Warning: This post contains triggering material. If you are dealing with an eating disorder or have struggled with one in the past, know this is going to be a sensitive subject for you. You know yourself so please use your best judgment in whether or not to read at this time. My goal is to encourage you in whatever struggles you are facing, eating disorder or otherwise, and my message is ultimately one of hope and victory.
When I was growing up, I was always the little one. Teachers would call me nicknames like Little Bit. At physical fitness tests, my weight was always the lowest. These were things I took note of even as young as 2nd grade. Because people always commented how tiny I was, I began to see it as something positive.
I was a very late bloomer, so in high school I was still the “tiny one,” and boys would make comments like, “I bet I could lift her over my head,” and then proceed to pick my chair up off the ground while I was sitting in it. By then I’d been hearing things like this for 10 years and I just accepted it as who I was. The problem though was in letting it define me. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
Then I started to finally catch up with other girls my age and began putting on weight. A lot was always said about how I probably didn’t weigh much over 100 pounds. But then around 16 years old or so, I began noticing a change in myself. At this point, food and weight were the furthest things from my mind. But that changed in the blink of an eye.
The only time I ever stepped on a scale was at the doctor’s office or at my grandparents’ house, just because they had a scale sitting out in the middle of the bathroom. I mean, who doesn’t step on that bad boy when it’s right in front of you? And I noticed that instead of the usual 100, it said 115. I thought maybe there was something off with the scale. I had never weighed that much before. But I didn’t look any different to myself so I thought little of it…
Until the next time I randomly stepped on a scale a few months later. I will never forget the feeling when I saw 125. I basically freaked out inside and had the most urgent sense of panic. It’s hard to explain, but looking back now I realize how much that number had already become a part of me. And in my 17-year-old-ish mind, that was not acceptable. Because it was not “me.” (See what I mean about not realizing I was letting it define me?)
Right around this time I was super self-conscious. I hated eating lunch at school. In spite of my mom’s claim that “nobody’s looking at you anyway,” I felt like every eye was zoning in directly on my mouth while I was chewing just to laugh at whatever kind of freak I felt I was. Hormones, man. It was rough.
I was never comfortable and absolutely hated eating at school. I was so afraid I would get food between my teeth, or get something on my face and ruin my makeup wiping it off. I didn’t have the best skin, so I was very self-conscious about it. I know now it makes no sense, but that was how I felt. So the thought occurred to me: “Why don’t you just NOT eat?” It would be wonderful not to have to deal with that public eating anxiety, plus it would help me lose some of that weight I seriously believed was bad news.
See, at the risk of sounding cliché, girls and women in America are bombarded with unrealistic body expectations. Awareness of this has increased since then, which is good. But girls aren’t taught how to have a positive body image, or what normal body development looks like. I assumed I would always be 100 pounds. And that is nowhere near in line with healthy growth.
Why did I believe that? I was never taught anything different. I was surrounded by magazines, shows, and advertisements that idealized the female figure as something incredibly waif-ish and shapeless. The opposite of reality. Which I kind of resembled up until I was around 17. (And the fact that the “ideal” woman presented by the media is shaped more like a prepubescent girl? I could go on but that’s a whole other topic.)
Anxiety and food
So I stopped eating lunch at school. And I began to notice a change in my weight. I thought, “Wow, if I can lose weight by skipping lunch, I could lose a lot more by skipping breakfast, too.” So every morning I would drag out my routine so I “wouldn’t have enough time” to eat breakfast. My sweet mama always packed my lunch for me every day, and I was still taking it to school. I would try to pawn the good stuff off on my friends, but nobody ever wanted my sandwich. I mean, they did already have their own lunches to eat. Like normal people. So I would have to throw away my sandwich. Which I felt really bad about.
So I asked my mom to stop making my lunch. I explained to her how hard it was to eat in front of people. She knew me well of course, so this was nothing new to her. She was adamant about packing me a lunch though, so I just kept taking it, all the while warning her I wouldn’t be able to eat it. I think I remember (lots of things are hazy from that time) bringing my lunch back home every day stinking to high heaven, uneaten. That finally sealed the deal and she stopped making them.
Every day I would be starving and eat as soon as I got home. I ate regular dinners and snacks, and all meals on the weekends and during the summer or whenever school wasn’t in. So a full-on eating disorder wasn’t quite making its official debut yet. I look back at that time as more of a struggle with social anxiety. But it was definitely a harbinger.