This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. I have shared a little about my history with disordered eating, but I want to share more in hopes that this will help you if you’re struggling with an ED, or if you know someone who is.
Over the past several months I have felt the Lord prompting me to share more of my recovery story, and the invaluable things I’ve learned, along with the helpful resources I’ve found. In the next few posts, I want to tell you about what my journey looked like, how I got better, how to support someone struggling with an ED, and what resources and action plans I recommend utilizing.
Trying to find comprehensive Christian resources for ED recovery during my healing process was difficult and frustrating. EDs are first and foremost mental, emotional, and spiritual, and the physical aspect, though serious, is a symptom of the internal battle. The church does not address this topic enough, and I am concerned that the number of people with eating disorders will continue to grow unless we proactively support people (particularly young women) in the ways they need to be supported in order to avoid developing EDs in the first place.
***Note: I believe it is completely possible for a person to recover from an ED even if he or she does not believe in God. There is plenty of proof and transformation stories on the internet to back this up. However, I also believe the deepest level of life healing someone can experience comes only through Jesus Christ.
Additionally, I have heard the claim that you cannot fully recover from an ED. This was a big fear of mine during recovery, but it is a LIE that I want to dispel right now. Full recovery can take many months or years depending on the circumstances and the approach, but it is possible and, 100% worth it. Furthermore, the belief that full recovery is impossible is a dangerous belief that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.***
Left: 5 years ago when I was punishing myself with exercise about 20 hours per week, eating a vegan diet, calorie restricting, hating myself, weighing myself everyday, and focusing on having the “perfect” body. No real sense of identity, a shell of a person.
Right: Recovered physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I enjoy exercise when I have the time, and I don’t starve or binge. I eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I’m hungry. My weight is stable, and I rarely think about it or weigh myself. I love myself and my body, and I know who I am. My focus is on loving God and loving others.
My battle with an ED started 6 years ago after serious heartbreak, which lead me to realize I had lost almost all sense of my identity. In an effort to deal with feelings of worthlessness, heartbreak, and fear, I decided to lose weight. I believed the lie that weight loss (from my already slender frame) would lead to happiness, love, and a feeling of worthiness. I began to meticulously count calories and would only let myself eat 40% of the calories recommended for someone at my age, weight, and activity level. Within a short period of time, I quickly dropped lots of weight, along with the remaining sense of identity I had left. All I could think about was food and being skinny.
Underweight with very little fat or muscle, I was constantly freezing and would wear multiple sweatshirts layered upon one another. While I was a dancer and used to being active, suddenly just walking up a flight of stairs left my heart pounding and my lungs burning for oxygen. My legs and arms became very thin. I would look in the mirror multiple times a day to make sure I could see my ribs protruding. Seeing the number drop on the scale gave me a high that was further perpetrated by the praise of well-meaning but oblivious dance teachers. I lost my period, and would not regain a regular menstrual cycle until 4 years later.
After months of starvation, my body desperately wanted food. Over the holidays, to my absolute horror, I lost all sense of control, and binged constantly. Within a couple weeks, I regained all the weight I had lost over the past several months. In reality, most of this was water weight, but I didn’t know that. I vowed to lose the weight again and keep it off forever.
My willpower for counting calories began to dissipate, so my next approach was to eat a few extra hundred calories per day, but to eat very “clean,” and exercise like crazy. I was a vegetarian since I was 9 or 10 years old, but during this time I began to cut out cheese and eggs so that I was essentially eating a vegan diet. A typical week consisted of 10+ hours of dance along with about 10 additional hours of exercise. All this while eating very little. Looking back, I’m shocked that I exercised so much with so little food. EDs create a feeling of anxious energy and euphoria in the body, which were the fumes I was running on.
Around this time I got my wisdom teeth removed. High on pain killers about an hour after surgery, I frantically fought with my mom to let me get off of the couch and exercise. I was wild with fear that I would gain a pound if I did not maintain my exercise routine. Thankfully, my mom was able to calm me down and get me to rest.
Even though I exercised like an addict, I secretly hated exercise, and only did it because I was so desperate to have the “perfect” body. I had always loved dance, but I began to deeply despise it. Dance was exhausting me, and being in front of floor to ceiling mirrors wearing a leotard, and critiquing and perfecting my technique, was too much for my already overly-critical ED.
As the stress of overexercising and under-eating took its toll on my body, I began to binge on food. If you have never binge eaten, let me tell you: it is a scary feeling. It’s like a switch flips, and all of the sudden you disassociate and just eat and eat and eat. Even when you are full and feel like you will throw up, you just keep eating and you feel like you cannot stop. This was incredibly humiliating and scary for me, because I prided myself on having rigid control over my body. I continued to exercise to try to offset the effects of the binges. In reality, the calories from the binges would have gone to support my organs that were being starved, and not to my waistline like I feared.
One evening, after I had eaten way too many sweets at a party, I came home feeling absolutely ill and gross in my mind and body. I was stuffed and just wanted to throw up. “What a great idea,” I thought, “I can just throw up this food, feel better, and not have to deal with the calories.” As I kneeled before the toilet in my bathroom, I leaned over to purge everything I had just consumed. Suddenly, it was as if someone grabbed me. I clearly heard the Lord say “Stop. Don’t do this. If you do this, you will only continue to do it, and your eating disorder will only get worse.”
I had a choice in that moment, and looking back, I truly believe that the choice I made that day was one of the most important I made during my illness. I chose not to throw up. If I had gone ahead and done it, I think my story and path to healing would have looked very different and been much longer and more difficult.
Trembling and desperate, I went downstairs and began telling my parents what was going on. While they suspected my unhealthy relationship with food and exercise, they had no idea the extent to which I was hurting myself.
This began a path to healing. My healing had excruciating weeks filled with relapses into bingeing and restricting, and weeks when I had very little problems at all. It was a process that took almost 4 years of fighting, but it was worth it, no question. I am eternally grateful for the Lord’s steadfast love and patience, and for the people he placed around me who supported me with the utmost love and long suffering.
In my next post I will share how I recovered, along the physical and non-physical steps that are required to move toward complete recovery.