It all happened so quickly. The path between normal and out of control soon became blurred into one word: anorexia. No one sets out to become a victim of an eating disorder. It starts with a simple desire to run more, or do a few more push-ups to “get healthy.” It then leads to eating 500 less calories a day and skipping out on meals. The “normal” and “healthy” behaviors soon become the obsessive behaviors, and before we know it we are entangled. What we see on the scale begins to propel us into a heap of lies that we can’t escape. I was a freshman in college when my spiral began…
I was an athlete my entire life. I started swimming at age seven and didn’t stop until I went to college. I never had to worry about my weight growing up. I could eat anything I wanted and not feel its guilt. Getting on a scale happened only at the doctor’s office. Everyone says that the “freshman 15” is bound to happen as girls experience their first year of college, but I was convinced that this increase on the scale wouldn’t happen to me. I didn’t give too much thought to what I was eating when I first got to school. Most of my day was spent walking to and from classes, so I figured I was okay in the “staying active” category. Plus, the endless amount of food offered in the dining halls wasn’t something I could easily pass up. I mean, who doesn't want to eat ice cream with sprinkles AND a waffle for dinner? It’s awesome, ya’ll know I’m right.
As the months began to pass, I started to make decisions that weren’t in line with who I was, or who I wanted to be. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, partying too hard, and being flippant with respecting myself. I pushed my actions and emotions away as best I could, and
before long I had become numb to myself and to the ambitions and morals I valued. I started working out more to escape my emotions, focusing my pain in the only way I knew how: staying busy.
By the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I had worked out enough to keep the “freshman 15” away, and had entered campus again with a few less pounds than I had left with. I loved working out, and the more I worked out, the more I began to focus on what I was eating. I started keeping a food journal and would keep track of everything I ate and the calories I was consuming. And soon, I started to realize how rewarding it felt to consume 500 less calories a day or run for an extra mile. My food journal quickly began to show signs of obsession, of desperation. In a period of two months, I lost over 20 pounds. I started my semester in August weighing 125 pounds, and by October, I was under 105.
My drastic weight-loss gained quick attention. People started to do double -takes when I saw them on campus. I could see the concern in their eyes as they looked me up and down pretending to listen to me as I chatted about my day. Friends approached my roommates asking if I was alright. My life revolved around what I ate and how many calories I was burning. I soon began to pull away from others, to yearn for isolation, to desire simply sleeping because my body was screaming for nourishment. Taking a flight of stairs was hard for me. I came home every day after class, in 80 degree temperatures, and would stand in my shower for over an hour turning the water as hot as I could stand because I was so cold. I ate a piece of cake at a party and immediately went to the bathroom to puke it up. I never went to a restaurant with my friends or boyfriend because I couldn’t exactly calculate how many calories I was eating. I would allow myself 600-800 calories a day, and if I planned to drink that night, I would subtract those calories from my total. There were days where I would run miles, have a few drinks, and eat 300 calories. One day I stood in front of my mirror, naked, and sobbed.
I couldn’t see myself behind my eyes anymore. They were sad, lonely, dead. I didn’t know how I had gotten here, I didn’t know how it happened so quickly. I thought I was in control. My body was shockingly thin, and I weighed well under 100 pounds. I couldn’t even recognize myself anymore. I had no idea how out of control I was and how completely consumed I had become by this disease.
My friends tried to talk with me, my parents were shocked and confused, my boyfriend begged me to go eat a good meal with him. For a long time I fought the truth of my addiction, of my disease. I thought I was okay, that I had control over it. I thought I could stop any time I wanted.
As I stood in front of the mirror that day, I knew I couldn’t fight it anymore. I knew that if something didn’t change, if I didn’t start to change, I would end up in a hospital fighting for my life.
My roommate and best friend made me an appointment with a counselor on campus, and my dad sat me down and with tear-filled eyes told me I had to get better or they would bring me home from school. I was tired of laying in bed at night crying from hunger. I was exhausted from the dialogue of lies that constantly played in my head. As I listened to the advice and encouragement of others who loved me, and as I sat on that pastel couch in a counselor’s office, I realized I was stronger than this disease. That I was created for more. That I had a purpose, and value, and that running from my emotions and pain wouldn’t heal them, they would only intensify them. That if I didn’t start facing them I may not get the chance. I was so tired, tired of this disease dictating and stealing my life.
I started healing that day, little by little. As I fought day in and day out to get healthy, to quiet the lies that chased me, to lean into people who loved me, I began to accept my value and strength. I started facing my past pain and poor decisions head on, and for the first time, really FELT them. The pain hit me with such a wave of intensity that I thought I might collapse under them, but I didn’t. I pushed, I talked, I felt, and I fought. I let go of the control I tried so hard to conquer, and simply rested in my value. Rested in the love others had poured into me. And pretty soon, I caught a glimpse of what loving myself was like.
I accepted the truth that in fact I was worth loving, that who I was didn’t have to be controlled by my past, by my guilt, or by my mistakes.
That self-condemnation had grown deep roots through my eating disorder, but one by one, I ripped them out. Loving ourselves is powerful, contagious. Others can see it and they want to feel that love for themselves.
Help others know their worth; it’s amazing what love can do.
Written and loved on by Lauren Marshall