How I Knew I Had An Eating Disorder - A Personal Story
"Even as a kid, I knew I was different," says Sandy,* "I always felt so bad about myself, so guilty. I was bigger than a lot of the other girls and knew I looked different. I swore to myself that I would lose the weight no matter what it took, and for a while it worked."
Many people who have eating disorders, like Sandy, have struggled with self esteem and feeling "different" since childhood. In this article, Sandy, as she prefers to be identified, bravely shares her personal story, the various aspects of disordered eating that she experienced, and how she finally came to terms with the fact that she had an eating disorder.
It Began With Emotional Eating
"My eating patterns, now that I look back on them, even from a young age were those of an emotional eater. But at age 8, I didn't have any clue what that meant. For instance, I remember sneaking fudge and cookies from the kitchen and feeling completely out of control with it, like I couldn't stop it. I'd also graze on pecans, grapes, and strawberries, and even crabapples, which really upset my stomach, from the plants that grew in our backyard, even when I wasn't hungry. I'd make myself sick at age 8 or 9 eating all this stuff and I just couldn't stop. I hid most of it from my family, but I couldn't hide all the weight I was putting on. At age 11, mom put me on a diet."
Weight Changes Are Only A Symptom Of The Problem
As is the case with many people, they believe that the problem is weight and a diet is the answer. For Sandy, there were a lot of emotional issues at play behind the weight gain that weren't being addressed. It turns out that many girls who are put on diets as young children later develop eating disorders. This is likely because the underlying unhealthy relationship with self and with food continue even if weight loss occurs. For Sandy, the dysfunctional coping mechanisms with food continued and even after she lost 50 pounds before the 6th grade, and all those negative feelings that existed before the weight loss still plagued her.
"I looked better starting 6th grade, but as I entered high school, I again put on more weight and the social pressure to fit in was even greater than before. Plus, I was a dancer, and looking at my body every day in a leotard and comparing it to all the other girls in my class, I felt worthless."
"I began to skip breakfast. I literally began starving myself and got lots of positive feedback. Finally I was getting some attention, even from guys. But there was a problem. I couldn't maintain it. The yo-yo swung the other way, and by the time I made it into college, I didn't gain the "Freshman Fifteen." Nope, I outdid myself, and gained 50 pounds. My weight skyrocketed even higher after that and I felt worse about myself than ever before."
"I Realized I Had A Problem With Food"
"By graduation from graduate school, I was clinically obese from all the uncontrolled overeating and so very unhappy. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what, exactly. I tried the gym. I tried Weight Watchers. But nothing stuck. But then, one day, I happened to be watching, of all things, a television show called True Life on MTV. It was about people who struggled with their weight. There was a story about one girl who was a lot like me. She was always chubby and constantly struggling with dieting and her weight. Then there was another story about a guy who locked himself away for like, a year, and ate only lettuce and fruit and dropped hundreds of pounds for a family member's wedding. But at the wedding getaway, he began to binge like crazy.
"I saw myself in these other people. I saw that I had a problem with food. These people ended up getting help at an eating disorder clinic and I realized, at age 30, after all these years, after all this struggle, I had an eating disorder. I didn't know which one, exactly, but I knew I needed help. I looked online right then and found a local clinic that treated eating disorders. I called the very next morning and made an appointment with both a counselor and a nutritionist."
Getting A Diagnosis
It turned out that Sandy was diagnosed with binge eating disorder. She has since undergone months of therapy and has learned a lot about herself and how to interact with food through the process. Although she still struggles from time to time, overall she states that she is more at peace and happier with who she is.
"The reason I wanted to share my story," says Sandy, "is because if I knew sooner that I had an eating disorder, that I wasn’t just undisciplined, or lazy, or defective, then I could have found peace much sooner and my health might have been better than it is now. I want others to know my story so if they recognize themselves in my journey that they can get help…that they don't have to wait until age 30 to start living life and feeling good about who they are."
If you are concerned you may have an eating disorder, like Sandy, you can also get help. There are many resources available and with help full recovery is possible.
*Sandy is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the woman brave enough to share her story here