Relationships. They can be amazing. They can be devastating.
My relationship with food isn’t the best. When I was young, I was heavy – always exercising and/or on some diet. Hearing from the doctor, family, and classmates that I was fat and ugly.
How does a young girl process all these messages and come out the other side unscathed? The answer is simple…she doesn’t.
When I was junior in high school, my parents paid money to be on a “clinic” diet. Which meant that my brother and I were also on the “diet”. My mom came home to me crying because after measurements for a specialty choir dress – the sizing was into the 20’s. She asked if I wanted to try the restricted diet she and my dad were on – which was about 650 calories per day. Desperate, I said yes.
The weight, of course, fell off me. My specialty choir dress had to be altered to fit me later that year. The thing is, I lived in constant fear that I’d gain that weight back! In the mirror, I saw a fat person – totally not acknowledging or seeing the work I had done to get down to a size 8. I think back to those years and how unhappy I was. Always longing for positive attention that had nothing to do with how smart, sweet or talented I was. Instead, I told myself I was “ugly and fat” and believed that I didn’t deserve to feel good about myself – ever.
Around the age of 28, I developed anorexia. I worked in a high pressure job and restricted food – partly because whenever I ate, the food would not sit well with me – but mostly because I needed to control something in my life – because I couldn’t say no to people, both at work and in my personal life.
That year, I believed I was in control of my relationship with food. I would feel so proud to turn down food day at work! Or, I’d feel victory when I had my store-bought protein shake for breakfast and only carrots and twelve pretzels for lunch…and two bites of something for dinner! As the weight came down, I began running, to help keep the weight off…as I kept telling myself. To build endurance. To build strength. Yeah, no….
Food and exercise controlled me. I was obsessed with the scale and the number on that scale. My day was made or broken by how much the number went down, stayed the same or went up. Every decision I made had to do with what I could eat that day and when I was going to work out. And still, I hated how I looked and saw myself as fat.
That’s when the bulimia started. I would exercise for hours – at all hours of the night. If fat or sugar touched my lips – I’d either spit it out (because all I really needed was the taste) or I’d force myself to vomit – to get that wretchedness out of me. I wasn’t sleeping at night, so if 3 AM were to come by and I wasn’t sleeping – I’d go to the gym at work and run for an hour and come home, shower and head into work.
Eventually, friends…. good friends, intervened. They told me I didn’t have to be “that way”. That there was help. Subconsciously, I realized they had to be onto something. I mean, I was miserable. Always counting bites. Berating myself for eating food that “I shouldn’t” and then throwing it up, or better yet, restricting food AND vomiting. I was 95 pounds of sick sadness; I needed help.
I ended up checking into a day clinic for eating disorders in my hometown. This was a miracle – as there weren’t (and still ARE NOT) a lot of options for a person to go with eating disorders for intensive help.
Those six weeks were so hard. I would be at the clinic from 8 AM to noon. We weighed in every day. We could not flush the toilet without someone from the clinic inspecting (to make sure we didn’t throw up). We were encouraged to not exercise while in the program. All the group therapy, individual therapy, nutrition therapy was a lot, and honestly, I was doing it by myself. My parents didn’t know how to help and were too afraid that I would stop seeing them. Other friends left because it was hard to “see me that way.” Work would want to know when I was coming back. During that time, I felt so out of control. I felt like I was the biggest disappointment. That I had let so many people down because I wasn’t strong.
I remember how fragile I felt starting back into a normal routine. Work, eating, friends, family. I took so much of what people said to me out of context or personally. Looking back, I know I didn’t have boundaries. I know that I craved attention and love – I was a people-pleaser and I didn’t have the knowledge, the awareness or the tools to change.
There are more years to this story about my relationship with food, but I want to leave you with this ONE thing. If you are struggling, with food or anything for that matter, find help. I PROMISE you, there is sunshine at the end. You may not notice the glimmers of light at first, but you will. Please believe me.
You are loved. You matter. You are enough; and baby, you’re worth it.