Monday, February 21, 2011

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: My Story


My name is Beth, and I had/have/continue to fight an eating disorder.

Clear enough for you?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  But that, my friends, is my eating disorder story, just in time for NEDA's Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  All of my posts this week will center around eating disorders.  Why?  Because I think eating disorder awareness is important.  And because eating disorders are deadly, devastating lives regardless of whether the disease causes physical death or not.  And because I think that eating disorders are a disease, a matter of mental health and addiction, and because I battle this addiction every single day. 

It strikes me that I've never told my full eating disorder story before.  At least, not here on the blog.  I thought that today is just the day to do it.  Here we go!

Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I had an eating disorder.  I had recently moved from Boston to the middle of nowhere in Montana (literally -- the closest town was a 10 minute drive away, and boasted a population of 90ish) after finishing up my Master's degree in elementary education.  I was working on a ranch, coming to terms with the at time insane Montana winter, and I thought I was totally healthy.

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At the Corn Palace in 2005, en route to Montana after grad school.

Except I wasn't.  I can see it now, but at the time I thought that eating large quantities of food to soothe myself was normal.  But it's not -- it's called binging, and not only does this type of eating lead to poor physical health and weight gain, but it also numbs the binger from feeling anything uncomfortable ever.  And this is how I'd been dealing with life since puberty.  Not so healthy, but I didn't think anything was wrong. 

Day 4 / Suffering from acute distraction due to muffin
In late 2006 I began restricting food, and so was obsessed with food by the time I took this photo in early 2007.

Two years later, I found myself married to the Best Husband Ever, happily living the newly wed life.  Except we weren't.  During the summer of our engagement, I dropped a drastic amount of weight, requiring a last minute refitting of my bridal gown.  I was either starving myself or "saving" my calories for a binge/purge episode at night.  But I was getting thinner, so I thought I was okay.  I thought that once the stress of the wedding was past, things would naturally improve.

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I was already beginning to look unhealthily thin by our fall 2007 wedding.  Looking at my wedding photos now makes me feel sad, uncomfortable, and angry at how disordered eating robbed the Best Husband Ever and myself.

But they didn't.  Instead, they got worse.  I didn't expect my new husband to eat my preferred meals (such as massive salads that had nothing but vegetables and fat free dressing in them), so I had to cook more substantial dinners . . . and eat said dinners.  Afraid that I would blow up to blimp-like proportions, I joined a gym and began exercising like crazy.  I pushed myself through an hour or more of hardcore cardio each day, biked around town instead of driving, and sometimes threw in some extra yoga for good measure.  I never took a rest day.

Flickr-ing
This was taken in August 2008, when I was about 5 months into therapy and still deathly thin.  I couldn't see how ugly and terrifying my malnourished body had become. 

My weight plummeted.  My skin was constantly dry and cracking, and my hair was thin.  I experienced chest pains.  My skin was sallow.  The slightest cut or bruise took ages to heal.  I was incapacitated by cold and hunger all the time.  I had difficulty remembering things.  My brand new marriage was strained, and the Best Husband Ever was overcome with despair and helplessness.  I couldn't hold down a job due to extreme fatigue and hunger.  I hadn't had my period in over a year.

Eventually I asked my doctor about my lack of period, and of course she told me that I was underweight and so my body could not support such frivolous functions as supporting a reproductive system.  I tried to return to my pre-starvation/overexercising way of eating (which was to binge myself into numbness) and of course had a meltdown when I overindulged in the treats I'd been denying myself.  I went back to my doctor with this news, and she sent me to a nutritionist.

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My 2008 EKG results.  The news was not good.

The nutritionist freaked out, and rightly so.  I had to go into her clinic for a daily weigh in, and I had weekly blood tests.  I learned that I had an extremely low heart rate.  The nutritionist and her team of nurses were afraid I was on the verge of death.  I probably was, but that didn't stop me from exercising or spur me to up my food intake.  They told me that I needed to go into an inpatient eating disorder program.  I balked at the idea, as that would have required moving away from Montana, and so they settled for hooking me up with a local therapist.

I began seeing the therapist twice a week.  I hated going.  I hated the way she looked at me and expected me to talk, how I was expected to admit that I was broken.

