Content warning: eating disorder, disordered eating thoughts, diets, anxiety
I always thought that opening up about my anxiety would be the hardest blog post I’d ever write. But boy oh boy, I was so wrong. This one takes the top FOR SURE. So bear with me if this gets rambly. I know I’m going to cry writing a lot of this. And to be completely honest, deep down I don’t want to share this because part of me still thinks its something I should hide. Writing this post is putting me in a vulnerable place, so please read knowing that this is the hardest post I’ve ever written. And, if I know you personally and never talked to you about this, please know that it wasn’t because I don’t trust you or don’t love you. I just have struggled for so long in how to share this and it is still something that is hard for me to talk about out loud. Writing has always been a release for me and I knew that it was through writing that I would be able to best tell my story.
Where it all begins
I started the first of many diets when I was sixteen. I remember laying in bed one evening curled in a ball because I was so hungry. A stupid graphic I had found online that said “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” kept running through my head. I had eaten a little over 900 calories that day but wanted more than anything to make sure that I stayed under the 1,000 calorie limit that I had placed on myself. I dreamed of having a thigh gap and a flat stomach. With every day that I stared into the mirror and didn’t see the body I felt I should have, it drove me, even more, to try to make that ‘dream’ a reality.
And then I got to college and for the first time in my teenage life, I stopped dieting. This was the most freeing feeling in the world—eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I felt as if I had found that I didn’t need to diet to be happy and was surrounded by incredible women who also believed this message. I was busy with academics, a new boyfriend, and navigating my first year of college. I didn’t have time to obsess over my food, I was eating enough food, and it was WONDERFUL. However, near the middle of the year, I started realizing that I was gaining weight…and fast. Now let me interject here as current Shannon and say COLLEGE WEIGHT GAIN IS NORMAL AND OK and your weight gain/weight loss does not define you as a person. In fact, I wrote an entire post about why gaining the freshman 15 is okay. But in that moment, all I could think about was what people would say when they saw me when I returned home for summer break. In my eyes, my body was not how it should be and I wanted to change it fast.
I began dieting again, and became more restrictive than ever. Instead of restricting calories, I began restricting whole meals. “I’m too busy to get dinner tonight and I’m not hungry anyways,” I’d lie to myself as I would be coding in the science center until late hours of the night. Sometimes, I would eat a bag of Cheez-its from the vending machine for dinner (which are delicious but not enough to replace a whole meal!). This crazy pressure I felt to get my “pre-college” body back and my meal skipping continued well into sophomore year—the year binge eating disorder took over my life.
When things got really worse
During my sophomore year, my parents were going through a divorce, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and I was so homesick. I had lost some of the weight I had gained freshman year but I still felt like a prisoner in a body that I hated. And then the binging began and with that came a complete tumble of my self-worth and how I viewed the world.
And then the binging began and with that came a complete tumble of my self-worth and how I viewed the world.
At first, it felt great to eat without any limits. My body was so hungry due to months of restriction and under-eating. Freely eating as much of and whatever I wanted felt similar to the liberation I felt when moving to college.
But, it quickly started to not feel so great. I began to eat so much food in one setting that I felt sick after and I would hide these behaviors from my roommate, boyfriend, and friends. It felt out of control and as much as I wanted it to stop, it wouldn’t. It left me feeling ‘disgusting’ after my secret binges and I questioned where my self-restraint, that I once prided myself on, had escaped to. But the problem was, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know what binge eating was. And I didn’t know that my intense restriction and dieting was the main contributing factor to what I now know to be binging.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) thrives off the restrict, binge, restrict cycle. And I fell into it HARD. Throughout my sophomore and junior year, I continued binging and with the binging came more self-hatred, guilt, disgust, anxiety, and weight gain.
In case you are unfamiliar with BED (as most people are), this definition from National Eating Disorders may help:
“Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States. BED is one of the newest eating disorders formally recognized in the DSM-5. Before the most recent revision in 2013, BED was listed as a subtype of EDNOS (now referred to as OSFED). The change is important because some insurance companies will not cover eating disorder treatment without a DSM diagnosis.”
