My eating disorders stemmed from a core belief that to be fat was to fail, a learned and inherited notion that my body defined me. Of course, there was trauma behind them, and pain and a desperate need to hold up to the belief that to be fat was to fail. I could not fail.
But, like come on, how are we teaching our babies, our youth that their bodies define them? That their bodies define them more than their brains, or their hearts, or their passions. We, as a society, have gone so far down the rabbit hole that it’s difficult to decipher at this point, where the insidiousness of societal expectations and our own biases intersect.
I say my eating disorders because I was not plagued by one. I struggled with Bulimia and Anorexia in high school, quickly learning that it was cool to stick your fingers down your throat after lunch and drink lots of coffee, smoke cigarettes, and swallow Adderall like Tic-Tacs, in order to make it through the day without eating.
By the time I got to college, my self-view was incredibly warped. I was still holding onto this core belief that fatness was a sin, to be fat was to fail. The time, the memories, the moments I will never have because they were overlooked for the importance of planning out my next binge or what I would eat next to not pass out.
It still makes me cringe to think back.
The Winter of my Freshman year at college, I experienced a violent sexual assault. As a result I added PTSD to the growing list of mental health diagnoses I had received. My anxiety grew worse and I found solace in achieving “smallness,” I wanted to simply disappear.
I found a man, or a boy who promised to save me, to protect me and I believed him. The relationship went through twists and turns and I experienced additional layers of emotional and verbal abuse and I became angry. It’s a long, painful story for a different day. I grew angry with myself, with all of the decisions I had ever made.
I was alone with this man, who I hated, who was in pain, who would never, could never save me. Food became comfort and I became fat. I found myself in the body I grew up knowing, believing, was a definite, absolute failure. I could not see past the image before me in the mirror, whispering some days, screaming others, to the girl in the reflection that I did not know her or recognize her.
I surrendered to my fatness and in doing so I found a little bit of healing. I was clinging to a relationship that had never been whole, fighting to put together pieces of two separate puzzles, never meant to fit together. My mental health declined at a consistent rate, and the entire time I stayed worried in my fatness. Worried about how to lose the weight I had gained, how to eat less, find motivation to exercise, what others thought of me.
I was so confused, so disgusted that I had the willpower for years to starve myself and now food was my everything. I was doing myself a huge disservice as I stayed so focused, so centered, so obsessed with my image. My heart hurts when I think back to this younger self, a version of me with a belief not my own but one that had been so deeply rooted within me.
I really believed that the only thing that could make me happy again, heal me, “fix” me, was to get skinny, thin, fit, I was calling it a million different things at the time. Eventually my mental health broke and I could no longer focus solely on my unrequited efforts to break up with food.
I moved home to Massachusetts and began seeing a therapist, who told me my body wasn’t the main concern, the issue, the sole focus, it was me. I met her with gritted teeth and a strong feeling of distrust, one that at the point, I had cultivated towards anyone unfamiliar, often even towards those familiar to me.
I was still fat but now it felt slightly more ok because I knew then what I didn’t before. I had learned that if I just healed myself, and took care of my mental health I would be thin, I would be ok, I would no longer be fat.
For two years I found myself rebuilding a relationship with movement, with nature, with myself. I can’t deny that at the same time I was also strengthening my long-term relationship with alcohol and pills and powders. I found myself in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I had asked to accompany a friend who had recently gotten sober, which meant nothing to me at the time.
I went for the stories and curiosity and maybe the gnawing feeling that I most definitely wasn’t all the way “healed.” I stayed because they helped me.
I got sober and finished my degree, made friends, got a job, all of the things I could not seem to achieve before. But there she was, waiting in the shadows, and when she was ready, she made her move. I began to tell people that I was getting into “clean eating,” no processed foods, no sugars, I made rules for myself that at the time seemed so logical, so beneficial. I bought an AppleWatch and began to monitor my steps, and before I knew it, I was no longer fat.
