I was fearful.
I was insecure.
I was chasing an ideal that was destructive.
This is the story of my eating disorder.
It started in my childhood with this simple lie: “Being pretty is important.” As I chased an unobtainable ideal, another seed was planted within my heart: “In order to be pretty, you must be skinny.”
It may sound trivial or trite but this singular idea dominated my thinking, decisions and focus for the better portion of my school age years.
This twisted truth first germinated in my heart during grade school. While I was learning how to make friendship bracelets and play dodgeball, I was simultaneously watching my mom fight an ever-shifting battle with food. Seeing her ongoing struggle with weight impacted me at a root level and I proactively determined that her reality would not become my future.
HELLO UNHEALTHY MINDSET
With an eye on the scale and whatever was currently working for my mom, I sought to circumvent my future weight war by instead engaging in the battle preemptively. Working through a rotating arsenal of eliminating food groups, fasting, sneaking my mom’s herbal diet pills, exercising and self-deprecating thoughts.
As I got older and puberty inevitably added shape to my frame, my paranoia grew. I cared what my peers thought and found my worth and value wrapped up too tightly in their grasp. Embarrassing moments such as the time I crossed my legs in such a way as to reveal cellulite in my legs and a boy pointed it out saying, “Ewww, what is that?” or casual comments such as, “If you weighed 10 pounds less, you’d be just about right.” spoken in passing from a male classmate left indelible marks on my insecure heart. My now older self can look back and extend grace to all of our poor misdirected minds. But my adolescent self wasn’t sure what to do with my perceived physical imperfections and I resolved to reach my goal of skinny.
I entered college with a controlling long-distance boyfriend and parents that were struggling to keep their marriage alive. Desperate to regain my sense of self, I sought to reestablish my identity. When I acquired the standard “freshmen 15” weight gain, I felt completely defeated. Predictably, my already unhealthy relationship with food eroded entirely.
Part way into my sophomore year, another student introduced me to a new level of lunacy. Promising all the joys of eating with none of the perceived drawbacks, I plunged into the arena of binging, purging, laxatives and excessive exercise. I added a minor in nutrition to my college workload. I took on a new job working in the college rec. center. I added step aerobics to my schedule as well as teaching water aerobics. I met with friends over walks and studied for exams on the treadmill and stationary bike. Each day was a revolving routine of school, work, eating, throwing up and working out.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but along with my health, the dialog in my mind had slowly eroded as well.
I believed that In order to be in a relationship with someone who valued me fully…
in order to achieve calm in the midst of my family chaos…
In order to feel comfortable with my own presence in the world…
I needed to be skinny. If I could just be skinny, everything else would work itself out.
The thought pattern in my mind worked tirelessly toward this aim. What I would eat next, where I would throw it up and how I would exercise it off became the ruling thought residing in my mind. Ironically, the ideal that I was chasing after had imprisoned me and the one area that I felt I could control—proved uncontrollable.
It’s embarrassing to admit that there were times when I’d eat an entire package of cookies while my roommates were away and then force myself to throw them all up down the shower drain.
Or that I researched bulimia and its dangerous side effects in an effort to avoid the dangerous side effects.
I don’t like telling you that I’d make a game to see how long I could go without eating or that my favorite laxative was chocolate flavored.
In retrospect it is so obvious that I was spiraling out of control, but at the time I was blinded to this reality. Any nagging concern I may have felt was pushed aside with the belief that this was the only option I had if I was every going to be skinny and skinny was worth any price.
It wasn’t until I missed a concert that my new boyfriend was singing in because purging my lunch took longer than I expected, that I realized I’d somehow become entrapped within my own scheme. This realization however, only served to further weigh me down. I didn’t know what to do with this information. I’d never brought anyone into this part of my world who had a healthy relationship with food and quite honestly I didn’t know that I wanted the accountability that was sure to follow if i did.
I feared that if I ever relinquished my control of food, I’d inevitably gain gobs of weight and my future as a sad, overweight adult would be secure. I couldn’t decide which was worse—obesity or an eating disorder. Dramatic? Yes. But friends, who can tell an irrational mind to think logically? As I saw it, these were my top two choices.
My moment of confession wasn’t to come for several months. I first worked through the painful break-up of my concert boyfriend, then the death of my grandfather followed by my parent’s divorce before I was I was ready for a change of scenery in my own personal landscape. It was May in Iowa and all around me the cornfields showed signs of new growth. It was time for me to plow ground and plant new seeds in my own heart because my current crop was failing miserably.
Not knowing how my news would be received had frozen me in fear of judgement, shame and alienation. I did not want to confess my weakness but for the first time, my desire for freedom was greater. I took a risk and shared my secret with a friend. Reaching out and sharing this struggle was very humbling. However, rather than judgment, my confession was met with tenderness and prayerful support. Not only that, but my friend also offered to give up his social smoking as extra support.
