From Excess to XS

Editor’s Note: Before reading this story, I would like to tell you that these words of a lovely soul are quite raw and more than real. This is heavier than any other post we have done, and so we don’t want to take it as lightly as others. Thank you for reading, and now onto Andrew:

-SWL team

I was killing myself, and I didn’t know it.  I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, and a skeleton stared back at me, but all I saw was the fat boy.Then everything went black. I fell against the bathroom sink. My legs felt weak, my vision blurred, and the blackouts were becoming more prevalent. I knew that I needed to do something, but I didn’t know how to stop. I had just wanted to lose weight—to be happy. And I didn’t know how desperately, until two dark, detrimental years later,when my six foot frame carried a mere 119 pounds, and I found myself angled over a toilet to relieve myself of that day’s last meal.

My whole life, I struggled with my weight. I was the goofy fat kid, with quick sarcastic comments, who always tried to make people laugh. I was even the first to make fun of my “fat” self, so that others would laugh with me and not at me. Most people never knew that the very thing I hated most about myself was my weight. I never liked “fat Andrew” because fat was not beautiful or acceptable. I wanted to look like a “normal” person.  I didn’t want to be defined by my weight.  I wanted people to see beyond the fat—to see me, but we live in a world that is so absorbed with perfection and beauty that we no longer see people

  • We promote a false image of beauty that devalues the individual.

Ironically, my story begins on February 14th 2011, Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love. I had a very close friend on whom I had secretly had a crush for many years. This particular Valentine’s Day, she was not dating anyone, and I wanted to ask her out, but I didn’t. I knew she could never see past the “Fat Andrew” I constantly saw in the mirror, and that devastated me. I felt worthless. So after years of lying in bed, late at night, thinking, I’ll start dieting tomorrow or I’ll start exercising this weekend, I promised myself things were going to be different this time.

The next day I started my diet and began running. I signed up for a membership at the local gym and went every day after work, but commitment slowly turned to compulsion. Weekdays were never enough, so I added weekends. Then, I started working out longer and eating much less. Eventually, several hours a day at the gym became my norm. I would not stop my workout until I had burned at least 1000+ calories, while eating half that amount. I became obsessed with counting calories, and food became my enemy.

In four months, I had lost 80 pounds. I had started at 240 with a goal of 180.  Now 20 pounds under my goal weight, I could still not shake the reflection of “fat Andrew” every time I looked in the mirror. The gym became my obsession. I would constantly push myself harder and further than my body could handle, while eating next to nothing. I hated myself. I daily pondered why I continued this torture. Why wasn’t I happy?  I was slim.  Girls noticed me. I looked great, but it was never enough.  I was terrified that the moment I stopped going to the gym, I would inflate to my previous size.  So I kept running.

While some people complimented me on my new look, many questioned my methods.  Talk of anorexia and bulimia invaded the conversation.  I ignored it until, one night, a close friend and co-worker, who I greatly respected, paid me a backhanded compliment. He said, “Dude you look great, I can’t believe the commitment you’ve had toward this whole process, but I have to ask… are you just throwing up?”  I had been dealing with this question on a daily basis for the past couple of months, and it infuriated me every time it came up.  I had worked hard to lose the weight, and people tossed all my dedication out the window when they asked this question. Why were my choices everyone else’s business, and why did they automatically assume the worst of me?  I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Did I portion control? Yes. Was I throwing up? NO.  I had never willingly discarded a meal.  I may have starved myself, at times, but vomiting was never in my playbook, until that night.

I laid in bed that evening frustrated. Why do people see me in this degrading way? Why can’t they see that I am striving for a goal, not just taking the easy way out?  After tossing and turning, and wrestling with my thoughts for what seemed like hours, it suddenly hit me.  The thought was not a new one.  It had always been there … waiting.  And now, from a dark place in the back of my mind, it crept forward.  A vile twisted idea that had lingered, patiently, in my subconscious, for months, until it knew I was ready.  Rising above wisdom and reason, it presented itself like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I can eat whatever—whenever—and as much as I want.  Then I can just rid myself of it. I tried not to think about it, because I knew it was wrong, but the pull was too strong.  I had unlocked the door and the creature had emerged. There was no going back.