It was challenging for me to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing because my instinct was to hide my behavior, as most people affected with BED do.
And then I moved in with my boyfriend for a few months during the summer before senior year. For the first time in YEARS, I was actually eating enough because Dani basically made me (and cooked a lot of filling meals which he still does today bless his heart). My urge to binge practically disappeared because my body was finally getting the nutrients and energy it so desperately needed. I started to love working out because it was fun, not because I needed to burn off calories.
The binging had disappeared thanks to a summer of adequate food, but when I returned to school for my senior year of college, I found myself struggling again. I had recently lost two very meaningful friendships, my boyfriend was on the other side of the country, and I became so anxious and depressed that I found it hard to function beyond my work and class responsibilities. To add fuel to the fire going on in my brain, I had lost a lot of weight over the summer, and I didn’t want to stop.
I started to realize how many compliments I began getting about my body now that I was ‘thin’ again and this just added to my desire to continue losing weight. The comfortable yet fragile spot I had come to over the summer where I was eating in a non-restrictive and intuitive way was not strong enough yet to protect me from the restriction that my brain knew all too well, and so the restriction continued.
Keep in mind that at this point, I still didn’t know what binge eating disorder was or what caused it. Hell, I didn’t even know that I had it. In my head, my binging was “emotional eating” or “overindulging” and was still something that I hid in shame. How was I supposed to explain to someone that sometimes I ate an entire package of Oreos and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting? How was I supposed to explain to someone that when these binging episodes came on, I felt completely powerless? How, in a culture that prides self-restraint and moderation, was I supposed to explain that I couldn’t stop at a “normal” portion? And how on earth was I supposed to explain something so hidden and so shameful to my friends, family, and boyfriend? In my mind, I had a serious lack of control. In reality, I had an eating disorder.
And then I had a dream that seriously changed my life for the better. In my dream, I realized that my weight gain wasn’t the result of lack of control or “addiction” to “bad” food. I had a serious problem, and I needed serious help. When I woke up from this dream, I immediately began to look online and, when I found binge eating disorder, I felt so relieved. Finally, I felt like I wasn’t the only one. Finally, I realized not only I needed help but I deserved it.
Finding help and healing
In January 2018, I began the eating disorder recovery process. And it has truly been the most transformative, difficult and rewarding year. With the incredible guidance of a therapist and nutritionist along with adopting a body inclusive mindset, I’ve gotten to a point in my recovery where I feel empowered. I feel like me again. And I’m so grateful for this.
Over the past year, I learned that this wasn’t a battle of willpower and this wasn’t about choice. I learned that what I eat, how much I eat, and when I eat has absolutely nothing to do with my worth as a person. And I learned that there was hope—I didn’t have to struggle with this forever.
I am proud to say I haven’t dieted since 2017 and I haven’t weighed myself in months. I’ve learned diets don’t work and actually cause eating disorders. I’ve learned that food doesn’t have morality, it cannot be “good” or “bad”. And most importantly, I’ve realized that there is so much more to life than trying to shrink my body.
Eating disorders can take over in so many aspects of your life, physically and mentally. Looking back, I regret the meals I skipped with friends and the nights I was so consumed by my eating disorder that I chose to be alone rather that surround myself with support. I regret not opening up earlier to close friends, or reaching out at all. But the truth is, when you suffer from an eating disorder, so much is out of your control. However, the thing I will NEVER regret is seeking professional help. Without it, I wouldn’t be writing this post today.
I regret the meals I skipped with friends and the nights I was so consumed by my eating disorder that I chose to be alone rather that surround myself with support.
I hope that in sharing this experience helps shed some light on what it is like to have an eating disorder and inspires you to reach out for help, no matter what demons you are facing. Thanks for reading and if you would like to hear more or have any questions, leave them in the comments or reach out to me directly. You are strong and you are beautiful, just the way you are. ♥