Thinking about this next post has been a bit difficult, I’ve struggled on what to write. I have so many ideas and plans, that picking one proved to be a challenge. Ideally I want to begin a series and have posts within each topic, going into further detail. Let this be the start of the first series, where we’re going to address body image and eating disorders.
I want to open up further about my personal experience with this illness. Addressing it as a mental health issue is the first important step. It took me a very long time, as in almost 10 years to call it for what it is. Now that doesn’t mean this sickness is the enemy, learning that it’s not about fighting against this. I am still learning how to cope and handle my issues in a healthy way.
What is the definition of healthy? One explanation describes it as “beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state : conducive to or associated with good health or reduced risk of disease.” Another is “showing physical, mental, or emotional well-being : evincing good health.”
Both of these tell me that being healthy means you’re actively working towards bettering your health. Whether that be mental or physical. There are some cases that are out of our control, in times of sickness our body fights back but we are unable to overcome whatever that may be. I have experienced this, with my own physical and mental health. One of the biggest myths with discussing mental health, is that we have the power to control every single thing. Depression, anxiety, adhd, bipolar, BPD, Eating disorder, OCD and the list goes on. Those illnesses take ahold of us and there are times we cannot regain the strength to fight back. There are times we lose, we are held prisoner to the demons in our minds.
What we do have control over, is making positive habits, routines and ways to cope. I am learning how to cope in a healthier way, rather than “let the pot boil over.” My therapist is giving me resources on how to ground myself in anxious times, how to look at my trauma and grief in a softer way, how to not be so tough on myself. I am a perfectionist and my worst critic, in most cases I am in my head so severely that I ruin majority of my experiences.
I was recently and professionally diagnosed with OCD. For those possibly unfamiliar with this, OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The definition is “is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” This means I am obsessive about almost everything, once I fixate on a particular thing, I lose control. I have a recessive addictive gene, but with my obsessive nature I carry a lot of similarities to that. I can remember as young as 7, going through a series of checklists and routines, I would get manic if I didn’t complete whatever task I was set on. Thoughts will repeat in my head, until I feel like I am going insane. Why did it take me so long to address this? That answer is apart of why I am here being honest with you all. I lived with my issues, I dealt with my mental health in the wrong ways. I wasn’t seeking out advice, or help in the ways I needed it most.
The background of my OCD ties into the topic I really want to discuss.
My eating disorder.
Saying that aloud to those in my life, muchless typing it here is a hard pill to swallow. It Isn’t something I am completely comfortable with discussing, but it is the most prevalent issue in my life. I had said in my first post, that I developed this when I was in middle school. Let’s go back to that time, and get the details on how this began. I was about 12 at the time and growing up, I was always quite petite. I barely ate, and as a child my parents worked with my pediatrician to make sure I wasn’t malnourished. I have always been on the smaller side, height and weight. I want to address that because for a long time, I saw myself differently. I didn’t understand why I was seeing someone else in the mirror and being told a different picture by others.
I wasn’t socially aware of my eating habits until about 6/7th grade. In the school I was going to, grades 6-8 ate in the same cafeteria for lunch. We were also allowed the new privilege of getting whatever we wanted to eat.. snacks, ice cream, salad, entress, drinks etc. At this time I would go for whatever sounded good, I didn’t understand that having just a salad and ice cream for lunch was a bad thing. I started to notice my abnormal eating habits, one day I’d binge and eat an entire full meal, then the next I would barely touch anything. The friend groups I would choose to eat with would pay attention to my choice of “lunch”. I started to notice the looks I would get, and I became self conscience of what I would chose to eat.
This escalated when I lost those friend groups, I started to stay in the library during lunch time. We weren’t allowed to go outside, or sit in the halls, it was very limited. The unfortunate sacrifice of sitting in the library, was that they didn’t allow food. I’m sure you can see where this is going.. I would sit in the library and read and stopped eating all together. Sometimes I’d grab a snack and eat it on my way, but that was occasional at best. I wasn’t a big breakfast person, so I was missing two meals everyday. Dinner wasn’t very nourishing and this began the start of my decade long habits.
