Why I Am the Way I Am (Reader’s Digest Version)

I was an ideal candidate, a perfectionist with a need for routine and organization. My self worth emanated from my accomplishments. Unfortunately, there was always someone smarter than me, or faster than me, or more talented than me, so I never felt special. I wanted to be liked by everyone, so I avoided conflict at all cost.

By the time I was in 8th grade, I was on top of the world; I was taking advanced classes, and a regular on the A Honor Roll; I was a cheerleader, I played basketball, and ran track. I was a first chair clarinet player, chosen as soloist for band concerts, and selected to be in symphony orchestra.

When my mom went on a diet, I decided to  join her. I did not need to lose weight, but in my head, being thin meant being perfect, so the thinner I could be, the more perfect I would become. It didn’t take long for weight loss and calorie counting to become an obsession.

The summer after my freshman year, I attended a friend’s birthday party. My plan had been to nibble on a piece of pizza. Unfortunately, one piece turned into several pieces. A huge birthday sundae was delivered to our table, and I ate some of that too. I hated myself for losing control. I cried myself to sleep, vowing to never feel that way again.

But I did, and when I did, I negated the extra calories by exercising. At night I would leave my bedroom window open and sleep without any blankets, believing that my body would burn more calories if I were cold.

By the time I was a sophomore, I gained weight and loathed my body. I resorted to laxatives. When my laxative habit became more expensive than my allowance would cover, I stole money from my parents. When they started noticing money missing, I shoplifted. Eating, not eating, exercising and purging became my whole life.

The summer before my junior year I lost a significant amount of weight. I was feeling good about myself when school began. Each night I would disappear into my bedroom shortly after supper under the guise of doing my homework. Instead, I organized my clothes in my closet and drawers according to style and color. I would try on every pair of pants I owned, making sure they fit looser than the day before. I would stay up late and exercise, recording my weight and other body measurements in a notebook that I stashed under my mattress.

One day in gym class, I passed out. This prompted my friends, who were concerned about the weight I had lost, to talk to our physical education teacher. She in turn contacted my guidance counselor, who called my parents. Life at home became unbearable. Suddenly I was being watched closely, forcing me to become sneakier and more deceitful. I felt like I was walking on egg shells whenever I was home. One night at supper, my dad told me I made suppertime miserable and he didn’t even enjoy coming home anymore.

I was on my high school pom-pon squad. On game days, we would practice on the court after school, and then come back for the game later that night. One particular night after practice, my heart started racing. I thought I was having a heart attack. I lay on my bedroom floor afraid I was going to die. I managed to perform, but that night after the game, my dad told me that my looks embarrassed him, and he was ashamed of me.

By December of my senior year, my eating disorder had gotten so out of control, I was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder program. I suddenly found myself in an environment where my bathroom door was always locked, I was weighed each morning, and I was forced to take a nutritional supplement if I refused to eat.  Despite all of these restrictions, I felt relieved to be there. I went through the program and was discharged 6 weeks later after learning a bunch of new tricks, and with absolutely no desire to change.

That summer I began to realize that there had to be more to life than an eating disorder. It had become my entire identity. I desperately needed a fresh start, so I eliminated white sugar  from my diet in attempt to gain control over my eating. By the time I left for my freshman year of college, I felt healthy and eager to begin my college career.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to resort to my old destructive patterns. Before the end of my first semester, I had to withdraw from school, and was readmitted to the hospital for another long term stay. I was discharged in time to start the spring semester at a university close to home. I relapsed again shortly after my discharge, and my life quickly spiraled out of control.

After an appointment with my therapist, I totally lost control and attempted suicide. In desperation, my parents committed me to the psychiatric unit of  a local hospital. The next day I was admitted to a hospital a few hours from my home that specialized in the treatment of eating disorders. Upon arriving, I was thrust into a large group meeting with about a dozen people-mostly women and everyone older than me. I immediately announced that I didn’t belong there. I went on a complete rant, telling everyone I was in complete control of my eating, and I didn’t need anybody’s help. I then broke down in tears in front of everyone.

Each day, I spent hours in therapy. Surrounded by mature patients who were living “real lives”, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be 40 years old and still living under the control of an eating disorder.  I vowed this would be the last time I would need treatment. I “graduated” shortly after my 19th birthday. I truly felt ready to let go of my eating disorder.

In May of 1988, I met, and instantly fell in love with my husband. We were engaged after 9 months, and married shortly after I graduated from college in 1990. We had three children born within 28 months.  I loved being a mom, and was thankful to be able to stay at home with them. Once my children were in school, I began my teaching career.

At this point, my eating disorder was a chapter in my life I thought I had put to rest. But then, in late 2011, a stressful work situation prompted unintentional weight loss. I was lured in by the sense of control I felt, and comforted by watching the number on the scale drop. Within months, I stopped getting my period. It was obvious to many that I was not healthy. When my husband confronted me, I blamed my marathon training. Up until this point I had felt the power of being an adult and being able to control and manipulate my eating without anybody questioning me. I instantly felt like I was back in high school, and it angered me.

One morning, in late summer of 2012, while on a run, I started feeling weak and lightheaded. The next thing I knew I was sprawled out on the sidewalk with a scraped knee, elbow and hands. This was a turning point for me, as I seriously began questioning myself about what I was doing. I worried about the long term health effects I might be imposing upon myself.

Coincidentally, it was shortly after this that I stumbled upon a healthy eating blog written by a registered dietician. In her “About” section, she explained why diets didn’t work, and stressed the importance of eating real, quality food. I started crying as I read. For the first time in a long time, I felt a glimmer of hope. Up until this point, I couldn’t imagine how I could bring this chapter of my life to a close once and for all. It’s hard to explain how something you know is self destructive becomes a comfort, but it does and it is so hard to break free.

I tore through books, learning all I could about health and nutrition. I discovered healthy eating blogs. I started making, and eating real food, slowly becoming more comfortable and at peace with eating. I loved the way eating healthy made me feel. I loved the energy I felt when I went on a run.  I loved not having to be secretive about food. I loved not counting calories. I did not love gaining weight, but I knew I could not provide my body with the nutrients it needed by continuing to restrict calories.

Through my reading, I became intrigued by vegan diets. I watched documentaries and read books about plant based lifestyles. I discovered blogs devoted to vegan eating.  As a result of what I had learned, I made the decision to eliminate meat, dairy and eggs from my diet. I was excited to provide my body with the nourishment it needed to perform its best, and eating a whole food, plant based diet did exactly that for me. And, better yet, I knew that the food choices I was making made a difference on a much grander scale.

Food has now become a source of nutrients and enjoyment, rather than a source of calories and guilt. I am grateful for the knowledge I have gained, and relieved to have a healthy relationship with food. I enjoy discovering new foods and trying new recipes. I feel passionate about the quality of food I eat. I am healthy, feel great and don’t take any medications.

For the most part, I feel content. I no longer weigh myself, as I don’t want the number on the scale to dictate how I feel about myself. Calorie counting has been replaced by ingredient label reading. I now exercise to make myself stronger instead of to burn calories. In spite of all of this, I’m still not 100% at peace with my body. I long to feel comfortable in my own skin, and accept myself the way I am. Unfortunately, there still are days I analyze myself far too critically when I look in the mirror, or I experience a period of panic and anxiety when my clothes fit. I then remind myself that eating healthy and exercising moderately, will provide me with the body God intended me to have.

2 thoughts on “Why I Am the Way I Am (Reader’s Digest Version)

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