I knew I had an eating disorder before anyone else did. I started obsessing over my weight from the time I was about seven or eight. I would mark on my calendar the days I was allowed to eat junk food and the days I wasn’t. By nine, I was binge eating and hiding food from my parents. I exercised in my room to the tune of Disney tapes in hopes I would become thinner. I’d learned about anorexia and bulimia in school for years, but no one ever talked about people like me. The only outward sign that there was a problem was the weight gain that never seemed to stop. Since I ate normally in front of other people and binged in private, the cause was a mystery. Today my dad will say to me, “I had no idea that was going on.” My response is always, “That’s because I never wanted anyone to know.”
While I spent years in and out of therapy for clinical depression, my weight and my relationship with food were issues I never wanted to discuss. I couldn’t even talk about my body without weeping uncontrollably. I had countless therapists, and no one ever even touched the surface of my relationship with food. What broke through that concrete wall I had built so carefully in my mind was a simple class assignment: give up something that you really like for six weeks, write about the experience, and participate in “support groups” with peers who gave up similar items.
I decided to give up meat. Not only would it be a challenge, I was secretly hoping that this assignment would combine my two greatest obsessions: losing weight, and perfect grades. I had been dieting almost my entire life to control my weight, and I saw this assignment as just another opportunity to diet. Plus, I could get an “A” at the same time! I fantasized that at the end of the six weeks, I would be able to proudly say that not only had I stuck to my commitment to give up meat, I’d lost ten pounds (no, FIFTEEN!) in the process and felt lighter and better than ever. Clearly, I’d totally missed the point the professor was trying to make. I was too busy imagining my slimmer figure. The assignment started out as a challenge but quickly grew to resemble my own personal hell. Journaling about the process was like holding up a mirror to my eating disorder. I finally saw it in all of its sick, twisted glory. I saw how much I hated my body and my relationship with food. How I never felt good, pretty, worthy enough. I never felt enough. I’d spent my whole life trying to be perfect, and my body would not cooperate by molding itself into a size 2. Therefore, my mind told me I was worthless.
Clearly, I needed help. I was depressed and miserable, all for a class assignment (or so I thought). I found an eating disorders specialist in town and made an appointment. I didn’t pick her because I thought I had an eating disorder, but because I thought if she could deal with people who had serious problems, surely she could deal with my “food issues”. The joke was on me, because she knew from day one I had Binge Eating Disorder. From the first few sessions, it was clear I had a decision to make: I could keep going on diets that didn’t work, or I could try something I had never tried before.
Recovery was a revolutionary concept to me. I kept seeing my therapists and added a dietician who specialized in ED to my treatment team. I quit dieting (frightening) and got rid of my scale. I started using a food journal to write down what I ate, my hunger and satiety levels, and my own emotions during each meal. I’ll admit, I hate food journals. Asking to see my food journal is like asking me to take my clothes off. I won’t do it for just anyone, and if I’m doing it for you, you’d better feel damn special. It requires me to be vulnerable and talk about something that has always been so private to me. But I see how necessary it is, because it helps my dietician talk to me about the connection between my emotions and food, between types of food and feeling full or hungry. I’d spent years disconnected from my body, and these techniques helped me come home to my physical being.
It wasn’t long before the bingeing stopped. Yes, it still happens occasionally, but it’s rare and I have insight into why it occurs. I avoid triggers as much as possible and set myself up to succeed. I’ve learned to put my recovery first, and to start prioritizing myself. I have come along way in almost two years, and I have never felt better. If you’d told me there would come a day where I would only think about food when I was hungry, or when I could eat whatever food I liked as part of my lifestyle, I would have laughed in your face. I never imagined that a life existed where food could not hold me prisoner.
My recovery is the best and most difficult decision I have ever made for myself. I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come. I struggle a lot with my relationship with food, but I am finding peace that balances out the days when ED overwhelms me. I am finding the positive voice in my head that is becoming powerful enough to talk back to the voice of my eating disorder. I rejoice in every tiny speck of progress, even when it might be invisible to everyone else. I have confidence that I will recover someday, and until then, I am happy to be on the road that leads to a life free from Binge Eating Disorder.
Big thanks to Ashley for putting a voice behind this issue and sharing your story with us. To read more of Ashley’s journey, visit her blog called A Recipe for Sanity.
Share Your Story is a series intended to remove the stigma associated with mental health topics and allow courageous souls to share their inspiring journeys to mental wellness and connect with anyone who is reading. To read more about this series, visit the original post here. To share your own story, e-mail Jen at jen [at] thepursuitofsassiness [dot] com. No topic is off limits.