I kept this routine all through middle school, I felt uncomfortable to eat in front of others. I hid when I would want to eat, which meant I never ate at school.. ever. I stayed at this school until freshmen year of highschool, still with the same habits. At this time I had barely any muscle, or proper weight. I was riding 6 days a week, staying active yet I didn’t pay attention to my unhealthy eating.
I started my new journey with online school and going to Ocala after freshman year. This is when the habits became worse, I found myself working out multiple times everyday. I had no real set goal, except tracking my calories on an app and repeating the same nonsensical workouts. I had an obsession with tracking what I ate, I counted every calorie and would research “healthy” dieting routines. I didn’t need to diet or lose weight, I needed to fuel my body. I was starving myself and thinking I was keeping up a good physique. Every morning I would look in the mirror and praise myself for maintaining the same image. I would stand on the scale about a dozen times a day, I would be terrified to differ from the weight I was at. I didn’t allow myself to bloat, which is a natural thing for your body to do. At this time I was about 16 and going through puberty and physical changes, my hormones were developing and I wanted to control that.
I became a vegetarian and maintained this lifestyle for quite some time. My motives for this dietary change wasn’t healthy. I wanted to deprive myself from any food, I feared it would make me gain weight or bloat. I started to become disgusted with food, the thought of meat made me nauseous. I developed what is called “fear foods”, meaning I wouldn’t eat certain foods that I felt would disrupt my routine. I was essentially eating fruits, vegetables, and clif bars.
In 2016 I was apart of a team that ate meat, made home cooked meals and remained authentic. I began to force myself to eat whatever was placed in front of me. I knew that I couldn’t maintain a vegetarian diet with the circumstances I was in. This began the next phase, which was starving 5-6 days a week and binging that one day. Sundays were my binging days and with all the food I was taking in so quickly, my stomach couldn’t handle that. I started to force my food back up after eating, thus began the habit of bulimia.
Bulimia is one of the most dangerous forms of an eating disorder, as it leaves the body with many long term issues. After about a year of this habit, my nails were brittle, my hair became thin and dull, my skin was paler than usual, my teeth would yellow thus started the routine of whitening them weekly. This is when I noticed the migraines, I would get the hunger headache but it turned into a vicious migraine that would last for days.
I maintained this cycle until I was about 18 years old. I started to develop a fear of vomiting, I am not sure how but I would be terrified of the thought of throwing up. I stopped binging and just started to lightly eat daily, I would rely on a big dinner and snack throughout the day. The people I were surrounded by at this time were so understanding and loving. I never came out and admitted what I was dealing with, but I had a feeling they knew. It was obvious once you were close enough, to see how it really was. My mom knew what was going on and it was a constant battle with either I eat, or go to a program that forces me to. The fear of having my life taken away from me worked for awhile, I would eat just enough to get by.
By the time I was 19, I was working 7 days a week nonstop 15+ hours a day. My body went into overdrive, I weighed about 110 at this time and it was pure muscle. I was arguably at my strongest and maintained a good diet. I realized at this point, that when I had the chance to eat it was sacred. I starved not by my own choice and ate whenever I could. I stopped counting calories, stopped weighing myself as much, stopped the haphazard workouts. I was riding most times 7 days a week, going for daily runs and doing yard and farm work. I was at my thinnest, every rib was visible and my spine was protruding from my back. My mom would cry when she came to visit and could see my practical skeleton. I didn’t have time to worry how I looked, I still had the same toxic thoughts, but I was so worried about everything else, I had put my issues in the back of my mind.
I was under the illusion I was healthier and fit, that my bad habits were behind me. Come 20 I had backed off the dieting and worried more about intentional workouts and eating. Thanks to my best friend, Emily I had someone who knew every aspect of my struggles. She supported me, never showed judgement, and always offered a loving response. She would send me meal recipes to try, cooked for me when I visited. She took care of me, I knew I had someone to count on during this.