The following day at lunch, the idea consumed me, and I finally gave in to it.  I ate more in that one sitting than I had eaten, per day, for the past couple of months. Everyone at the table looked at me as if I had finally gone off the deep end. After I had cleaned my plate, I excused myself from the table and headed toward the restroom. I entered the last stall, waited for those inside the room to leave, and for the first time in my life, I willingly forced up my meal.

That one act turned into a 13-month habit that took a toll on my health and well-being. It started with simply eating normal meals and then excusing myself to the restroom, but it turned into something much darker, the roots of which took hold and, literally, began to strangle the life from me. I started binge eating. I ate everything in sight, because I knew I could rid myself of it moments later.  Everyday was the same routine.  Eat. Vomit.  Repeat. I was ashamed, and I hated myself, but I couldn’t stop. Eventually a wave of self-loathing crashed over me, and I was engulfed in depression.  Day after day, I retreated to my apartment, and sat alone, wishing I had never started losing weight. I became a hollow version of myself.  Then I turned to drinking.

Every day, after work, I would pack up my things, keep my head down, and walk to my car.  No smiles. No waves. No good-byes. I would go home, open the fridge, and grab one beer after another, until I felt nothing.  I had hit rock bottom, and I lay there for months. I could not hide what was happening, and I didn’t want people to think badly about me or lose respect for me, so I hid myself away. I lost touch with friends and family. I declined every social outing. I completely shut everyone out of my life.  No longer did I care to be the center of attention or make people laugh.  Gone was the life-of-the-party guy, and in his place stood a 120-pound ghost of a human, barely clinging to life. I fixed my gaze on my image in the mirror and didn’t recognize the vacant-eyed person staring back at me.

My reckless and reclusive behavior only furthered my health issues.  I barely slept. I had trouble using the restroom. My heart rate slowed dangerously.  It was a waking nightmare.  Then came the final straw.  After months of declining health, and several thousand dollars in various doctors’ bills later, two of my dental fillings fell out.  Only then did I realize I was in way over my head.  I had started this weight-loss journey with a promise.  Now, I made another.  I promised I would never make myself throw up again.  Losing weight was supposed to make me happy, but I was miserable.  It was supposed to make me worth people’s attention (especially girls).  Instead, I was isolated and lonely.

I was supposed to like skinny Andrew, but I hated the new me, and I could not bear to see this mangled version of myself any longer.  This was the first step in battling my eating disorder—admitting I had a problem.

Once I admitted my problem, the bigger battle began—learning to eat again.  What most people do, with ease, on a daily basis, was TORTURE for me.  It took every ounce of my being to eat a meal and willingly let it settle.  My stomach was not used to being full. It begged me to purge.  For weeks I struggled to not run to the restroom after a meal.  Some days, I prevailed.  Some days, I didn’t.  Eight months later, however, I am back to a healthy weight, and I am finally keeping my food down.  But this battle is not over.  Everyday, I have to make a conscious effort to not retreat back into my old ways, and it is something I can only hope will fade with time.

I share this painful story because I would not wish my destruction on anyone.  It was a living hell. For those who may consider this path, I say, “It is not worth it!!”  It WILL destroy your life, if it does not end it first.  It will consume any happiness you have left.  I am not saying that you should not eat healthier, or you should never exercise. I am simply saying LOVE YOURSELF. My eating disorder did not begin with throwing up.  It began when I believed the lie that my self-worth came from my looks.  It increased when I exercised to excess, while starving myself, and it finally led to purging. Don’t listen to the inner voices of anorexia and bulimia. They will whisper that you cannot be happy until you are thin.  It is a lie from the pit of hell, and it took me going through this long, drawn-out, painful, mess to realize that truth.  

Love yourself for who you are. You are much, MUCH more valuable than you think.  Your gifts and talents have worth.  No one in this world can be you.  No one can do what you do.  No one will leave the footprint you will leave.  YOU matter.  Love yourself now, and avoid the greater pain that not loving you will inflict.  

I was lucky.  My heart didn’t stop, and my kidneys didn’t fail.  They could have.  They probably should have, but they didn’t.  Maybe that’s because I was supposed to be here to tell you my story—to tell you that you are so worth loving.

—Selah.

Written and loved on by Andrew Winchell

We don’t want you to feel alone in this, because you aren’t alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and if you haven’t anyone to talk to, Andrew is willing to listen. Email him here: AndrewWinchell@me.com

P.S. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please, please, contact the National Eating Disorder help line: http://nedawareness.org/helpline or call: 1-800-931-2237

We love you.