Punished to Empowered: Part I
The Background of My Eating Disorder and Journey to Self Love
*Trigger warning: this post discusses eating disorders and body dysmorphia. If you or someone you know is suffering, please contact the NEDA helpline or chat for anonymous support, resources and treatment options.*
The need to finally share my story with you was sparked by a trip down memory lane. The time had come for my mom to finally hand over all the precious memories she lovingly held onto throughout the course of our childhood, teenage and early adult years: from baby clothes and stuffed animals to band t-shirts and newspaper clippings, all of the big moments had to be sorted through and condensed. As I went through each box there was a mix of emotions: happiness, nostalgia, gratitude, pride, grief and closure. I hadn’t anticipated the last two.
As I pulled out my perfectly broken-in band tees I realized how small they were. How the young girl who proudly wore them on the outside was secretly destroying herself on the inside. How she thought her body was disgusting, overweight, unattractive and unworthy of love. She believed no boy could ever truly want her, that her life would never be right until she hit her goal weight and that joy and success were reserved for women of a certain size. I sat there, as a grown woman now several sizes larger than that girl and many years wiser thinking “if she only knew.”
My heart breaks for that girl and for any other woman who has been in her shoes. After years of ups and downs, success and mistakes, progress and loss, I know with unfaltering certainty that our size and weight do not define who we are. It is not a measure of happiness or worth. It is just a number. One that can be incredibly painful should we choose to give it the power or one that can liberate us from fear and open our eyes to just how insignificant it truly is.
Unfortunately, for many of us that realization takes a long time to set in and for some it never will. I hope to change that by sharing my story.
If I had to pinpoint the beginning of my battle with food and my body, I would say it stemmed from the passing of my father. I had turned eight years old just a month and three days before he lost his battle with colon cancer. It rocked my family. In a time when I needed comfort and an outlet for my emotions, I turned to food. It started with going for a second helping at dinner to eventually binge-eating my favorite cookie dough or canned sausage gravy. I know it sounds disgusting, but to this day biscuits and sausage gravy is my favorite food. We’ve had a long journey together and thankfully I go for homemade now.
I’ve always been “big-boned” with a more “athletic build” than my friends. I loved playing sports, being outside and overall would describe myself as a tomboy who just so happened to be obsessed with fashion. As time went on and my relationship with food continued to grow more co-dependent, I started noticing that I was wearing larger sizes than my peers. In addition to that, my increasing curiosity about the fashion industry made me even more conscious of my weight. I distinctly remember when I finally had to graduate from Limited Too to the women’s section at Gap in order to find jeans that fit my hips. I remember feeling anxious, awkward, embarrassed and upset despite my mom trying her best to normalize it and debunk any insecurities. I wish I could have heard her through the noise in my head.
I want to take a moment to say I am beyond grateful that my mom never made me feel like I was any less loved or any less beautiful because of my size. She so desperately wanted me to be happy and supported me in any way that she could. I can only imagine the pain she felt watching me destroy something she loved so much, hearing me cry and fight against the body she carefully created. It is a prime example of how eating disorders can affect loved ones, too. I wish I had learned then to see myself through her eyes.
Needless to say, emotionally charged binge eating was the core of my relationship with food. I eventually came to find that the release from my pain could be found in purging. The infamous partner in crime to my already toxic habits.
The first time I ever made myself sick was in the 5th grade. I remember feeling insecure and tired, trying to think of a way I could get out of school early and go home. I heard another girl had come down with some sort of stomach bug and *ding* the lightbulb went off and next thing you know I’m in the bathroom. The release I felt afterward got me hooked.
I quickly moved on to regularly purging my body of food every time I felt too full. Then it progressed to every time I ate something that wasn’t in line with my “diet,” when I felt insecure, overcome with emotion or anxious. This began the cycle of binge and purge that I would battle throughout my teenage years, college and even adulthood. Whether it was weight, grief, stress or anger it seemed to offer a temporary fix for any problem. Bulimia and body dysmorphia ruled my life.
It didn’t help that I had a deep infatuation with fashion, which fueled my body image issues and reinforced the idea I needed to be thin in order to be accepted. Keep in mind that this was the 90’s and 2000’s when the industry was coming off the rise of “heroin chic.” Films like The Devil Wears Prada were popular and joked about a size 4 being small, but not small enough.
Growing up, I never saw images of women who looked remotely like me on the covers of fashion magazines I poured over. Advertisements, movies and television only featured thin frames as the aspirational characters. Women with curves weren’t being celebrated, represented or praised for their beauty. While I can’t imagine how hurtful it was (and still is) for women of color not to be equally represented in the media, as a full-figured girl this was a major pain point. It encouraged my self-hatred and desire to have a body very different than my own.
I struggled with my eating disorder and body dysmorphia for a significant portion of my life. It wasn’t until as an adult I had several major life events that became turning points in my mental and physical health. This blog also had a huge impact on my recovery. I don’t want to go into every detail of what my experience with bulimia entailed because I don’t want to encourage young girls and women struggling with an eating disorder to emulate that part of my journey. I know that at the beginning of mine, I would have done that. I looked for “thin-spo” and information on how to lose weight everywhere I could. Instead, I want to share my story so others know they are not alone. That this struggle is real, it’s difficult and that while there is no magic button to teach you how to love your body there are choices you can make to achieve recovery. Recovery is possible! There is a light at the end of this tunnel, and it is truly a beautiful life filled with joy and adventure, but you must consciously choose to take the steps toward it.
In the next part of my Punished to Empowered series, I’ll share about the turning points in my life that helped me find recovery. Thank you for joining me and taking the time to read my story. I hope that it will inspire those struggling with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia to find self-love and a place of body acceptance.