Trigger Warning: This article contains content about anorexia.
I counted the shrinking number on the scale like money adding up in my bank account. I thought the more weight I lost, the richer I’d feel in self-worth.
Anorexia nervosa is a mental health disorder—an obsession with food, weight, exercise and body image—that consumes your life. It comes in all shapes, sizes and genders.
I was 22 years old when I thought I might have had a problem, but I didn’t think I was anorexic. I was a heavy child and teenager. When I was 16, I decided to educate myself about eating right and exercising to lose weight. I was headstrong about making sure I lost the weight the right way, the healthy way, as I was well aware of anorexia and bulimia. To me, that meant always eating over 1200 calories so my body wouldn’t go into starvation mode and eating under 1500 calories so I was in a good calorie deficit. I usually strived for 1350 calories a day to give leeway for any calories I didn’t account for. Slowly but surely, I started to lose the weight. It took about four years to get from 198 pounds all the way down to my goal of 128 pounds. I couldn’t have been more pleased with myself; I’d lost 70 pounds! I could finally stop dieting and enjoy eating a little more, with the awareness of what I was eating and making “smart” decisions about food, of course.
I believe I became anorexic within those four years but didn’t notice. I thought I was just determined to lose weight, but I couldn’t turn it off. I had this growing fear of gaining the weight back. I was going to the gym seven days a week. Sometimes I would workout for two hours a day. I got excited by losing pounds like points in a game, only I was being played. Calories ruled my life. I could simply look at a plate of food and tell you approximately how many calories were there—in fact, I still can.
I was overcome with guilt. Guilt if I ate too much. Guilt if I ate too little. Guilt if I didn’t get to the gym. Always overcompensating one for the other, if needed. If I didn’t work out, I would eat less. And if I ate too much? I would workout twice as long the next day. I got really good at making little calories look like a lot of food, and this became my lifestyle. Going out to eat with my friends was no longer fun. Anxiety would plague my mind. My love for food turned into fear of it.
Do they have anything I can eat there?
Ugh, everything is fried!
I’ll just not eat much before or after. This will be my only meal of the day.
I’ll make sure to workout two hours that morning so I can enjoy something I like.
Maybe I should just come up with an excuse not to go.
It should have been a sign for me when I started hiding my calorie counting. I stopped writing it down and started using the calculator on my phone. It was discrete; my boyfriend was the only one who seemed to notice and discourage it. He saw my anxieties but didn’t understand them. When we’d fight over where to eat, he thought it was because I was indecisive or picky, but really, it was my anxiety to eat the right thing—a deep-rooted fear of eating the wrong thing and becoming that fat girl again. I hid my anorexia from him pretty well, considering I ate more meals out with him than with anyone else. I would order what I wanted, eat what I was comfortable with and give him the rest. If he wanted dessert, I would slowly eat a few bites and he would finish it off. The sad thing is, I wasn’t necessarily cognizant of my methods to hide it. I saw it more as me eating what I wanted. Looking back now, my anxieties and anorexia played a bigger role in the fall of our relationship than I realized. It’s difficult being in a relationship as an anorexic and difficult being with an anorexic. Our only fights were about food.
I was 22 years old, 113 pounds and a size zero when it was brought to my attention that I had a problem. My friend Debra approached me at the gym, concerned I’d become too small. Debra had her own battles with weight and eating, so for her to say this hit me pretty hard. I always associated anorexia with being a physical disease. Anorexics are only super skinny, stick-like people who always think they’re fat. I had fat on me, though. And I was just skinny, not stick-like. I don’t think I’m fat, I just fear getting fat. I’m not anorexic.
But I was.
My self-worth was so wrapped up in my weight that I couldn’t think straight. When I was heavy, the constant comments from my family fueled this notion:
Do you need to eat that?
If you just lost the weight, you would be so pretty.
Maybe you should play a sport. It will help you lose weight.
I just knew I couldn’t be that girl again. No one loved her, no one saw her. People see me now, I’m accepted now. These were lies I told myself.
I could never make anyone happy. I tried so hard, but it was never enough. When I was skinny, all I heard was:
Oh, she won’t eat that.
I’m sitting here with Ice cream and she’s over there eating Greek yogurt.
You’re too tiny.
I finally realized all these criticisms had nothing to do with me. It was all a projection of their own fears and insecurities that I absorbed as my own. The only person I needed to make happy was myself. But self-love was a foreign concept in my small town, and I wasn’t sure where to go from there. It took me years, and moving to LA of all places, to figure out how to love myself. It took me acknowledging I had a problem, and having very supportive, self-loving friends to help me.
We’re all taught from an early age that being fat is bad, but that isn’t true. True, being overweight can be unhealthy, but you should love yourself at every size. Your weight doesn’t define you, you do. Your relationship with food is yours, and no one else’s.
Now, I’m 27 years old and a size six. I’ve come a long way. I still struggle with my anorexia. I still have episodes of guilt and anxiety, and I’m constantly working on my relationship with food. The difference now is that I acknowledge it and own it. I know what my triggers are—one being the scale, so I actually don’t step on it. I don’t know how much I weigh, but if I look in the mirror and see a beautiful, healthy person staring back at me, then I know I’m doing what’s best for me.
I’m hoping that the more we can be open and create a discussion about mental health disorders, the more those suffering from them can feel comfortable coming forward. For me, the hardest part in admitting I suffered from anorexia was my pride and not knowing the disorder plagued individuals of all shapes and sizes. In fact, you’d be surprised by how many men are anorexic.
If you think may suffer, or know you suffer, from an eating disorder, please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @alexandraparkpoetry. You’re not alone.
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