When I was 18, while all my friends went somewhere cool on Spring break, I went to the gym. I’d gotten a little heavier over the winter, and I wanted my jeans to fit better again. My eating disorder started out innocently. I can still remember the high I got from losing 10 pounds so quickly - everyone telling me how good I looked, the control I had over my size and other people’s perception of my appearance. So I went to the gym a little more - which eventually turned into 90 minutes before school, after school, and 30 minutes of exercise at home before bed. I weighed myself constantly. I’d count every calorie in every bite of food I consumed - one Dorito, for instance, is 12 1/2 calories. At my most extreme, I was burning off 2,000 more calories than I was consuming daily.
I lost 37 pounds in two months. I was thin. I was in hell. I’d become a master manipulator at making people believe I was doing great. They’d ask, “What’s your secret?” And I’d nonchalantly say stuff like, “It’s crazy what happens when you just start doing physical activity!” or “turns out when you stop eating like shit, you lose weight!” etc. etc. I didn’t have time to socialize. I didn’t have energy to be creative. I was so exhausted that I slept through my own high school graduation party.
I don’t know how it happened exactly - if it was a specific moment or a series of events - but one morning I had this realization: I could not have any of the things I truly desired if this behavior continued. No music, no community, no family of my own, no dreams. I could have this disease or I could have my life. Those were my only real options. I was a few months away from moving to Nashville for college at that point, and I knew something had to change. I was terrified. Of coming out of hiding, of facing everyone, of getting fat. I admitted to my best friend that I had a problem. I started eating again. I went to the gym a few times per week for about an hour or so. Slowly, I found my way back to a balanced life.
In hindsight, my deepest regret is not asking for help. It’s taken me 10 more years to clearly see the smartest, strongest thing a person can do is say, “Hey, I can’t handle this one alone.” I do that often now, and let me tell you - it feels amazing. I’ve had to let go of the shame I felt for messing up, for not having it all together. I ask my body what it needs. And when voices in my mind say, “Watch it! Are your clothes getting tight? Do your legs seem bigger?” I eat something indulgent as an act of rebellion against the ugly lie that my size has anything to do with who I am or how much I’m loved. I don’t own a scale. When I swim or go on walks or do yoga, I do it because it feels right in my bones. And when I look at my cellulite, my stretch marks, my wide set hips in the mirror, I thank God.
I thank God for the journey I’ve had to take to learn how to love myself. I thank God for the grit, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and gratitude I gained along the way. I thank God for the people I’ve met who have allowed me to pass those things along. I thank God for being with me through this struggle and for setting me free from it. I thank God for the wound that remains and the occasional pain that still comes up, reminding me to always take care of myself, connect with others, and move toward healing.