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By early 2009 I had gained some weight, but was still overexercising, getting in two hours of exertion daily.

But I kept going.  And excruciatingly slowly, I began to get better.  I improved my nutrition and eating habits.  I gained much-needed weight.  I was allowed to cut back to one therapy visit a week.  I even started to like going to see my wonderful therapist.  I know now that she saved my life. 


It would be wonderful to say that I am now fully recovered and can eating like a normal person.  But I'm not.  When I was thin I thought I was anorexic (generally, a person who restricts food as a means of gaining control), but now that I look back over my life, I think that I was (and am) bulimic -- someone who eats large quantities of food and then tries to purge this food through vomiting, use of laxatives, or overexercise.  I see now that even during my recovery process, I was still "binging" on huge low-calorie salads and "purging" through overexercise.  But when I left what I thought would be my last therapy session in late 2009, I thought I was cured.

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By early 2010, I was no longer overexercising and had achieved a healthy, sustainable weight.  I thought I was done with ED.  Alas, stressful life circumstances led me to resume binging as a coping mechanism.

Except (you knew it was coming) I wasn't.  I don't know if I will ever be fully "fixed," although I certainly have come a long, long way on the road to health.  Right now, the fact is that I have to be mindful about what I eat.  I have to record my intake, because intuitive eating only gets me into trouble -- like I'll "intuit" that it's okay for me to binge and purge with laxatives just this once.  Attempting to be intuitive caused me to fall back into my old binge-for-numbness pattern this past year, and to gain about forty pounds.  So I write things down, I journal, and I blog, all in the name of keeping myself honest and learning how to not use food (or exercise) as a drug. 

My story is not finished.  While at times I find that frustrating, there's also something good in there -- while I'm living, I am working on living well.  Sometimes I'll stumble and fall, like I did in the past year, but that's okay as long as I can keep learning and keep trying.  I'll get there someday. 

DDC Hooping at Old Navy
Today, I'm overweight, but I'm also happier, mentally healthier, and my life is about so much more than food.  I am working on my eating and hope to lose some weight, but this time I am doing it the right way.  No more restriction and overexercise for me!

But I won't get there alone.  Over the course of my struggle with disordered eating, I relied so much on the strength and love of those around me -- the Best Husband Ever, our united families, my therapist, my friends, and my church family (who were the first "public" group that I let in on my struggle), to name a few.

I wish I knew how to conclude this post.  But all I can honestly say is that I'm still here, and that by the grace of God I'm still learning/trying/healing/growing.  And really, isn't that amazing?

In honor of NEDA's Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let's inundate the blogosphere with our personal stories of how we eat and relate to food/life!  I encourage you to blog about your story and the link to it here in the comments. 

17 comments:

  1. Peace Love and LeeneFebruary 21, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Thank you for sharing. I think we all have a bit of this girl inside of us. Even if it's not taken too extremes. There is too much pressure and even more pressure to not let anyone in on the "secret". Thank you. Sincerely. More girls need to know it's okay to let others know about their illness and to get the help they need.

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    1. Right now, the fact is that I have to be mindful about what I eat. I have to record https://www.rx247.net my intake, because intuitive eating only gets me into trouble -- like I'll "intuit" that it's okay for me to binge and purge with laxatives just this once. Attempting to be intuitive caused me to fall back into my old binge-for-numbness pattern this past year, and to gain about forty pounds. So I write things down, I journal, and I blog, all in the name of keeping myself honest and learning how to not use food (or exercise) as a drug.

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  2. I'm so humbled by this Beth. I think you told your story in a way that shows you don't "attach" to it. What I mean is that some people tell their story as if it is THEM. I think you see bigger. The eating disorder isn't you, it is just something that is happening. I feel like the right story to tell (tell yourself more than others) isn't so much "what was" but more letting go of what was and being "what is now."Hope that makes sense. Anyways, you are so well written and brave. I don't think I could write my story without it turning into a pity party. Your perspective is wonderful and real and raw approachable.

