When I was a teen/in my early 20s I had an eating disorder.
You know what? That’s just not true.
I still have an eating disorder. I will always have one.
I don’t have a unique story. Per the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Binging, purging, counting calories, over-exercising. I have done it all. I primarily struggled with the purging portion of bulimia enough to land myself in inpatient treatment for a while as a teen.
I would love to say I had a miraculous recovery, especially to my parents who shelled out God knows how much money and emotional strife during that time. But, I did not. I just became better about covering my tracks. The power of addiction is in secrecy. My eating disorder raged for about ten years while I maintained a state of denial regarding its true impact on my life and health.
Thankfully in the last six to seven years, the time I have had an active disorder has been very minimal. The perfectionistic thoughts, struggles with body image, and desire to have a quick fix for anxiety are, however, present almost all of the time. It will never be gone. I have to stay vigilant during times of stress. The hardest thing about any type of addiction is you never truly know how deeply buried it is. What kind of life stressor will it take for it to come back full-fledged and angry? And as you well know, motherhood is full of stressors. Marriage is full of stressors. Life, in general, is full of stressors.
I gained a healthy amount of weight with my pregnancies for my body. I knew that intellectually. Emotionally not so much. Each week as the pounds ticked up on the scale, which I could never bring myself to throw out, I felt less and less like my body was my own. The fetal movement was a saving grace for me. It pulled me out of the selfish part of my disorder and was a reminder to be in awe of what my body was capable of doing.
I wish I could say being pregnant fixed everything for me. The behaviors may not have been active for fear of harming my babies, but the thoughts and desires did creep in at times. I felt particularly vulnerable in the post-partum period. Not the immediate first few weeks where you’re on some bizarre motherhood Red Bull of survival, but the 3-9 month period where the nighttime feeds get stressful and it seems like everyone is asleep but you. Where everyone else seems to be mothering better.
I have a daughter now. Eating disorders affect both genders, but the overwhelming majority are girls. My body, which I had mistreated and hated for so long, forgave me enough to bear healthy children. Why then was it such a struggle to forgive it for not having a thigh gap or jutting clavicles?
Because it’s 100% about control and nothing to do with weight or food.
There’s a numbing euphoria that comes with purging and restricting calories to a minuscule amount. The trouble is there are serious consequences and serious guilt for using such a means of anxiety control. It would break my heart if either of my children viewed their precious bodies with the disdain I have for my own.
The bodies I zip into footie pajamas smelling of bath time. The bodies that help them learn to crawl and run. That sweet baby pudge melts my heart. I have to love myself for what my body has been able to do and to show my children how to do the same. An eating disorder will always be part of my story, but that has made me stronger. And I am really starting to love the strength within me.
For more information or help, please visit: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/