Although my inner battle was no longer shrouded in darkness, my battle was far from over. i continued to fight the temptation to turn to food as a comfort and the desire to empty myself of all of it’s effects. It became apparent how much I’d come to rely on controlling food and exercise as a means of coping with my inner problems.
Over time I experimented with new methods to cope with stress—exchanging running for purging and praying through my anxiety. God began to show me how my misguided focus of outward perfection had made inner peace impossible. Furthermore, i began to see that my actions were motivated by a desire to please others rather than to glorify God. I was unable to reach my goal because the root of my desires were not only unobtainable, but self-sabotaging.
Recognizing my disorders and additions and even admitting them to someone else was a necessary first step, however being set free was a much lengthier process.
A year later my trusted friend became my fiancé and I moved in with his family for the summer to prepare for our upcoming wedding. It was an exciting time in my life except for one glaring problem: food. Although I’d managed to abstain from bulimic behaviors, my identity was still closely wrapped up in my daily report from the bathroom scale. I’d managed to work out a stringent personal food regime that I felt good about digesting. However, the thought of giving up control of my food and eating whatever midwest meal my soon to be mother-in-law prepared struck fear into my heart. I refused to return to my bulimic tendencies and offending my new family was out of the question. My future fate seemed secure: I would outgrow my wedding dress my the time of our wedding.
For the next three months I ate mashed potatoes and corn, BLT’s and pork chops, pies and pastries. Whatever was blessed by the dinner prayer and served in front of me, I ate with a trepidatious heart and a “thank you” on my lips.
At the time of my wedding, the most unpredictable outcome awaited me: my wedding dress still fit and my fiancé still wanted to marry me. This was a reality of ground shaking proportions and the effects rippled through the core of my self identify breaking up long held ideas and turning many of my previously held truths on their head.
It took relinquishing control entirely for me to see that my over-obsessive mindset wasn’t producing anything of value. This effectively bought me back to ground zero. I begin to see that the fear I’d cowered under for the last ten years—that I’d become obese if I didn’t obsess about every
—was a lie.
This earth shattering revaluation sent me spinning. What the heck did this mean? How is it possible that I wasted so much of my life on this if *this* wasn’t even a thing?!
I wasn’t sure.
What I did know is that I was not going to play prisoner any more.
That was 20 years ago. My interest in food remains but my focus has shifted. I still eat meticulously but I am able to do so from an entirely different mindset. I no longer see food as my enemy. Instead, I love learning about how creatively God provided fuel for our bodies in the form of food. Finding out more about how our bodies work best intrigues me. Seeking good health for the benefit of my family is important to me. It has been 20 years since I’ve sought out a private place to purge or played the “let’s see how long I can go without eating” game. I’ve found freedom.
WHAT HAS HELPED ME
Finding a safe person:
It wasn’t until I shared my heart with someone else that healing could begin. Satan thrives in secrecy. Bringing his lies into the light broke their power and allowed truth to shine forth.
Finding new ways to cope with stress:
Most of my destructive behaviors were triggered by stress. Learning to identify this and replace those negative habits with healthier ones helped greatly.
Reading God’s Word:
It was not possible to change the dialog in my mind until I was armed with Truth about who I was in Christ. Ephesians 6:10-18 speaks about the armor of God. There is a reason the only active weapon, the sword, is Truth. The Truth of God’s Word is the only effective weapon against Satan’s lies. We cannot use this weapon if we don’t own it and the only way to own it is to read it.
Becoming a mom:
There is something powerful about seeing your children struggle against the same lies you have battled. A righteous anger rises up and provides the power to combat hidden remnants of old narratives.
Sharing my story:
Several months ago God started nudging me to be more open about this part of my story. He wanted to use it to for His glory. As I leaned into what this might look like I felt He was encouraging me to share my past eating disorder and exercise addiction but my current day-to-day life through my Instagram Stories in order to be an encouraging light. I’ve identified a bit with Moses in the Bible since that time. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I still occasionally fight the tendency to “delete” instead of share because of what you might think. But the process is good and I hope my desire to encourage and build up comes through.
Taking the next step:
After seeing my own physical and mental growth through this process, I’ve discovered my heart for other women struggling to wade through their own mental battles of food, exercise and self-worth. While I can’t fight for them, I can offer to fight alongside them. I want a platform to declare: You can do this. You are bigger than this fear. So much more is lying dormant inside of you. God loves you. You have value. You have unspeakable worth. You are more than the number on the scale or the size of your jeans! Stepping into the role of health coaching has allowed a platform for this to happen.
Each month I get the privilege of inviting women into a private accountability group where together we can dig deep and reach high toward our goals of better health both inside and out. Some of my groups are free (I have a free one week workout challenge coming up) and others accompany the paid subscription of the workout programs I’ve used for the past year and a half.
It is my prayer that in telling you my story, God will stir something inside of you. Maybe it will be a greater understanding or compassion for someone who struggles with their own form of addiction. Maybe it will be seeing a part of your story reflected within my own. Perhaps it will just be thankfulness at one more bond being loosed.
I’d love to hear your story so please feel free to share what’s on your heart.