Embracing My Disordered Eating Recovery Story
Eating disorders are prevalent in our culture. In this blog post, I talk about my recovery from my disordered eating behaviors, including binge eating disorder behaviors, purging, orthorexia, and excessive exercise. Disordered behaviors that started in my childhood. I hope this post is just the start of an ongoing series - which seems fitting since recovery is ongoing. Thank you for reading!
Where do I start this story, a story whose author was only 9-years-old when she wrote the first page?
Do I start near the beginning in the bottom bunk bed of my shared childhood bedroom? The setting autumn sun washed the room with auburn warmth as my mommy ran her fingers through my tear-soaked hair. My usual bedtime ritual. Pent up sadness from the day spilled onto my pillowcase as I tried to fall asleep. My elementary school made my third grade class get weighed in front of everyone that day. I was six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than every other girl. “I’m so fat,” I wept. “Oh sweetie, you aren’t fat.” My mom’s heart broke as she tried her best to help me see myself differently.
I wished I would’ve known then what I know now. That fat isn’t bad. Fat is fine. Being fat is just like being brunette. Natural and neutral and just is. But I didn’t know that then. I just knew I felt different and ugly.
The crickets just outside my garden level window chirped in harmony as my mom sang me to sleep. Evening light faded to purple shadows, just like the new bruises on my baby body image. My sleepy eyelids grew heavy as my mom sang my favorite Anglican hymn. A hymn that will forever sound like my childhood the same way that Third Eye Blind sounds like being 13. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”
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Or do I start with the climax of this story? Just two summers ago at the summit of Pikes Peak. My thighs burned and my head throbbed as I reached the top of the mountain. All I could think about was food. After oversleeping that morning, I didn’t have enough time to pack enough to eat for the eight-hour hike. My body needed calories. I quickly made my way to the post hike refreshments and ate and ate and ate. Chicken noodle soup. Protein bars. Chocolate chip cookies. Packets of almonds. Hot chocolate. I stuffed more food into my backpack for later. I was truly in starvation mode. My body was doing what it needed to do after hiking 13.1 miles up a mountain without enough fuel. It was trying to survive.
Somewhere in my mind I rationally knew I needed the food. What felt like binging was actually healthy and natural. But on the van ride down the mountain, the eating disorder gremlins started to rear their nasty heads. And that’s when the guilt set in. I started obsessing over every bite. Mentally calculating calories consumed versus calories burned. Am I going to gain weight? God, I was doing so well this week too. I shamed myself for the lack of control. I must have looked like an idiot. My stomach twisted from the stress. I needed to fix what I had done.
At the base of the mountain, I got to my car and started heading back north towards Denver on I-25. The gremlins were taking over at this point. “You need to fix what you’ve done,” they chanted. I made an impulsive decision and turned off at the next exit. I needed to get those calories out of my body. I had no choice. I pulled into a Starbucks right off the highway. I rushed to the bathroom and kneeled down in front of the toilet. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I made myself throw up.
I was shocked and embarrassed. I felt out of control and didn’t recognize who I was in that moment. And that was the second time I had purged by throwing up that month. And I had been binging and purging through exercise for months prior. Something was wrong.
As I walked out of the Starbucks, I looked at the latte-drinkers’ faces to see if they had heard what I had just done. I wished my mom were there. I needed her words. I needed her song. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”
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I needed my mom this week too. Writing this post has been hard. I emailed her a rough draft last night. At the bottom of the email, I wrote: “Take a look at what I have so far. Kind of just a mind dump. This has been the most difficult thing for me to write.” I have felt stuck. Instead of my fingers flowing freely on the keys, I have paused. Hesitated. Deleted and re-worded. Second-guessed. I can usually write a blog post in a couple of hours. This one – this one took days. It was like asking a fish to describe the sensation of water around its body. How can you describe something that has always been and still is? Something that still absorbs me most minutes of most days.
Even after two years of consistent counseling, podcast-listening, reading, and journaling, I am still not fully healed. Yes, I have made progress. I no longer binge or purge (via exercising or throwing up). I no longer log calories after every meal or excessively exercise. I haven’t weighed myself in almost two years. I am totally fine that I have gone up two pants sizes. I am learning to be body neutral (screw body positivity – no one needs to love their body. Do you love your gallbladder? A body is an instrument, not an ornament, as a wise person once said).
But this culture makes it hard to “fully heal.” I am entrenched in a culture that worships skinny and clean eating and physical perfection. Just look at the number of before and after pictures you see on the internet as proof of this insidious ideal.
And let’s talk about before and after pictures. I am sick of them. Sick. Of. Them. That side-by-side set-up where “before girl” on the left is bigger and “after girl” on the right is leaner. On the left, life is sad. On the right, life is fab!
No thank you.
When I see before and after pictures, there’s a part of me that is angry. Angry at the girl for buying into the belief that life begins at toned. Angrier at our culture for reducing women to the size of her waist. (But don’t forget! Now we must be the perfect combination of thin and muscular and curvy…while simultaneously protecting our social image by indulging in wine and chocolate and bread like it’s no big deal.)
But really, when I see before and after pictures, the biggest part of me is just sad. Sad for the loss of a life that girl could have had if she ditched cultural norms. Sad that our diet culture keeps us women small, literally and figuratively. But mostly, I am sad for myself. I am sad for the years of life I lost, between age 9 in that bunk bed and age 30 in that Starbucks bathroom. I wasted so much energy for so many years.
Christy Harrison, anti-diet dietician, describes it like this:
“Diet culture steals your joy, your spark, and your life, which is why I call it The Life Thief.”
She nails it. Diet culture and thin privilege and trying to get that bomb booty steal our lives. They keep us small. They keep up from fully living the most badass versions of ourselves.
Diet culture robbed me of my innocence at age 9…when I was more concerned about getting weighed in front of the other kids than I was about which games we’d play at recess. Diet culture robbed me of my ability to live in-the-moment at the top of Pikes Peak at age 30…when I was more concerned about the impact of calories on my waistline than I was about the gorgeous views at 14,111 feet.
Diet culture robbed me of my ability to live in-the-moment at the top of Pikes Peak at age 30…
when I was more concerned about the impact of calories on my waistline than I was about the gorgeous views at 14,111 feet.
And diet culture continues to rob me of my full potential at age 32…but I’m fighting against it. Somewhere inside of myself, I keep finding the courage to smash the gremlins daily. And today, my courage manifests in sharing my story with you.
Eating disorder gremlins: 0. Kristen: 1.
Let's keep it that way.
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