Living with an eating disorder
“You are what you eat.”
I wanted to be everything and then nothing, so I ate accordingly for three years of my life. As a 16-year-old, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. My world turned upside-down. PCOS is an endocrine disorder, and it allowed me to tell myself that I wasn’t woman enough, and because my body was pre-diabetic due to hormonal imbalances, I didn’t deserve to nourish myself. And so began the patterns that defined my relationship with food for three years.
Sixteen, feeling inadequate in the depths of my womanhood, surrounded by parents worried about insulin resistance, and bombarded by media that linked food to my own self worth, sexiness and joy. My fall into unconscious bulimia was quick, stealthy and all-consuming. Chocolate, snacks and other food disappeared from the kitchen cabinets; I would sit in the purge and watch my body reject the messages on Dove candy wrappers that I had tried to feed myself. I knew I was emotionally eating, I did not believe that I had a problem or that I was living with an eating disorder. “My medications” were upsetting my stomach, so the process of throwing up wasn’t “unhealthy” because I never forced it to happen.
At 5 feet 7 inches and 160 pounds, I didn’t look like someone with an eating disorder. An athlete, a traveler, a student at the top of my class, I approached life with a sense of precision and achievement. Dealing with an issue bigger than my stomach didn’t fit in the life I had made for the display case. I grew up at my family’s epicurean table, and being “the perfect daughter,” I did a great job at hiding the anxiety I felt.
But the opposite of control is chaos.
When I tried to let go of my sense of perfection and athleticism, I reached almost 200 pounds. But with shame as my witness, I decided to stop feeding the sadness, and instead, met it with deprivation and exertion. I was a diet queen counting calories less than 1,000 each day for six months. My food journal was impeccable, my jeans were size six, and I wasn’t binge eating, because starving myself was the new source of pride. My parents were worried because I weighed all my food before even licking a finger, but they were happy I wasn’t on the brink of a type 2 diabetes death wish. I wanted to feel as good as my gym selfies portrayed me to be.
The control-masked-as-discipline broke down into chaos, masked as “experiencing college life.” Who knows how long this cycle of self-hate could have gone if I hadn’t one day been asked what my relationship with food was like. I disclosed my stomachaches, my failed food journals and my gym activity. While I spoke, I didn’t even mention food. The friend who had asked the question was taken aback and replied by apologizing; she hadn’t realized I was living with an eating disorder. And the truth is, neither did I. Somewhere down the line, food had ceased to be a source of nourishment — it had become my poison, my drug of choice, my salvation and my sin. With this realization, I started my road to recovery.
That was in March. I sought help. I cried with my family. I let go of some friendships that weren’t working anymore and held onto the ones that helped me feel whole. Most importantly, I began a process to change my relationship with both myself and with food that I eat. I found yoga, hiking and my old athletic outlets to be a great balance with intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is exactly what it sounds like. I listen to my body to tell me when and what to eat. Some days I want a big kale salad. Other days I crave nothing but pizza and cheese puffs. But learning how to read my own body has been the greatest way for me to make peace and let go of the shame that shackled me to a certain image and stigma for much of my youth. My journey to robust self-love is nowhere near over, but my war with the food on my plate finally is.
Gillian Wenzel is a sophomore integrated marketing communication major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.