An eating disorder is not something you ask for or plan. Losing weight is addictive. It's almost like a high when you see the number on the scale drop or you feel your pants get looser. You see that, and you feel like you’ve won. But really, it’s the ever-destructive eating disorder that has won. It gains complete control over you, and you can't do anything about it. It makes you a robot and brainwashes your thoughts.
I didn't plan to be anorexic. I was just a naïve, 17-year-old girl who, after being tiny and no more than 5 feet tall all of her life, was finally starting to grow into her body. I went to school and ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I worked at an Italian ice and custard shop, and I was allowed to eat as many samples as my heart desired. My pants got a little snug in that time—and by “snug,” I mean my size-zero shorts from the 8th grade were fitting my 110-pound, perfectly normal body a little tighter than they did my shapeless, 8th-grade body.
And from there it began.
I knew nothing about exercising. I ran maybe once a month prior to this, but I was determined to start going to the gym. There was never a time when I said, "I'm going to go to the gym, and I’m going to lose 30 pounds." That was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just going to start eating a little healthier (I had started by cutting soda out of my diet), working out a little and getting more toned.
Looking back on it now, that whole time span is such a blur to me. I went to school then work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then I went to the gym after that, running on my small fruit-and-yogurt breakfast, my granola-bar-and-apple lunch and my small portion of dinner. Over the course of four months, I lost about 30 pounds, eventually dropping down to 80 pounds.
As soon as I started working out I could see results, and little by little my clothing got a little looser. I loved the feeling of accomplishment I got. As a high school senior looking ahead to college and the unknown, I finally felt like I had control over something—even though it really had control over me.
I gave up my favorite meal of the day: dessert. I gave up my favorite meal of the day for a thigh gap. I got a thrill and sadness from going shopping and not even being able to wear a 00 at Hollister because it was too big. I got a thrill because I felt that I had control over something, and I was secretly happy about that—happy about seeing the results that came from my actions of the previous months. But I also felt sad, because shopping and fashion were two of my absolute favorite things, and clothes no longer looked good on me. I saw that they didn’t and that it wasn’t normal, but I couldn’t break myself from my habits because my body image was so distorted. Yes, I saw that 00 shorts were falling off of me, but I didn’t feel as though I was skinny; my mind was saturated with the negative thoughts perpetuated by my eating disorder.
I broke up with the love of my life my senior year. I lost friends. I was annoyed when I talked to my parents. My personality was completely gone.
I was 110 pounds. My pants were too tight. I was 107 pounds. I was happy. I was in control. I was 105 pounds. I was working out. I was 100 pounds. My pants weren’t as tight anymore! I was 95 pounds. I was cold. I was 95 pounds. I was praised. I was 95 pounds. I was hungry. I was 90 pounds. I was running. I was 85 pounds. I was restricting.
I was 80 pounds. I was taken to a doctor the day before my high school graduation. I could see the disappointment on my parent’s faces. I was not the Sarah they knew, and it broke my heart to see their sadness.
I was 80 pounds. I was told I might not go to college.
I was 85 pounds. I was not allowed to work out. I was 87 pounds. I was gaining. I was 90 pounds. I was going to college. I was 90 pounds. I was in a new place. I was 90 pounds. I was on my own.
I was 89 pounds. My eating disorder was in control. I was 89 pounds. My dad came to visit, and I broke his heart when I got on the scale. I was 89 pounds. I was taken to the hospital. I was 89 pounds. I was taken to a therapist.
I had a monster inside of me that ruined what was supposed to be the best time of my life: my freshman year of college. Through the mindset of the eating disorder, I knew I had to make a change. I knew I wasn’t normal, I didn’t feel pretty and I felt like I looked scary. I looked around at all my peers and friends and saw how lively their personalities were and how curvy they were. This really hit home for me because I was seeing other girls my age so happy at normal weights, and I wanted that for myself.
Around my new campus, I was constantly judged and stared at like a museum exhibit. One moment from my first year at the College of Charleston that I will never forget was in the dining hall when I walked past a girl who made a comment to her friend, "OMG, she is so skinny!" I may have been skinny, but my hearing still worked perfectly fine.
My roommate that year was my biggest supporter, and I still love her for that to this day. She was understanding, and she didn't judge me for what I was going through. She was excited to see me go through the journey to gain weight.
I was taken to a therapist weekly, in which I was given a meal plan and encouraged to gain weight by my next visit. I actually loved having a meal plan and being required to keep track of the certain amount of calories I ate per day. Through my disordered eating, I had lost track of what true portion sizes were, and didn’t know how much I truly should be eating in order to gain weight. The process almost became fun for me, and it was something that I personally had control over, not my distorted thoughts. But don’t get me wrong; it was not easy. The first few weeks of eating a normal meal plan were tough, but as the weeks went on, I noticed I really wasn’t even gaining that much weight. This made me feel better: knowing that my body really needs all those calories, not that it’s going to take all of them and make me fat.
Eventually, I was able to gain all of my weight back with the support of my family, my beloved protein shakes (that I still enjoy drinking every now and then) and Breyers ice cream. To this day I have trouble forgetting my past, and I would be lying if I said my eating disorder doesn't affect me anymore. You would never guess it since I'm at a normal weight now and I go about normal daily activities.
Yes, I eat normally (healthily, for the most part), and I still enjoy dessert. Yes, I am able to keep a normal weight with regular exercise. But yes, a part of me still worries about gaining weight. I love running, so I tell myself constantly that my body needs fuel to run and function. If I don’t feed it the right amount, I can’t do the things I love, or even small, daily tasks that require energy.
No body is perfect, no matter how much people may portray theirs to be. Be happy with who you are and what you look like. Don't worry about what everyone else is doing, what everyone else is eating or how everyone else’s bodies are different from yours. But most importantly, don't judge them. If someone appears “too skinny” or “too big,” remember that you don't know what they’re going through.
Try not to care about which number or letter size you wear. Try not to stress over the number on the scale. It does not define who you are. I have lived too long letting those numbers and sizes control me and define me, and it made me lose sight of who I really am.
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