My large blue eyes burned from exhaustion, yet I lay wide awake. Attempting to distract myself, I ran my hand back and forth over my concave torso. I could trace two large hip-bones projecting through my paper-thin skin on either side. This mindless motion couldn’t help me fall asleep, nor could it divert from my intense hunger.
Pangs from my hollow stomach were a constant reminder of the food I had eaten the day before: 24 pieces of organic peanut butter cereal for breakfast. Mixed vegetables with exactly one tablespoon of low-fat soy sauce, an apple and exactly 22 Goldfish crackers for lunch. Five cups of air-popped popcorn for a snack. And for dinner, a piece of chicken the size of my palm and a serving of broccoli. This was all I had consumed that entire day, and my 100-pound body wouldn’t let me forget it. But in my mind, those 735 calories were still 735 calories too many.
My body was craving nourishment, sure. But my mind was craving control.
I was suffering from a case of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Anorexia can spawn from a variety of issues, and no two people have the same experience. In my experience, I felt an overwhelming need for control when I thought I had none.
From freshman to senior year, this disorder consumed every moment of my fragile life, taking away who I truly was and leaving me a hollow shell. But through self-acceptance, intuitive eating and forgiveness, I have moved on. One-fourth of the way into my senior year, I am full again. I am brimming. My eating disorder no longer has control; I do.
Though I rule my life now, freshman year was the opposite. I had just transferred from SMSD to St. Teresa’s Academy. Optimism was key for my transition into a school where I knew nobody, but I was overconfident. I expected to make friends immediately, and when I didn’t, it really made me question myself. Was I not outgoing enough? Not funny enough? Not skinny enough?
The urge to change myself infiltrated every inch of my body and mind, flooding me with the idea that anything but me would suffice. About a month into freshman year, change felt like my only option. I couldn’t control how other people treated me, but I could control myself. Making the intense effort to lose weight seemed like the perfect outlet. I was the only one who could decide what food to consume and how much of it. I could develop the willpower to exercise for hours a day. It was a foolproof way to gain power when I felt powerless. Most importantly, these habits couldn’t control me back – or so I thought. What I didn’t realize was that I was never in control. In fact, my eating disorder dominated every aspect of my life.
No added sugar. No food with over three grams of fat. No restaurants. And, most importantly, 1,200 calories was my daily maximum. These regulations weren’t just guidelines, they became my entire life: every waking moment was spent thinking about food. I constantly counted down the minutes to when my next meal would be, a meal that I had carefully pre-calculated the calorie count for. I thought about how I would make up for each calorie consumed by going to the gym and exercising until I didn’t have a drop of energy left in my frail frame.
After only a couple of weeks, pounds dropped drastically, but I was still unhappy. My discontent began to protrude more than my collarbone and ribcage, which were clearly visible through my St. Teresa’s uniform shirts.
My habits isolated me. Almost every weekend, I found myself alone and unhappy, curled up in bed, praying for the hours to pass by so that I could eat again. All I had was my own negative thoughts. I became so wrapped up in them that I started to believe my rigid routine would consume my life until I couldn’t take another bite of food. I believed that I would never have friends, never be happy, never be free from my eating disorder’s tight grasp.
Near the end of my freshman year, my disorder was deteriorating me, from the inside out, and I knew it—the problem was that I didn’t want to fix it. Fixing myself would mean reversing all of the tireless effort I had put into losing weight and keeping my rigid lifestyle. I wasn’t ready to let go of being skinny. And I wasn’t prepared for the willpower it took to accept that I needed help.
I started to see doctors, therapists and nutritionists. I read hundreds of books and articles, desperate to find the answers that would set me free from my disorder. These resources were all helpful, but one day, after three years, I made a life-changing realization. No expert in the world could fix me if I wasn’t willing to fix me. And it was this raw realization that set me free.
Recovery started with my mind. If I was going to stop the problem at its source, I needed to have a healthy relationship with my body and appearance – the negativity had to stop.
Social media played a big part in this. I followed Instagram accounts that promote body positivity. Instead of the endless stream of skinny that I had previously been seeing, I was introduced to a virtual world of acceptance. I also ended all talk about body shape and size. It soon dawned on me that it was not my business if so-and-so had gained a few pounds; I stopped endlessly envying the girl whose abs were tighter than the parking spaces at East. And, most importantly, I learned to accept all bodies as the way they are: beautiful.
Once I was able to accept everyone else as beautiful, I began to accept myself. Instead of hyperfocusing on my body, I focused on my intelligence, my love, my positivity; parts of me that can make a real impact in the world. I ultimately understood that I am so much more than my appearance.
With my new understanding, I had no reason to hold onto what was hurting me the most. I let go of the negative thoughts about food. I let go of the pain that they caused me. I am proud to say that I let go of my eating disorder.
There are days when I relapse. I’ll feel guilty about eating too much, or feel good about eating too little. But the difference between then and now is that I’m the one to make the decisions that are best for my body, decisions that keep me healthy in more ways than one. I’m leading the strong and positive life that I’ve always wanted, never forgetting my difficult past, but making the conscious decision to never let it negatively affect me again.