All right, let me say right up front that I think the subject matter of this post may be potentially triggering for someone who might be struggling with body image, destructive thoughts, disordered eating, or self-hatred. However, I received such an amazing response from readers on my last why-so-serious post (“Ghost“) that I feel compelled to dive a little further into it.
I talk a lot about honesty. I am really pretty honest in this blog. Sure, it’s not a complete and totally unfiltered retelling of my life (I probably drop a lot more F-bombs in real life than I ever would on here, haha), but nothing really is. I don’t pretend like this is ALL of me, but I also don’t try to sugarcoat my life, or show you only the sunny side. Um, obviously. Hahaha.
In my post last week, wherein I described how I still sometimes struggle with the echoes of my eating disorder (and, more importantly, the disordered thoughts that informed it), there was one paragraph that seemed to resonate with some of you quite surprisingly:
…I remembered all of the times that I would go out to eat with my friends. Upon finishing my meal, which was a restaurant portion (read: huge) that I likely ate in its entirety, I remember the feeling of yearning I had toward any unfinished food on my friends’ plates. I always wanted to eat that too. Their leftover french fries, the last quarter of their burger, that last couple of chicken wings. My friends probably (hopefully) didn’t know this. I like to think they didn’t notice the longing in my eyes, the twitching of my fingers. Because it would never even occur to them. They had control of their eating. They didn’t feel the need to stuff themselves to the limit and beyond…
I had really only written it to paint an image of what my thought process used to be like. To illustrate the way my attitude toward and relationship with food was warped. But in the comments and emails that I received, so many people expressed how glad they were to know that there was someone else who had these kinds of thoughts. That there was somebody else out there like them. That they were not alone.
And upon receiving several messages with that same sentiment, the idea for this post began to formulate in my head. Not because it’s an easy post to write, but because I think it’s necessary. Because it is so much harder to face your demons by yourself. And because nobody really is alone. So to prove it, I’m willing to lay it all out there. The self-image issues and the irrationality and the dangerous amounts of self-loathing that I battled on a daily basis, back when I was at my highest weight and in the throes of my eating disorder.
Maybe all this post will do is illustrate just how far-gone I was back then. And maybe it will alienate my real-life friends, or embarrass my family, or who knows what. But you guys often call me brave, and even though I don’t really think that’s true, I want to be. And I want you — whoever you may be — to know that you weren’t then, and are not now, alone.
Imagine it is somewhere in the 2008 – 2009 time frame. I am 20 years old and a college senior. Forget trying to lose the Freshman 15. Unfettered access to campus dining halls and the multiple fast food drive-thrus that populate Harrisonburg, VA has helped me pack on a good 60 pounds over the past 3 years while at school. I am lonely, unfocused, and depressed. I am very overweight. And I feel, deeply, that the latter is the reason for all of the former.
I loathe the way I look, and yet I am obsessed with my body. I strive for the ideal (skinny) body that I have yearned for since I was a pre-teen, and want to get there as quickly as possible. Evidently, this means I am living in a constant cycle of trying to see how long I can go without eating anything at all, and then breaking into a binge when I “fail” at that. And due to my “failure” to starve myself into skinnyness, I hate myself even more.
Despite living in a house full of fun, vibrant women, I find myself retreating more and more into the solitude of my bedroom. This is where most of the damage is done. I come home with fast food in my purse, having already thrown away the extra sodas that came with my multiple value meals from Wendy’s. Because, sure, ordering value meals instead of individual items costs more. But at least this way, the woman in the drive-thru window might not think that all of this food is for me. She might not know to pity me.
I constantly fear judgement. From my housemates. My friends. My classmates. The svelte, denim mini-skirt wearing girls around campus in their Uggs and giant sunglasses who always have a boyfriend. (Of course, I know now that many of them probably weren’t any healthier than me, but it didn’t make it hurt any less that I didn’t look like them.) I can’t let anyone know about my secret food lifestyle. Even just being me, as obese as I am, I feel like I am constantly being judged. God forbid they really see what’s going on behind closed doors. So I try to hide it all.
