Living With An Eating Disorder
EVERY CHALLENGE THAT WE FACE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME MORE THAN WE'VE EVER BEEN BEFORE!
This post has been on my mind for quite some time but I've just now gotten the courage to write it. Saying you have or have had an eating disorder is like a dirty little secret that you don't want anyone to know. Eating disorders are a huge problem in our society and the more we talk about this problem, hopefully the easier it will become for people to recognize that they need help.
Eating disorders run they run the gamut from anorexia to compulsive overeating. What is going on and why is it getting worse? Here is my story and some statistics that might surprise you.
At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness - 13% of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.
In a large national study of college students, 3.5% of sexual minority women and 2.1% of sexual minority men reported having an eating disorder.
16% of transgender college students reported having an eating disorder.
In a study following active duty military personnel over time, 5.5% of women and 4% of men had an eating disorder at the beginning of the study, and within just a few years of continued service, 3.3% more women and 2.6% more men developed an eating disorder.
Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups.
Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all combine to create risk for an eating disorder.
I think an eating disorder is much like any other addictive behavior...once you have it, it never goes away, you just learn to control it, or not. I decided to share my story because obviously I'm not the only one who has struggled with this issue.
1963 was the year I was born...in May. I had a pretty normal upbringing for that time period. My mom stayed at home and my dad went to work everyday. He wasn't especially involved in raising my sister and me but he was always there. As I got older, and hit puberty, (I think it's the case with a lot of girls), things definitely changed for me, including my relationship with my dad (dads are so important). In today's society, we are much more open about our bodies and the changes that go on, but that wasn't the case in 1974. Everything changed for me...my skin broke out, my hair got curlier and out of control, but one thing remained the same, I was always thin and I could always eat whatever I wanted to eat. I had a pretty rough adolescence to say the least (that's a whole other blog post), and I ended up getting married at the ripe old age of 19, I can only speculate about why, but I knew I was making a mistake when I walked down the aisle. Being married at such a young age was so much more difficult than I ever thought it would be, but I tried to make the best of it (also another blog post). I was alone most of the time and worked at a full time job that I hated. I also started to gain weight for the first time in my life and I felt so badly about my life in general. I remember one day, I was putting gas into my car and I saw a cute girl walk by who was so thin and I decided then and there to lose the extra weight (15 lbs.) that I had gained. I probably weighed about 130 pounds at the time and wasn't particularly overweight, but weighed more than I wanted to. Disclaimer here: this is MY story, and this is the way I felt. It wasn't about the weight, it's was how I felt about myself. I started to severely limit my calories and counted every single bite that I put into my mouth. I was so obsessed that I even counted a single jelly bean. In the beginning, It felt good and I got so many compliments. The compliments gave me momentum and I continued to limit my calorie intake and eventually lost about 40 pounds and weighed a whopping 89 pounds. My parents were horrified but had no idea how to help me. My anorexic state was hard to maintain, just by not eating, because I was craving whatever it was that food meant to me (love, comfort?), so I became bulimic and would eat huge amounts of food and then throw up. That was the very lowest point in my life. I felt so badly about myself and was so embarrassed, but seemed to have no control over my behavior.
During this whole period of my life, I only saw a therapist once or twice and honestly have never seen a therapist about this specific issue since then. I believe all of our issues are caused by not loving ourselves. Long story short, I found out I was pregnant when I was 22 and my crazy eating habits stopped...for a while. I didn't want to hurt my baby and this was very happy news for me. I gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy and delivered a very healthy baby girl. After she was born, the eating disorder came back...I think because I was so unhappy in my marriage and with my life in general and didn't know what to do. Honestly, growing up, I was never told that I had the capacity to create my own reality (even though I was doing it by default). My life was happening to me and I was miserable.
What I didn't know at the time was that my wildest dreams were important and not impossible and I had a message and something important to share.
My marriage ended when my daughter was 3 and I felt worse about myself than ever. I was bulimic off and on until about 10 years ago. It was never as bad as it was in the beginning, but my guilt over eating what I considered "to much" was sometimes more than I could handle. Again, it wasn't about the weight. I know there are those that will read this and not understand how I could be so crazy when I wasn't overweight, but it was (and sometimes still is) a mind game I played with myself. It isn't normal behavior which is why it's called a disorder.
Let me get back to the part about anorexia/bulimia being an addictive behavior, not unlike being an alcoholic or drug addict. Once you "get in that head", it's a lifetime struggle to keep it under control. There are still very few days that go by when I don't know every single bite that has gone into my mouth. I also still feel guilt sometimes when I overeat and I still rarely overeat without under eating the next day to compensate.
I'm not telling you this for sympathy, because I am so grateful for my life now (even the crazy parts because I'm learning and growing from them). I just know that I'm not alone and I think it's important to share. I will admit that I like being thin, but sometimes the standards that I hold myself to are difficult. What causes eating disorders? I don't think anyone will ever know exactly, but I do know for sure that stress, unhappiness, and a society that doesn't celebrate self care and self love are a huge part of the causes of these eating disorders and even though they affect men, women seem to be statistically more predisposed to eating disorders. I also know that having an eating disorder bleeds into every other part of your life. A lack of self confidence causes so many problems because decisions aren't based on what's best for you...you don't feel deserving, so you settle for less than you deserve.
Saying someone has an "eating disorder", doesn't seem quite as accurate as saying someone has an "emotional eating" issue. It's all about emotion; we eat (or not) because we're happy, or sad, or lonely, or anxious...the list goes on. So many times, food is associated with love and I think with eating disorders, we are either trying to love ourselves or punish ourselves, with food. It's hard because as humans, we have no choice, we must eat...making eating disorders unlike alcoholism or drug addiction.
I will say, that my obsession with eating inspired my love of cooking. It was during the time when I was the thinnest, that I became interested in learning everything I could about cooking and eventually started a catering business. I still love to cook (as you know) and I also love to eat. I don't believe that eating disorders have anything to do with food. The problem is manifested through food, just as a drug addiction has nothing to do with the drugs. We figure out how to medicate ourselves. It's true that when you know better, you do better. I now know that taking care of myself, through meditation, yoga, being with friends, and taking time to just be, in other words, self care and self love, are the keys to overcoming almost everything. The fact that I now know that I am important and I am worth the time and effort it takes to truly nourish myself and love me has made all the difference in my life. Learning about The Law of Attraction and that I am a spiritual being and have the capacity to create the life I want through my thoughts has changed my life.
I now know that I am here on purpose, there is nothing wrong with me, I deserve to be happy, my weirdness and flaws and passions are perfect for who I am here to be and there are no mistakes. My life has been a journey and some days are still easier than others, but I wouldn't trade the things I've learned for anything.