It wasn’t until other people began to notice that I started to get really hungry for the feeling of emptiness, the pit in my stomach so dark and unending. The compliments and questions and flattery came and the more they did the less I ate and the more I moved. I would annoyingly tell anyone who would listen my latest knowledge on clean eating and movement, and health. And I stayed so safe, so happy, still so convinced that to be fat was to fail.
A few months later the compliments and validation ceased and in their place came voices of reason and concern. I stayed true to my path of health and thinness. A few months later I found myself in a dual diagnoses treatment center for Anorexia and Substance Abuse Disorder. The 40bpm heart rate I had bragged about to anyone who would listen, the symbol of my health, the beacon of my fitness, would have killed me if I hadn’t gone to treatment. I learned about the reality of Bradycardia, my heart rate was sitting in a realm that made me a fantastic candidate for heart failure, and most likely sudden death. I finally took notice that my hair had been falling out for sometime and I could not for the life of me remember the last time I had my period. Even in a treatment center for my illness, I was spending less time thinking about my body and more time being present than I had in years. I taught a yoga class to the other women, heard myself issue genuine, authentic laughter, journaled, and I listened to the stories of those who were on similar journeys, who begged me to change my life before I waste it as they felt they had done.
My eating disorder story does not end at the end of my time in treatment. I came home to Colorado, excited to show how truly healthy I was now. For all I had learned in treatment, I was still, albeit subconsciously, leaning into the core belief that to be fat is to fail.
I stepped back into my place at AA, this time standing a little further back. As I attended my meetings and maintained my sobriety I began to feel that I was no longer home. This place, community, that had brought me back to life was now a place to fly from, to look forward from.
I left AA determined to maintain my sobriety and sure that my eating disorder was cured. During this period I was in an accident that left me needing a knee surgery and unable to move for some time. I once again found myself smacked in the face with the fear of gaining weight. I told myself it was to balance out the not being able to move aspect, but in a few months as I recovered from my knee surgery I found myself pulling out clumps of hair once again and struggling to bring myself to eat more than one meal a day without massive feelings of shame.
She was screaming at me in all directions and I was doing my best to make her happy, but thank god I knew a little more this time around.
I found myself falling into the radical notion of opposite actions and intuitive eating. When she screamed, I screamed back, seeing her carrot for the day and raising her three full meals. She got louder and so did I. This epic final battle of our tale, or so I thought, a final execution of the piece of me stealing bits of brightness, of love from my being.
I feel grounded in my relationship with her today, the piece of myself I can acknowledge, hold, the piece of myself who needed to learn that to be fat is NOT to fail.
This is a lesson that needs to be broken in society, wiped from reality and taking its place where it belongs, in a history book of harmful happenings. Our bodies do not define us, and there were so many times while writing this that I wanted to go back and delete my words because I felt so much embarrassment and shame around my old beliefs. But that shame is not mine to carry, my job is to drop the belief that weight and worth are correlated in any aspect. I just want to help carry a message to young girls and boys that to be fat is not to fail. It is never okay to let a child grow up learning the belief that her or his body holds any moral weight. My body does not define me and yours does not either.
While writing this I have to also address the aspect of privilege I hold. I am a white, straight-sized, cis female from a well-off home. My family was dysfunctional but my parents are still married and my brother is still somehow alive. My God did we have our issues, but I was supported and held and loved despite the unintentional trauma I incurred from them.
When I needed treatment, I had options. When I finally got the courage to ask for help around my mental health, I was able to choose a therapist. My story is my story and my pain is my pain, all true, all real, all valid, but there are those who have a similar story and no privilege or far less. There are those who are fat and were always fat, and are still hearing the trope that their fatness is an insult. There are those whose skin color is different than mine, or gender identification, and their stories look similar to mine but when they ask for help or try to speak they’re met with walls or laughter.
If I cannot find my voice within the walls of beauty, comfort and disillusion then what is my part?