The heartbreaking thing of this, is that I had to face the consequences of all those years. I didn’t know how to fuel my body or take care of myself. I started using purple shampoo on my hair, days after highlights to hide the fact it was dull. I was whitening my teeth weekly, self tanning to hide how sickly pale I was, wearing oversized clothes to hide. I found a way to exist and get by, and it worked for me at the time. I’d defelt the comments I’d get, if my tan looked fake or my hair was too white. I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t admit the truth.
Coming into my twenties, I started to learn more about myself. I developed confidence and started to become more comfortable with my body. Noticing that change was one of the most obscene things to me, not realizing how wild it was to feel good in my own skin.
Going into the last half of 2019, I became ill and as you know that changed my life. I saw my health in a totally different light. I couldn’t eat anything, my body was emptying anything it had on a constant basis. I lost so much weight, to the point I dropped about a total of 20 pounds. That is for another post, but essentially I lost my confidence, I lost my muscle, I looked how I felt and it was pitiful. At my lightest I weighed 90 pounds, I had no muscle to the point I couldn’t open jars, couldn’t carry a gallon of water. I had lost everything I had before and it started to come into perspective for me, how much I didn’t value my health before. I struggled with my health for almost 2 years and was stripped of everything. By the time 2021 came around I was recovering and had a whole new mindset.
There’s a saying “old habits die hard” and that’s exactly what I was dealing with. Especially with the new way I had to adjust to eating the last 2 years, I had an even worse time with recovering. I stopped actively starving but still maintained the lack of schedule. I would still unknowingly restrict, and with the lack of gluten or dairy for sometime, I really struggled. If I ate anything remotely off kilter to what I was used to, my body violently rejected it. I struggled to keep weight on, couldn’t build muscle either. I was too malnourished to properly workout, so I had no chance of fueling my body.
In July of 2021 I finally had surgery and everything changed for me. My body started to even out its hormones, I got my appetite back and my gut could handle more than it had. I was slowly getting my life back, riding and walking everyday. I would take Emmett for long walks around the farm, getting my strength back. Thankfully I have a wonderful coach, who has been patient and kind.. through this whole process. She has worked beautifully with Emmett and I and built a foundation for us again. In late 2021 I was able to consistently begin working out, I’ve been maintaining a healthy weight and my hair is slowly growing back. I am still faced with the physical side effects, everyday I try to make it better.
I now am able to be open about my issues with those in my life. My wonderful boyfriend is a huge support, he knows when to ask about what I’ve ate and cooks for me. He knows I am not comfortable in the kitchen, as my relationship with food has never been solid. He is patient and kind, which has allowed me to be open with his family. My friends are supportive and loving and most importantly both my parents understand what I struggle with. My therapist and I have had some thought provoking conversations about this, and how I view my body and food. Now it is about healing and creating better habits.
Overcoming a decade worth of trauma, habits and negative mindsets isn’t an easy feat. I am learning everyday how to be kinder to myself, how to cope and how to regain my strength. This is the first part of this series, where we really dive into how to help. My goal with the next post is to discuss the steps to bettering your mental health with an eating disorder, or how you view your body. I’ll get deeper into my goal plan and how I am helping myself, how to cope with those side effects.
With all of this now on the table, I want to say that you are not alone. Your struggles are being felt by someone too and being heard. If you don’t have those around you to open up with, please know I will be here with open arms. I know how lonely it feels and how dark it can get, no one deserves to suffer alone in their thoughts. There are immediate healthcare centers, and numbers to call if you need someone to go towards.
Here are some resources if you need them.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you’re able to online chat with someone.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727) this allows you to search for mental health treatment centers near you.
NEDA (800) 931-2237 text, call or online chat with a hotline to guide you in a direction to help with an eating disorder.
You can also contact your main practitioner and they can give you local resources for getting help.