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  3. Charlie O. EdinburghFebruary 21, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Beautiful story. I'm so thankful that you've shared so openly... Your pictures tell such a dramatic story, and your words vividly describe the thought process of a bulemic. And I'm so grateful that God is in the process of loving and healing us and restoring us to sanity. I'm glad to be walking this road with you, my Twitter friend. :)

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  4. Reading this is making me want to meet you more, dear darling Beth. I really, really want to just sit down and talk to you, and share our testimonies...and I would love to meet that angels in your life that helped you during your hardest moments...and even now, hear about how God is sustaining you through everything. We're all still in the path of sanctification...to learn how to love and obey God more, to love ourselves more, to love others more. It is a hard road, but a beautiful one that touches our soul...very much like this story that you shared.Love you, Beth!!

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  5. It takes so much courage to open up and tell such a story. I truly admire your strength and bravery. Sharing your story will help so many others. It has already helped me.

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  6. Oh, Beth! *HUGS* What an incredible story. I have such respect for you being so honest about your struggle, both in your pictures and your words. I'm so glad you're on a healthier road now, and that you have the necessary support—both online and with your in-person friends—to work through this! :)

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  7. My weight has always yo-yo'd in the most annoying way. If I stay consistent with exercise, I can eat just about whatever I want & maintain - but I am not a huge fan of exercise ;) so either I eat very little & stay thin-ish, or I don't & I flesh out the curves.But I've learned that I AM a curvy girl & I am NOT built to be a twig, and that alone was freeing.I don't think you look overweight - you look happy & beautiful. And you are not unhealthy - so who cares if you have some extra curves? We're hotter than way!!! ;)

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story. The images that accompany your story are so powerful. I can just feel the joy in the last photo! It's all about awareness, so thank you for spreading that.

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  9. Thanks so much for sharing....your story, though painful, is very inspiring and it is triumphant.

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  10. Katie @ Health for tFebruary 25, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    Just found your site through Ashley's blog, and I'm so glad I did! Thank you so much for sharing your story; that takes a lot of courage, and you are inspiring many!

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  11. Wow... I saw you wrote about eating disorders before but I never realized the depth of your story with it. Thanks for sharing Beth! I'm so glad you're healing so well and hey, you look beautiful and so joyful now!! I remember reading a book about anorexia when I was 14 or so, and wanted to develop it so I would get thin. Geez, it never happened, thank God, just went without eating for a few days. But I must admit it bothers me how many times a day I think about my weight (well I don't know my weight) but you know, how many times a day I think thoughts about how I'm not happy with the way I look, I'm too fat here and too fat there... Probably every time I eat I think about how this will accumulate in my body :|It's sad that's all I can say. It shouldn't be such a consideration. Health and beauty are defined best by how we feel, in my opinion, but still the pressure is there... At least for me. If anyone has any real life pointers on how to let go of the pressure that would be great :)

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  12. [...] case you are wondering, this is a surprise baby, but a very welcome one.  After anorexia ravaged my body, my reproductive system was unpredictable at best.  I went for nearly four years without having a [...]

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  13. Thanks for sharing your story. I, too, struggled with eating disorders for many years. It's always good to "meet" someone who thinks like me.

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  14. Wow, I've never heard anyone say this before:



    "When I was thin I thought I was anorexic (generally, a person who restricts food as a means of gaining control), but now that I look back over my life, I think that I was (and am) bulimic — someone who eats large quantities of food and then tries to purge this food through vomiting, use of laxatives, or overexercise. I see now that even during my recovery process, I was still “binging” on huge low-calorie salads and “purging” through overexercise."



    That is almost exactly how I was... my weight did not reach clinical anorexia levels, but after I gained a little weight, I continued to "binge" but stem the weight gain by binging on veggies/fruits/low calorie things. It was frustrating because I thought I was recovered at a (low, but not underweight) weight I was maintaining, but I was trapped in a cycle of overeating then compensating. The binging slowly got out of control and my weight couldn't be managed by exercising away the excess.





    Thank you for sharing your story, and letting others who are struggling know that they are not alone.

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  15. Thank you for your comment! I guess people like us are probably officially EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). It's good for us all to know that, regardless of categories and definitions, there is still something wrong that needs to be fixed!

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  16. Thank you for this post. I have had eating disorder issues and it's nice to see the subject being written about. Just also wanted to mention my blog skin lightening. Cheers

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"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King