueless and Kathryn from Cruel Intentions?
I would love to blame my obsession with “being skinny” from the movies. I would also like to say it’s their fault I didn’t know there was something wrong with the way I stayed skinny. However, there are many factors contributing to eating disorders in teens and Hollywood isn’t at the top of the list. You know what is though? Social pressure to be thin, that’s what seems to be a main driving force (source). And let’s be honest, we all know high school is a breeding ground for teen eating disorders.
Who is most likely to develop an eating disorder?
I think it is hard to pinpoint a certain type of person who is more likely to develop an eating disorder than others. Eating disorders impact people regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or economic status (source). According to a 10-year study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, an estimated 11 percent of high school students were diagnosed with an eating disorder. HOWEVER, eating disorders typically develop between the ages of 18 and 21.
With that being said, I always thought I was above disordered eating. Especially as a college student surrounded by other females who didn’t like their bodies. I was just a girl with great control of her physique and caloric intake, right?
How does an eating disorder begin?
My body image issues blossomed quickly once I hit high school. When a growth spurt at 12 blessed me with womanly curves, some boy friends gave me the nickname “Wide Load.” I started comparing my body to my friend’s bodies. How come they didn’t have wide hips? Were their legs skinnier than my legs?
Thoughts about what I was eating in correlation to how my body looked did not cross my mind. I just looked in the mirror at my body… a lot. And I thought about how much I despised my reflection.
Then something happened: I got really sick and lost a TON of weight.
The summer before my senior year of high school my family went to Mexico and brought back a few souvenirs: Mono and H.Pylori. The combination of the virus and bacterial infection had a profound effect on my body. After weeks of antibiotics, nausea, and vomiting, I was left with a dramatic weight loss.
I didn’t notice the visible changes in my body at first. I was too busy with school, dance, sports, and working at Abercrombie Kids. Then one day my dance teachers asked my Mom if I had an eating disorder. My coworkers made comments about how I could suddenly fit in the Kids clothes we were selling. And my new small stature elicited a flurry of compliments from everyone in my life.
“Wow you look amazing.” “How’d you lose all that weight?” “How do you get your stomach so flat?” “I wish I had your body!”
For the first time in my teen life I was in love with my body. All of the positive attention did wonders for my self esteem. There was a scary part though – I was underweight and unhealthy – and in my heart I knew what I was about to do wasn’t right.
Can Unintentional Weight Loss Trigger an Eating Disorder?
For a 17 year old girl already struggling with a distorted self image, the unintentional weight loss sparked a new fire. I NEEDED to stay as thin as I became. This was the first domino to fall, triggering on obsessive compulsive desire to control my physical appearance by any means necessary. Calorie counting (or simply NOT eating) was my strategy, as well as going to the gym every single day before school. By the time I packed my bags for college, I thought I had a great system for staying skinny.
Fast forward through two years of college binge drinking, dining hall feasts, and midnight DP Dough orders. I went home for the summer with not just the weight I lost during high school, but an additional Freshman/Sophomore 15. The funny thing is I was still SO happy and completely unaware of how my body had changed. That was until someone said how healthy I looked with some meat on my bones. That word – meat – was all it took for me to start obsessing again.
The first thing I did when I transferred to Tennessee for my junior year of college was visit the gym. Then I started weighing myself 2 times a week. I used a tape measure to record the size of my waist/hip/thighs. I recorded the numbers in my school planner so I could track my weight loss. It was hard to lose weight though – we played a lot of beer pong and ended our nights with the munchies.
So I tried something different. I started making myself throw up. If I ate a big meal in the dining hall and drank soda, it was easy to gag it back up. I continued this bad habit for more years than I’d like to admit. It seemed like the easiest solution to whenever I felt like I ate “too much.” The worst part of this disgusting behavior is that vomiting is a side effect of my GI problems. So not only was I throwing up when I had an IBS flare up, but I was also doing it voluntarily.
Pregnancy Forced Me to Quit My Disordered Eating
There are quite a few more details to my story … but I am not ready to tell them. Moving 800 miles away from home for a boy I loved played a huge part though. Someday I will tell Part 2 of my story… but for now know that I am no longer battling this disorder.
I said goodbye to my ED in 2013 before I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. Everything I read about getting pregnant said I needed to be healthy – and exercising twice a day on 1500 calories wasn’t healthy. The thought of not being able to nourish a tiny baby growing inside my belly was enough to scare me into eating everything I craved. It was difficult, of course, watching my body shape change each month. But the miracle of a pregnancy is worth every pound and every stretch mark.
I share my eating disorder story with hopes to raise awareness about this terrible disease. As a Mom with a past, it’s easy to worry my daughters will someday fight the same secret demons. Hopefully we can avoid that as I will do anything to protect them. I’m on an active mission to learn about prevention and educate myself on how to encourage positive body image in my children.