I was going to wait until "Eating Disorder Awareness Month" came around to write this blog, but the truth is we should be "aware" of eating disorders every single day.
If you've never been affected by an eating disorder, or you have never known anyone with an eating disorder, you may be thinking, "So what? What do I care? There's a whole month devoted to people who want to be skinny
???" For those of us who DO suffer, most of us would probably answer: we honestly hope you don't
Contrary to some beliefs, eating disorders – and the physical symptoms that often follow – are NOT always a way to garner attention. In fact, many people suffering from an eating disorder would rather you just leave them and their eating habits (or in some cases, non-eating habits) alone.
My family and some of my friends (the ones I trust) have come to accept this about me. They know I will not be partaking in family or holiday dinners. I will gladly invite people out to eat, but I will not eat with them. My mom has learned to simply not set a plate for me, or if she sets a plate, it remains empty. It’s actually quite funny... at a recent Thanksgiving dinner, there it was: the empty plate. Everyone knows not to comment on it; even my sister’s fairly “new” boyfriend. I’m not offended; I actually love this about my family. My husband knows I will never join him in ordering at dinner. He “eats for two,” as I often explain it. And I love him for it as well. The servers at our favorite restaurant know that I may take something to-go, but I will never eat in the confines of the establishment.
Weird? Yes. But bear with me a bit.
To be clear, I'm not anorexic. Not anymore, anyway. I eat. I just have very specific eating patterns and schedules. In the world of eating disorders, this type of behavior would be classified as "eating disorders not otherwise specified." Or simply, disordered eating.
Not that this way of life makes my ED (ED = eating disorder NOT Erectile Dysfunction... that would be an entirely different blog) any less emotionally painful, it just has no physical symptoms to the outside eye. I'm not super-skinny. I look healthy. In fact, I am most likely above-average based on physical health standards. I run, I lift weights, I box, I swim. I am actually very strong in body... just weak in mind.
I never envisioned my life this way. I didn't get to junior high and say, "For the next 20+ years of my life, I'm going to be obsessed about food and my appearance." Had I known, I probably would have done many things differently. Or, at least tried to.
But I didn't.
I was a chubby kid. My worst memories are of school shopping for clothes as the end of summer came around. At one point my mom suggested we look for jeans in the boys section, because they accounted for length and width... whereas girls' jeans seemed to get longer the greater the girth (did I mention I was also short?). But heading off to the first day of school in a pair of boys' jeans was not exactly the ideal scenario. OK, it was hell.
I HATED being fat, even at that young age. We're appalled these days that five- and six-year-olds call themselves fat; screaming that the media and evolving social standards have led us down this horrendous path. But I was aware of my extra-ness as early as first or second grade, and that was 30 years ago. We'd all like to think this is a new phenomenon... that perhaps something has changed since 1983; something that we can take hold of and reverse. True, it may have gotten worse in the last couple of decades. But from where I stand, the concept of "thin" has been plaguing us for a very long time.
But, as fate would have it, I overcame my own obstacle. Finally, by grade nine I had it figured out: exercise, eat less, and guess what? You lose weight! Exercise to the extreme and eat practically nothing? Lose even MORE weight!
Enter positive reinforcement. I was elected President of my ninth grade class. Suddenly I had boys interested in me that would never have given me a second look. I became popular. What? And all of this was due to my weight loss? Halleluiah! Problem solved.
As fortune would have it, I developed an ulcer at 15. A bacterial source was the final diagnosis, so it may have had nothing to do with my crazy eating habits. But the silver lining? I dropped even MORE weight!
Not eating one speck of food for three or four days will do that to you.
I remember changing clothes for gym class and thinking, "Whoa. I can see my ribs. How cool is that?" When, instead, the proper response would have been, "Holy shit – I can see my ribs. Someone give me a sandwich."
But, alas, the feeling of being "exceptional" snowballed. Suddenly skipping lunches was protocol. I'd make excuses for why I wasn't hungry for dinner. I became involved in activities I could care less about because it meant that I wouldn't be home and forced to eat with my parents; who, by the way, had the attitude of "We don't waste food – you will eat what is put in front of you."
Obviously my shrinking appearance didn't go unnoticed. My parents may have tried to say something once or twice, but they simply didn't understand how to approach it. Or, they thought it was just a "phase" I would grow out of, as so many parents believe. Friends at school became concerned... or at least pretended to be. When you have a handful of teenage girls competing for the smallest size, you really don't know who is being truly genuine. There was another girl in my class who I later found out was bulimic. Instead of being sympathetic, as one should be, the only thing I could think of was, "I'm stronger than her. I can stay skinny without having to throw up. Bitch."
You may be getting the wrong idea about me here... I'm a sweet, kind, giving person. I really am. I trust people; I give a mile when I deserve to take two. But the ED takes a hold of you and makes you a different person. It makes you a person that will straight-up lie to your parents, your friends, your boyfriends, your colleagues. It makes you a person that will lie to yourself, over and over and over again. It will make you feel like a person you swore you'd never be... pretentious, mean, madly competitive, sad, underhanded, selfish, self-loathing...
When really, all you are is just sick.
Want to get to know ED just a little bit more? Stay tuned for part two...