I rarely use the kitchen, except when nobody else is home and I can make two boxes of macaroni and cheese in peace. No matter what I am eating, it is almost always alone in my room. I shovel down the food as quickly as possible, usually with the TV on so that I don’t have to pay attention to the thousands of calories I’m consuming. I also need to get it over quickly on the off chance that someone might walk in and catch me with my smorgasbord of crap. It sounds cliche, but that feeling — that bursting-to-the-max, uncomfortable, can’t-possibly-eat-another-bite-and-yet-I-do fullness — really is numbing. It helps distract me from myself. It depends on the day, but if I’m really feeling TOO full, then maybe I’ll try purging in one way or another. But probably not. I don’t weigh myself because I don’t want to know.
I’m not completely anti-social. I do have friends, and of course we sometimes go out to eat together. I do struggle with the menu, trying to balance what I want to eat (everything) with what is acceptable to eat. But then I just remind myself that Taco Bell is open until 2 AM and I can always add onto my caloric bill later if need be.
Sometimes, I stand in the shower and turn the water as hot as it will possibly go. I know it is completely illogical and irrational, but I stand there under the scalding stream and savor the pain of the heat, hoping that by some miracle of physics and biology that all my fat will simply melt off my body. I fantasize about getting plastic surgery: gastric bypass, liposuction. I research fad diets, crash diets, celebrity diets. I wonder whether Fen-Phen is still a thing, and if I could get some (it’s not and I couldn’t, thank goodness). Sometimes, on really dark days, when I’m staring into the mirror at the body that I inexplicably despise, I fantasize about just cutting the fat off of my body.
I don’t weigh myself because I don’t want to know. All I have is the size label on the inside of my jeans and the knowledge that I am too big, too heavy, too undesirable. And yet, never, not once, does it truly occur to me to change my lifestyle. To stop this destructive cycle, to reevaluate the way I see myself. To say to myself, “if I want to lose weight, I can just start eating healthier. I can start exercising. I can do it right.” I mean, sure, I KNOW that’s what it will take. Cognitively, logically, I know that works. But it seems like too much effort with too slow of a result. I want to be skinny, but I want it fast, and I want it now, and I want it easy. Anyone’s comments of concern or efforts to help just drive me further down. I don’t NEED their help. I don’t WANT their advice.
It will be another year and a half until I finally change. Change my thinking, change my lifestyle, and, between those two things, finally change my body. And I thank God every day that I did.
I obviously still have moments where I struggle, but it is nothing like it used to be. And while I do still want to lose weight, it no longer comes from a place of self-loathing. And that is a big step.
When I went to the Cirque du Soleil show last week, I told my friend Rachel that I was thinking about writing this post but was scared. I was scared of what it would mean to put all of this out there: my darkest thoughts, my secret shame, the truth behind why my relationship with food became so toxic in the first place. I’ve obviously put out snippets of my behavior before, but not quite like this. And she and I got into a really interesting discussion about shame.
I was ashamed of my body, and I was equally ashamed of my behavior. Even now, I remain ashamed of those thoughts. It is mortifying to put out there. To know that I was that desperate, that I hated myself that much. To think that this body, which can do some pretty awesome stuff, was such an embarrassment. If I’d had the resources back then, there is probably no limit to the unhealthy extremes I would have been willing to go in order to achieve my perfect body. But I also know that I can’t possibly be the only person who has ever had those kinds of thoughts.
As women in modern society, we are given so many conflicting messages. We are supposed to strive to look a certain way, to achieve a certain size, to hate ourselves if we don’t fit that mold. But not too much. Don’t hate yourself too much, like I did, because that’s just as shameful. You can’t possibly love yourself either, though, not while you’re so fat/ugly/awkward/plain. You have to hate yourself just enough to drive yourself to be beautiful, THEN it’s okay to love yourself. You want to talk about what’s a real shame? Let’s talk about THAT.
I think the real root of my personal shame when it comes to my disordered past stems from the idea that my thoughts were not okay to think. That they weren’t normal. I was the weird one, the strange one, the one with all these problems that needed fixing. It was isolating, and that estrangement manifested itself in some dangerous ways. I just wish that back then there had been someone to tell me that I wasn’t alone.
There’s a chance that some of you may not be able to relate to the content of this post at all. And that is seriously wonderful if that’s the case. But even if you never had to deal with the exact behavior I described, I would bet that anyone who has ever struggled with their body image or self-worth can relate at least a little bit. We are not alone.