As most people resolve to drop pounds this year, my goals include gains.
When I was ten years old, my schoolyard crush called me chubby. That day, I decided to stop eating. I was 4-foot-10, and in about eight months, I lost 40 pounds—achieving a record-low weight of 64 pounds. I was skin and bones. The less space I could take up, I thought, the better.
Despite my parents' mounting concern, I didn't know that I was suffering. I felt like everyone's appeals for me to eat were just attempts to sabotage my success. I strove to keep my food intake under 500 calories per day. I even put up a fight when it came to drinking water.
Eventually, my mom took me to the doctor, who told her, "Go buy a steak. Cook it with some salt and pepper and make her eat it." At ten years old, and without a whole lot of say in what I did or didn't do, I choked down the steak.
On the surface, I was in recovery. By age 14, I had gained 30 pounds and by 21, 50 pounds. (I only grew one inch taller in that time.) I posted photos of my progress to Instagram.
But in reality, I felt pressured to look skinny and confident. And no matter how skinny I looked, I was anything but confident. I wasn't happy or healthy, either—I was just offsetting my anorexia with bingeing. One day I would eat as little as possible until I was so hungry that I'd plow into anything I could get my hands on. At first bite, the food felt fulfilling, but soon I'd be stuffed, feeling disgusted and ashamed with myself. When I couldn't deal with it, I'd go to sleep immediately—which is why I binged at night. Sleep was an escape from dealing with my feelings. I hated myself, and couldn't bare the thought that I'd just "messed up."
In the morning, I'd wake up loathing my body and myself, and I'd resolve to "fix" my binges by restricting my diet all over again. Some days, I'd sleep as much as possible, because if I was sleeping, I knew I couldn't binge. I'd work out two hours a day. I became obsessed with "burning off" anything I ate. Just like bingeing, this allowed me to avoid feeling anything and fixate on food being the "problem."
Since then, I've gained about ten or 15 pounds—I no longer keep tabs on my weight, so that's a guess. And I don't think I'm fat or disgusting anymore. What changed? My mindset.
Two years ago, after going to the campus counseling center to seek help for depression, I was paired with a local therapist. She told me that I had an eating disorder. Despite struggling with my weight and food for more than a decade, I had never realized it. No one had ever told me.
Accepting the fact that I had an eating disorder helped me realize that the solution to all of my struggles wasn't achieving a certain weight or silhouette. Losing weight wouldn't help me find self-worth or happiness. It was loving myself—irrespective of my weight.
At 23, after two years of therapy—I still go once a week. Recovery is about not hating myself. When I fall into old habits, I know that I'm still great deep down, and I move on. I don't get down on myself or try to "make up" for one too many servings of ice cream by starving myself.
A lot of my recovery has involved connecting with my body. In the past, I didn't want to accept that I was in my body. I wanted to control it, fix it, but not connect with it. I thought it was gross. One day, my therapist asked me to simply touch my stomach. Try putting your hand on your stomach right now—and not sucking in. It feels pretty weird, right? Maybe even uncomfortable?
Over time, I've come to embrace the fact that I really am in this body and, every day, I become a little more comfortable with that fact. I've gotten really into lifting and, when performing big movements like squats and deadlifts, I don't hesitate to perform a Valsalva maneuver. (That's when you inflate and push out your stomach to help brace your core.) I feel like a badass. I feel strong and proud of what my body can do. As I gain muscle, I've learned that I no longer want to disappear, and that I love taking up space. My body deserves a place in this world.
As told to K. Aleisha Fetters
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