This is a story about a girl and her eating disorder. More specifically, it’s a story about the last five(ish) years of my life; years characterized mainly by succumbing to, living with, and recovering from, anorexia nervosa. In an effort not to trigger or encourage any sort of comparison, this story contains no numbers and no pictures… just a simple (albeit long) verbal account of what I can remember of my struggles and victories. If you take anything from my story, let it be this – a happy life after anorexia is possible, even when you have to claw your way up from rock bottom.
. a little bit of background .
I’m pretty sure that I was probably the last person anyone would expect to fall victim to an eating disorder. I grew up in a loving home under the watchful gaze of a mother who never once dieted or expressed any sort of discomfort around food or her body. She didn’t believe in microwave dinners or processed snacks, so I grew up eating healthy home cooked meals and freshly baked cookies, with the occasional store bought treat thrown in for good measure.
Despite Mom’s best efforts, I developed a curiosity for the ‘dark side’ that I began to fully indulge as I got older and more independent. I know it sounds dark, sinister, and mysterious, but in reality all it involved was swapping out Mom’s homemade dinners for boxes of KD and her healthy baked treats for candy and ice cream. My diet went from being made up of scarce amounts of junk food to being made up primarily of junk food. In my late teens and early twenties, I was that girl – the one who lived off junk food, visited the McDonald’s drive-through at 1 AM on a regular basis, and yet still managed to hover around being ‘clinically underweight’ despite never counting a single calorie or gram of fat. And then everything changed…
. the cause .
I don’t want to go into too much detail about this part of the story, but I went through some pretty massive life changes in my early 20’s. Up to that point, I had everything planned out. My goals. My future. My life. Things looked predictable, safe, and bright. But the future I had planned was one that never came to be.
I’m not the kind of person who handles uncertainty well, so you can imagine what the crumbling of my carefully planned out future did to me. Suddenly, I found myself in a position where I no longer had any idea as to where I was going and what I was going to do. The life I was familiar with, and the life I was planning to become familiar with, was tossed out the window along with most of my sanity. My mind, which demands that everything be carefully ordered, was suddenly thrown into absolute disorder and I broke down.
. the effect .
In an effort to calm myself and regain some sense of control in my life, I turned my attention to health and nutrition to help me escape from my anxieties. In doing so, I eventually came to realize that I was able to achieve the control I so desperately sought by controlling what I put into my body, and consequently, by controlling the number on the scale. Finally, a sense of relief at last.
To say I became a little interested in health and nutrition would be a huge understatement; I was obsessed. Because of the overwhelming feeling of failure and guilt I was experiencing due to the crumbling of my future plans, I redirected all of my energy and focus into making sure I didn’t fail at being healthy. I wanted to have an absolutely perfect diet, and thus I underwent yet another complete 180 – from all junk food back to no junk food. At that point I also decided to try out vegetarianism, which eventually progressed to veganism, and ultimately led me all the way to raw veganism.
I was completely raw vegan (yes, no cooked food) for about 8 months and it was during that time that I learned to fear food. After reading so many of what I now see were nothing more than fanatical claims about how this is bad for us, or how that harms us without our knowing it, I became paranoid. What if I was eating something that was taking me away from the optimal state of health that I was so desperately trying to achieve? Consequently, I gradually began to restrict my already restricted diet by first cutting out all fats, then fruits, and finally, starchy vegetables. In the end, I was literally surviving on nothing but greens and maybe half an apple a day if I was feeling brave.
While I don’t blame my raw vegan diet for the development of my eating disorder, it certainly provided the perfect breeding ground for it. After all, I wasn’t restricting; I was simply a raw vegan! Since nothing could be cooked, this meant I wasn’t “able” to eat any grains, and being vegan obviously meant dairy and meat were out as well – nothing but raw fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds for me.
The worst part of it is that I initially felt great. I had endless amounts of energy. My allergies cleared up. The occasional stomach problems I experienced completely disappeared. My skin and hair glowed… It truly did look like I was achieving the health I so obsessively sought. Even my parents, who were skeptical with my odd choice at first, were comforted for the time being. But soon the honeymoon period was over and the problems began to show…
. the symptoms .
As you can probably imagine, the initial health and energy I experienced didn’t last; they began to fade as my ED continued to flourish. After 8 months or so on the “healthiest” diet, I was far from the picture of health. I was so emaciated that I resembled a skeleton. I had no energy. My period was gone. My skin was gray and dull. My eyes were sunken in and lifeless. The hair on my head was falling out in clumps, while the rest of my body was growing a substantial amount of “peach fuzz” in an effort to keep me warm. Yet even my newfound ability to grow fur didn’t do much to keep me from freezing; my toes, fingers, and lips were constantly turning an unflattering shade of blue, and if I didn’t have several layers of clothing and a hot water bottle at my disposal, I was shaking so badly that I could hardly talk. I remember being in church on one particularly cold winter morning, and instead of paying attention, I was praying to God that I wouldn’t fall over and embarrass myself, as my feet were so cold and numb that I could barely stand on them… And when it came to sleeping? Ha! Good luck falling asleep when you’re ice cold, and good luck staying asleep when you’re starving. Me and hunger induced insomnia became quite close.
In addition to these physical annoyances, I had several more notable health problems and scares. I became exhausted to the point of not even having the strength to get out of bed or lift myself up from a chair. I couldn’t lay comfortably without bruising, and I couldn’t sit comfortably without my tailbone and spine feeling like they might crack. I was constantly dizzy. Constantly lightheaded. There were several instances where I completely lost consciousness, and woke up only to wonder what I was doing lying on the floor. And as for my heart? My heart threatened to give out at any moment. At times, my pulse dipped so dangerously low, that I was convinced it would only be a few more minutes before it stopped for good. And the worst part of all? A part of me wished that it would stop; anything to escape the absolute hell I was living.
But it gets even better. Because the physical ailments of my disease obviously weren’t torturous enough, there were plenty of mental and emotional ones to add to the fun. I walked around completely engulfed by a mental fog of starvation. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. Anything I tried to concentrate on for any extended amount of time continuously slipped from my attention. It was like hunger induced ADHD; whenever I tried to commit myself to doing something, I would lose interest in it after a few short minutes had elapsed. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t watch TV… at least not for more than 5 minutes at a time.
Consequently, I stopped caring about everything. My friends. My family. My hobbies. My passions. My interests. All discarded. All forgotten. There was one thing, and one thing only, that I cared a great deal about, and that was food. It always makes me laugh when people think that those who suffer from anorexia don’t like food. The truth is, we love food more than anything else, we just won’t actually eat it. Instead, it becomes the focal point around which our lives revolve. So, I became obsessed. I lived food. I breathed food. But to actually eat it? Never. Instead, I hoarded recipes that I never made. I cooked meals for others that I never ate. I indulged myself with endless amounts of “food porn”; devouring with my eyes what I could never bring myself to put in my mouth. I bitterly watched others eat the food I so desperately longed for while I chewed away at my celery sticks and lettuce. It was truly a pitiful existence. I remember actually salivating over the smell of some peach hand soap because I was so hungry and it smelled so good. Thankfully, I didn’t actually try to eat it, but that’s just an example of the sad state I was in.
. the process of healing .
. – Coming soon – .