Struggling to Regain Control: Eating Disorder Awareness

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Since I was a kid, I’ve had this obsession with being thin. I was always complimented and almost praised by the authorities in my life for my naturally slender figure. Naturally, it became my assumption that being skinny was something that was desirable, and having this reinforced by our society on television, in movies, and even in everyday conversation, made me proud to be skinny. I was one of the “lucky” ones who didn’t “have to worry” about remaining a size 00. As though that’s something that we should all be worried about.

Fast forward to high school. Suddenly image became so much more than just helping out the kids who needed it and doing well in school. Character was no longer what people focused on when talking about classmates; a person’s physical appearance became their most talked-about trait, and perfection became the goal for everyone. I grew up in your typical middle-class area, and everywhere you turned there were reminders that your hair could always be better, your skin could be clearer, and your push-up bra wasn’t doing its job. As a teenager, there was makeup to [mostly] cover the acne, hairspray and hair straighteners to maintain a flawless hairstyle, Victoria’s Secret for any needed emphasis to your bustline, and braces to fix any teeth that weren’t aligned just perfectly with the others. The one thing that was impossible to hide, however, was your physique. In the era of very low-rise jeans and short tops, there was no way to mask a muffin top or artificially cinch in a waist. Abercrombie & Fitch created ads featuring our ideal body, and we were all drinking the Koolaid. Hipbones were the “it” accessory, and I was happy to finally have something all the popular girls wanted.

In the beginning it was easy to maintain control over my weight. I lived in a home where dieting and people’s appearances were regularly discussed. Skipping a meal or a day of eating could easily go unnoticed, because our family was so busy. The feeling of control I had when it came to my body was a sort of high for me–and I quickly became addicted. I felt happy knowing that no matter how out-of-control my life seemed to get, I could always have control over this one thing. That empty feeling in my stomach became a source of comfort for me, especially during an emotionally tumultuous senior year of high school.

After graduation, I did what the majority of my class did: I went to college. College seemed like a great place to start over for me. I’d have new friends, I’d be in a new town, and I’d be living without the constant supervision of my parents. What I didn’t anticipate were the high levels of stress I would experience as a college freshmen struggling with homesickness and an overwhelming course load. My old habit of starving myself became even more a part of my life, but this time not as a means of weight control. Starving myself became my best mechanism for coping, and it was soon accompanied by binge drinking and bouts of binge eating followed by purging.

I’m going to stop right here for a moment. A lot of people reading this might assume that the fact I was exhibiting these unhealthy behaviors must mean I didn’t have anyone around to notice. The truth is, I did. I had friends. I regularly saw my family. I was very, very good at keeping my secret. In addition to becoming an expert at controlling my eating, I’d become an expert at controlling what people saw. I was a master manipulator.

Eventually, someone did take notice. Although she never really knew the true depth of the problem, she knew I needed help, and she brought me to the counseling center on my college’s campus. That is where I told someone for the very first time what I had been doing to myself. I told the counselor all about my need for control, and how food had become my perfect device for controlling my life. I told her this with pride, because to me, I’d found the perfect way to not only make myself feel good, but also maintain what I thought was a healthy weight. At the age of 19 and at 5’6″, I weighed just a little over 90lbs. To me, it felt like an accomplishment worthy of praise.

Because I knew I was in control, I felt like there was nothing wrong. I starved myself because I wanted to. I binged and purged because I allowed myself to. I looked the way I did because that’s how I wanted to look. I was in complete control. And at the same time, I was completely out of control.

It was that counselor who suggested I visit an off-campus psychiatrist. That psychiatrist is the one who led me to understanding the truth. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which manifested for me as both the restrictive form and binging/purging form of the disease. I was also officially diagnosed as having obsessive-compulsive disorder, which contributed to my eating disorder along with many other emotional issues I’d had throughout my life. Diagnosis led to better understanding of the underlying causes of my broken way of thinking. It helped me learn more productive and healthy behaviors for feeling in control. And it helped me regain true control over my life.

Don’t be fooled, though. This is not a story about a woman and mom successfully beating an eating disorder. To say that I no longer struggle daily would be a complete lie. I’ve had many relapses. I have gone through countless hours of therapy. I’ve obsessed over not obsessing about eating. When stress overtakes me, I find myself reverting back to that old familiar empty feeling in my stomach. The pain that accompanies starvation is still very comforting for me. I refuse to look at the scale at the doctor’s office, and it is in my medical chart that I do not want to know how much I weigh. The number on the scale is an obsession I simply cannot seem to shake. Pregnancy added a whole new chapter to my struggle, and after having my first baby, I relapsed in the worst way. The stress of simply having another human relying on me for everything turned into me dropping weight so drastically that I had trouble keeping my high school jeans on–size 00.

The vast majority of the people in my life don’t know about my eating disorder, although I think some have had their suspicions. It’s a secret I have always kept, because it is a battle that is very personal for me, and not one I am prepared to share with the world just yet. Weight and body image seem to be a big topic of discussion these days, especially among moms, and more specifically moms of girls. My mom friends joke about dieting and losing weight, and how they wish they were skinny like me. If they truly knew the daily battle I have with myself, or the war being waged in my mind constantly, they would think twice about wishing they were me. My fight against anorexia has made me hypersensitive to the effects the media and other people may have on my daughters’ body image. While I struggle with this disease, I vow to do everything in my power to keep them from living this same nightmare.

Anorexia is something I will always struggle to control. I owe it to my family to fight the temptation to slip back into old habits, though. I owe it to my husband to live a healthy life so I can be by his side for decades to come. I owe it to my kids to show them that their mom is strong enough to overcome even the scariest of monsters. And I owe it to myself to be healthy and happy in this life.

February 21-27, 2016 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please get help.

In Memphis: The Transformation Center or Fairhaven Treatment Center,

Click here for a list of counselors in Memphis who specialize in treating eating disorders.

Nationally: National Eating Disorders website

{you can download the following infographic by clicking here}

eating disorders infographic memphis moms blog