“But you don’t look anorexic…” Yet I was. I struggled throughout high school. I was never clinically diagnosed. I didn’t know I had a problem. I was never super skinny or an unhealthy weight.
L-R: High school >> College >> Now
It was during National Eating Disorder Awareness week last month that this came to mind. I open up about so much…yet I never really opened up about my own disordered eating. I spent most of my life not even recognizing it as a “real” problem. I always thought that because I wasn’t diagnosed and because I was never underweight…I didn’t have a problem. But I did. I just didn’t know any better. I do now…so I’m sharing my story. Maybe it will help one of you out there to recognize a problem that you don’t even know exists.
I suffered from a variation of Anorexia known as Atypical Anorexia. A person suffering from this disorder will have many of the same symptoms as those with Anorexia. The difference is that the person will exhibit those symptoms without weight loss. They are often within or above normal weight range, making their appearance “atypical.” According to the National Eating Disorder Association, a person struggling with Atypical Anorexia may exhibit an extreme fear of being fat or of any weight changes and resort to abnormal eating behaviors such as calorie counting, cutting out certain foods/food groups, avoiding social events and functions that involve food, and more. Many individuals who have Atypical Anorexia may not even realize that they are struggling with a severe and deadly eating disorder, simply due to the weight stigma that surrounds this disease. A person may think, “I am not sick enough to have an eating disorder,” because he/she may be within or above a normal weight range. That’s exactly what happened to me.
My weight struggles began as a child. By the time I entered high school, I weighed in at 180lbs. Teen years are hard for every kid but it was especially hard on me. I watched as all of my friends got boyfriends, went on dates, had their first kiss…while I was left behind. Looking back on it now, I wasn’t all that far behind…but back then it felt like the end of the world. I was bigger than all of my friends. I couldn’t wear the same cute clothes everyone else did. Shopping was my worst nightmare. By sophomore year, I felt lost. I had plenty of friends but I hated myself…and how I looked. I went into a very bad depression. By senior year, after numerous diets failed to make me look how I wanted, I decided to control it myself. I decided that I would eat one thing per day. It started as one meal. It morphed into much worse. It got to the point where I was eating one thing per day – a cracker or a sour gummy worm (if I thought I needed a little sugar). This went on for a while until eventually I made myself sick to my stomach. I remember thinking that night about the day camp that I worked at every summer. Thinking about those little girls who I sometimes babysat…and whom I was a cheerleading coach during camp. I was only 17 but I distinctly remember that being the point where I changed my mindset..somewhat. I decided to start eating again. I didn’t want to set a bad example for those little girls.
While I did begin eating, it wasn’t a lot…probably not nearly what my body actually needed. However, I WAS eating. That fall, I began college at SUNY New Paltz. I got to be away from home and make a lot of new friends on a beautiful campus and town! That mystique was short lived. A couple of months into my first semester, I developed severe stomach issues (which still plague me today) and ended up having to come home. My weight struggles weren’t over and neither was my poor relationship with food. I was eating but I definitely wasn’t eating well. I looked to celebrities and various articles for guidance but most of them steered me down a bad path. I tried every diet from one my doctor recommended called the “Scarsdale diet” to the South Beach diet, which I only did because Jessica Simpson did it for Dukes of Hazard. The summer before my senior year of college, I LIVED at the gym. I divided my time between the gym and the beach. I commonly refer to that as the skinniest (and best looking) summer of my entire life. It was. I got down to 130lbs, which to date, is the smallest I’ve ever been. While the number was great…nothing else was. I wasn’t eating well. I was partying a lot and compensating with extra time on the treadmill. I always did fasted workouts…even if i was doing strength training. The scale may have been nice to read…but my body didn’t really reflect that number. I wasn’t super toned and I sure wasn’t healthy. That lifestyle caught up with me once I got into a serious relationship and stopped my 2+ hour daily workouts. I put a lot of weight on. I tried to control it and maintain my hard work but because I never changed my lifestyle…it was next to impossible. Over the next few years, I was in and out of jobs and kept myself in an unhealthy relationship. My weight continued to climb as my confidence kept plummeting. By 2010 I was up to 210lbs, my all-time highest weight. I knew it was bad but I had very little motivation and no idea how to change it.
Two years later, I finally had enough. I was done going through the motions of life. I was watching the Biggest Loser (season 14) and really connected with the contestants. I realized at that moment that I could do it – I could actually turn my life around! I started educating myself properly on nutrition and exercise. I began going to the gym a few days per week. I started out doing mostly cardio but as I learned more, and built more strength, I was able to incorporate weights into my routine. My metabolism is all but broken but after about a year of very hard work I was able to lose a little over 70lbs and go from squeezing into a size 14…to comfortably wearing a size 2/4.
I won’t lie and say that I’m 100% cured. I still struggle with things everyday. I worry that my recent surgery and modified workouts are setting me back. My clothes still fit but I see the scale climbing and my body losing the muscle that I worked so incredibly hard for. I’ve become very busy with my job(s) and while I love what I do and where I am…my diet has not been the best. There are meals that I skip. There are late dinners. It makes me worry…but I don’t let that stop me anymore. My mindset has completely changed. I may have these worries but I don’t let them consume me anymore. If I want to have a beer, a piece of candy, or buffalo wings…I have it. No guilt. I have finally realized something I should’ve realized years ago – life is way too short to spend it at war with yourself…and with food. For the first time in my whole life, I can honestly say I am not just existing…I’m actually living (and loving) life. Things aren’t perfect but I am doing my best to make the most of everyday.
To learn more about eating disorders and what you can do, check out my article with The Arena: http://thearenafitness.com/no-body-is-perfect/
If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help. Encourage open dialogue with the people in your life…especially children/teens. Let’s break the silence on this horrible epidemic. Let’s Fight to be Fit together.
Stay strong & stay in the fight!