Our friends at YourTango share how a healthy-food obsession can turn into an eating disorder.
Starving myself was never my initial goal, although I have done a good job of doing just that.
If ever there was a time to be honest, it is now. For the past two years of my life, I have spent every waking minute thinking about food.
Organic? Raw? Healthy? Superfood? Calories? Sugar content? Benefits? What will happen when I eat this? I have persecuted myself at the end of this sharp-bladed question for so long, tormented yet relishing in the enjoyment of trying to find the answer. My very own modern muse. Starving myself was never my initial goal, although I have done a good job of doing just that.
It began with a notion: health. Eating to feel better, fitter, healthy. I was 17, had just been cruelly dumped with "INSECURE" stitched into the skin of my forehead and overwhelming nausea at the sight of myself.
In the strive for wellness, I made myself very sick.
What started out as a well-intentioned overhaul of my diet quickly became a widespread banning of whole food groups for fear of their negative effects on my body and appearance. These effects, although real and frightening at the time, were entirely fabricated thoughts, used to justify the unhealthy behaviors I was participating in.
Soon, my food obsession became less about the food itself and more about the feeling of control gained from restricting what I put in my mouth. I was always the type of person to strive for perfection, from exam marks to the tidiness of my bedroom to my appearance, and I saw my diet as just another thing I could potentially perfect.
On a day I felt ugly or overwhelmed or unworthy, I could sit down to my dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, carb-free, meat-free portion-controlled meal and feel like I had accomplished something. What is left in the world of food after all that freeness you ask? Vegetables. I wasn't very free at all.
The false belief that I was helping my body, filling it with "goodness" and cutting out the crap, was used to rationalize my unhealthy practices, inducing a sense of fulfillment in me that you might expect to get from a hobby you really like doing.
I didn't like myself, or the way I looked. I didn't feel good enough, ever. I needed to feel in control, ASAP.
Restricting and controlling my diet gave me an answer to all of this. I believed it would make me look better and feel better. It brought me purpose.
Problems came when I was not able to exercise this control over what I was eating, or rather was not able to do this without raising the eyebrows of friends and family. When I found myself in social settings where I had to eat things I couldn't stomach — "fear foods," as I called them — I would later spend hours riddled with shame and guilt over the foods I had consumed, sometimes throwing up to make myself feel clean again.
Where previously I was able to rationalize a plate of pasta, I had lost all sense of what was truly a healthy and balanced meal. At this point, no food really felt safe to eat.
Moving home as college broke for Summer, I wondered how I would be able to conceal my stricter-than-ever eating routine from my parents. They had witnessed my obsession with healthy eating before, but never to this extreme.
Over the Summer, I centered all plans around what I would be able to eat. Plans were only followed through if I was certain I would be able to adhere to my healthy diet plan. More often than not, plans were made only to be broken as the fear of possibly having to eat something I didn't want became overwhelming.
I grew weaker and weaker, only allowing vegetables, fish, and selected nuts to be eaten. I lay awake most nights unable to sleep, listening to the groan of my unsatisfied stomach, feeling satisfied with myself.
An eating disorder never crossed my mind, in the same way sugar never crossed my mouth. I was still eating. I pitied the girls behind the "thinspiration" pages of Tumblr. "If they just ate like I do, they would be thin." I didn't realize they most likely did eat like me, and I was slowly becoming one of them.
That was until one Saturday evening. I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time in two years, I saw the truth. I was painfully thin, sickly looking. Everything I owned hung off me; I was a walking personified clothes hanger.
I was unhappy, hungry, and exhausted. I was beginning to see flaws in my supreme, all-healing diet. If eating this way was meant to make me feel and look better, why did I feel like a pile of sh*t and look like a bag of bones?
Confessing to this demon came hard; everything else has came easier. Soon, I'll be starting my outpatient treatment where I hope, along with the support of my family and friends, I can recover and begin to rebuild my relationship with food.
To live and act a certain way for years can be impermeable to change. This wasn't a habit — it had become a part of who I was and still am to this day. Freeing myself from this disease that has taken, distorted, weakened every part of me is a long process but I accept the challenge.
I have been saved from myself, but many other people still face the initial battle of recognizing their own truth. I feel lucky to have such amazing people around me who have not judged or shamed me, but not everyone going through the same issue will be as blessed.
Eating disorders need to be given more responsible attention and explored deeply rather than superficially debated. Their limited portrayal in the media is largely stereotypical and highly inaccurate for many cases, using the disease as a source of drama and entertainment in TV shows.
This is an issue which needs to be brought above water and aired to shed the secrecy and shame experienced by those who suffer and to provide them with a means to sound their own alarm.
Our society's obsession with image and the depthless sense of self-worth it can bring is a vehicle for self-destruction amongst young people, and fuels the rising prevalence of eating disorders today. No amount of Dove commercials telling women to love their own bodies can ring out the deafening sound of the beauty industry and their set ideals.
The role of clean eating/elimination diets and our new-found preoccupation with striving for "wellness" through restriction of foods must also not be overlooked when searching for answers in the game of blame. Clean eating, an equally-damaging obsession that's now a cultural norm, is sold to society as essential for achieving full health, when in reality, it's aggressively fueling eating disorders in today's modern world. As a young woman, this mix of insecurity and unattainable perfectionism, whether that be diet or beauty related, is the breeding ground for toxic thoughts and behaviors.
I write this not from a position of recovery and health, but from a place of struggle and empathy. If this incites a feeling of strength or a drive to seek help in someone like myself, then sharing this very personal story will have been worthwhile.
I promise you, people will understand and people can help you. Telling someone how I felt stripped the secrecy, the fulfillment, the rationality away from my behavior and allowed me to be truthful about myself for the first time. I feel free.
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