(Disclaimer: I am absolutely terrified to publish this post. In fact, I'm not so sure I'll have the guts to do it. It is personal, it is revealing, and it is honest. Please do not read if you fear you may be triggered. Nonetheless, it is important for me to be honest about my journey.)
I, like many with eating disorders, have a history (both good and bad) with food. There was a time of my life when I would eat anything. Specifically, I had an adoration for anything chocolate related. Crepes, cheesecake, ice cream, and brownies held a special part of my heart. Yes, there was a time (specifically junior and senior year of high school) when I looked like this
and loved my body. Even if boyfriends and peers didn't. Yes, during the times when my self-esteem was at my very lowest, I loved my body for what it was.
I didn't know what an elliptical was, nor did I care. And the only nutritional information I knew about was whether or not something contained any trace of chocolate. I'll never forget the time I devoured almost an entire pizza, on my own. Because I was "that girl." The girl genetically blessed with a great metabolism and could eat whatever the hell she felt like. In fact, there was a brief period of my life that I thought I was too thin. In 9th grade, I decided I looked too pale and boney-- and who likes that?! So, I managed to gain a few extra pounds, along with some confidence.
Then, I went to college. Until that point in time, alcohol consumption was of rare occasion and I relied on my mother's balanced cooking to keep my health in check. But between the all-you-can eat dining halls, Thirsty Thursdays and late night munchies, I noticed a little "snugness" in my jeans. Although there was one, dreaded night that would scar me for the rest of my life, I loved college. By spring, I had a boyfriend and we went out to eat a lot. In fact, I'm pretty sure one of the things he adored most about me was my love for wings, sweet potato fries and beer. I was that "cool girlfriend" who could fit in with the guys. Salads? What were they? As a result, I was the happiest I had ever been by the end of freshman year despite that one, dark winter night...
or so I thought.
I remember several comments referring to "bloating", perhaps attributed to the drinking, those damn dining halls, and lack of exercise. But, after an enjoyable summer I was anxious and ready to return to school. While I still managed to have fun, I also became more focused on my studies, extra curricular activities, and boyfriend. There were days I'd be so busy that I'd forget to take the time to have lunch and/or dinner. Conveniently, I would just grab a bagel in my dormitory and be done with it. I also decided I wanted to work out a little a more so that I could look and feel better about myself (and most likely to impress my boyfriend), especially while under so much stress and pressure. It was also during my sophomore year of college that I became more involved with the Jewish University Center on campus. I suppose the unconscious, self-deprivation at school made my time at home that much more pleasurable. It were those short breaks I looked forward to so much because I had access to a kitchen again and could eat the foods I enjoyed most, while limiting alcohol consumption. By winter break, I had started to somewhat regularly exercise and, overall, was feeling "ok" about myself.
Second semester was a little more stressful. My relationship was rocky (and admittedly, unhealthy), school work became more difficult, and time was getting more difficult to manage. Anxiety began to take hold, which only affected my mood and self-confidence. Although I had always struggled with acceptance of an ADD diagnosis, it started to become an excuse for my "failures", mood fluctuations and loss of appetite. Nonetheless, I was managing. But by the end of spring semester, my boyfriend and I were broken up, and my confidence plummeted. I felt incompetent, ugly, and alone. So, I did what any girl would do. I turned to my girlfriends.. and to food and exercise. Soon enough, I started feeling better. My grades were decent, I was receiving compliments on my somewhat more defined and toned body, and I had the greatest friends in the world.
There were a lot of changes during that summer of 2008. I went to Israel, started running (although I'd never in a million years consider myself an athlete), continued to work at TCBY, dated, and attended classes at a community college. I was formulating a schedule and a new life for myself. I found that keeping busy kept my mind occupied-- There was less time to feel badly about myself. I also remember ritualistic behaviors starting to take hold. For instance, I packed the same lunch every day, ate the same frozen yogurt treat on my breaks, and ran as soon as I was relieved, just in time to get to my night classes. I also found running to be a viable excuse to indulge a little more every now and then. So, I found love in baking.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I fell even more in love with food. Perhaps I thought that if I visibly expressed my infatuation with food, others would appreciate and admire me for being "that girl." AKA the girl who ran, baked, and ate. However, it was around this time I realized I was getting more satisfaction watching others eat what I had created. Perhaps it created a sense of mastery and competence. It was around this time that the obsessions surfaced.
With a renewed sense of (false) self-confidence, I began my junior year of college. This time around I lived in an apartment with two of my best friends. I had my own kitchen and creative freedom to eat how I wanted. This freedom and extra time allowed me to go to the gym with friends, try to be "that girl" when I dated, and take pride in eating healthier. However, I still found myself indulging every once and a while.
Again, I found myself attached to schedules, lists, and routines (which included meals). Healthy, repetitive, and easy-to-prepare foods became "safe" and obsessions were quickly forming. But this was my little secret. As far as everyone in my life was concerned, I adored and ate sweet treats on a daily basis, without shame or guilt.
A few months into the semester I broke my foot. All of a sudden, I was in a boot and on crutches for 10 long, detrimental weeks.
Many know the story from here: my path to vegetarianism and love for whole, natural foods. I wanted to be as healthy and 'fit' as possible-- one may say this marked a pivotal moment of some sort of "orthorexia".
Spring 2009 brought difficulty and a time of soul searching. I felt like I was under constant pressure to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. The stress and anxiety triggered the downward spiral of my eating disorder. By May, I was basically living alone in the apartment and I was lonely. My love for food became an obsession, and my need for schedules started to kill me-- quite literally.
I spent hours upon hours of my day hidden at my computer desk, buried in health magazines, or at the gym. Various eating disorder behaviors controlled my life. I just wanted to be the healthiest, most fit girl possible. Maybe then I would be happy.
By August of 2009, I had hit my rock bottom. Foods I once loved vanished from my existence and foods I once considered "safe" became of my utmost fear.
Since my first admittance to a treatment facility for eating disorders, there have been many ups and downs--specifically, in terms of my relationship with food. Every day is a journey towards self discovery, acceptance and love. I'm trying to accept that I'll never be 'that girl' again: The girl who could eat an entire cheese pizza without a thought related to calories. I know I can't erase what I've spent so much time obsessing over. Nonetheless, I also know that if I work hard enough, I can bring myself to a permanent state where food is love. We've been told, countless times, that "it's not about the weight"-- and I truly believe it to be true. I wasn't happy with myself at my highest weight, and I certainly wasn't at my lowest. Obsessions with food and weight mask our personal and deepest truths. Because, Rebecca loves chocolate. Rebecca can't go a day without frozen yogurt. And Rebecca loves being in the kitchen. Yes, Rebecca has a passion for cooking and baking, trying new foods, experiencing mouthfuls of sweet and savory flavors, a passion for the environment and a passion for health and fitness. Rebecca is not defined by her eating disorder.
I've vowed to not let ED become such an obsession, ever again. Evey day we have the opportunity to do something marvelous with our lives. We have the option, with each moment, to do something different-- to do something a little more us. And I believe it all starts with a commitment to ourselves. No matter how impossible it may seem, a happy and healthy life awaits us. If we give it the time and patience it deserves, our souls can be fulfilled and we can live, fully, as us. I know I'll be tempted by ED, I am certain I will make unhealthy choices and surrender to instant gratification. But I also won't let it destroy me. I learn a little more about myself with each experience, and I promise to use what I've learned to help me move forward. No matter how impossible it may seem.
"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson