I have a post on my blog called “My ED Story” that is much more eloquently worded than this pouring out of my heart on paper. This is the speech I gave at the BodiPosi event at Wake Forest, my alma mater, on April 16th, 2019. Due to feedback I’ve decided to keep it here for anyone who wants to refer back to it or who couldn’t make it to the event and missed the live, and wants to read it. It is very long. It is also basically my thought process on paper- the way I speak rather than the way I write. So if you don’t want to read, no blame LOL.
SO here it goes:
I have an obsessive personality, I am routine oriented, have diagnosed OCD tendencies and diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder. Eating disorders have a large biological component and genetically I was predisposed to having this happen to me. In one of my classes a few weeks ago we were actually talking about genetic predisposition and how for someone who is genetically predisposed to something, normal conditions can spark a disease or a toxicity or whatever it may be. In this case it was anorexia.
I always played sports growing up and was extremely active.
I’ve always been tall and lean, never “thought I was fat,” another misconception about eating disorders. never even had body image issues until I had to restore weight the first time. Eating disorders don’t discriminate when it comes to body type and can happen to anyone.
The first thought I ever had about restricting food was in 5th grade. I was hypoglycemic when I was younger and had to have an extra morning snack at school. I didn’t like the feeling of my classmates staring at me even though it was likely out of jealousy that I got to eat pretzels at 10 AM and they couldn’t. I felt like I shouldn’t be eating. I didn’t act on these restrictive thoughts, though, and they didn’t really resurface until much later.
Fast forward to the summer before I started high school.
Although this didn’t spark my ed I can’t discount it as a part of my story- and that is when I started to be interested in health
Summer before high school I was trying out for the volleyball team. One of the coaches was a personal trainer and had developed a workout plan for those who wanted to be in shape for tryouts, and with my obsessive tendencies I took the workouts very seriously because I wanted to be really good. I Tried to eat a little healthier. My Body didn’t really change, I maybe just built a little more muscle. I Still had no body image issues. Throughout this whole time i wasn’t actively trying to get smaller or lose weight. I was just, with very pure intentions, getting healthier. And I made the volleyball team.
My freshman year I was healthy and i was happy. I also made the tennis team in the spring which was so important to me because id been playing tennis since I was 4 and it was “my sport.” I still remember eating 6 bagels the day of tryouts to make sure I had enough energy to play my very best and not thinking anything of it because food was not yet the enemy.
My sophomore year was when things went downhill- I had surgery on my head. (little background on head surgery) the doctor weighed me pre-surgery and I was down a little- likely due to stress the weeks leading up to the surgery. the day of my surgery all I wanted was a bagel- which if you couldn’t tell by the 6 I ate during tennis tryouts bagels were a major comfort food and favorite food of mine growing up. But when I finally got my bagel post surgery I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it- my stomach wouldn’t let me. This id later begin to recognize and call anxious stomach although it was something that id always experienced (and still do) when I was anxious or sad or lonely.
I got home from Yale where I had the surgery and I cannot tell you what got the idea in my head but that was the day I started to count my calories. I remember the exact day I started to count my calories, which as you can guess and many of you probably know- counting calories for someone with an obsessive personality is not a good idea. Through therapy and reflection I came to realize that me starting to count my calories on this specific day when I got home from surgery and was on painkillers that made me feel so weird and unlike myself, was probably me feeling out of control, like this surgery on my head was happening and I couldn’t stop it. I had no control over the situation but I had control over food.
That week I was home my parents even picked up on some weird habits- I went to eat a piece of bread (I still remember the calorie count on it) when my friend was visiting and my friend was like why are you eating plain bread and my mom goes oh that’s her new thing this week isn’t it weird?
Counting my calories became a way to control my anxiety that id always had but wasn’t diagnosed yet. My obsessive tendencies made each day have to be the same- with the same meals, same snacks, same number of calories that I would count down to the single calorie. Gum, mints, id googled the calorie content in toothpaste, in saliva, in envelopes that you lick... anything and everything you could put in your mouth I knew the calorie count for.
Ate my same lunch in the same class everyday, same habits, same routine. I would get Home from school and wait up in my room til dinner, then id come down for dinner and eat just the protein and vegetable, saying I didn’t like rice or pasta or whatever the starch was. I would go straight back upstairs after dinner and not come down again until it was time for my regimented breakfast the next morning. keeping in this routine kept my anxiety happy, and made me feel like I was good at something. I was Good at controlling these numbers.
But this routine also cut me off from most of my friends. it Isolated me from my family even though I was in the same house. I did nothing. I realized I was starting to feel cold all the time. My clothes weren’t fitting anymore. I started to be able to feel my heart sometimes feel like it was skipping and squeezing. I Started to notice how thrown off and upset id get if my routine was broken. If this whole thing had ever been about food at all, it no longer was in the slightest. It was all to keep my anxiety happy and it was my obsessive tendencies and obsession with routine all feeding off of each other.
tennis season sophomore year came around. i made the team again but this time instead of being healthy and happy, I was basically a miserable sack of skin and bones that wasn’t as good at tennis as I once was.
One of the moms made a comment to my mom about how thin id gotten and I didn’t even really realize it until this point, but it seems like after this day everyone started to notice as well.
Id get stares and comments centered around both my weight and my food at school and I hated it. a boy that I had liked even straight up tapped my bony shoulder and said ew
Walking around the hallways id feel like I was going to drop to the ground. I Didn’t know if id have a heart attack but even that wasn’t enough to stop my disease. And that’s how you know it wasn’t me, it was something bigger
I Hadn’t had my period in months
Shortly after I cried over being “forced” to eat a bowl of pasta my mom put me on the scale. I fought this hard. Said id just pooped, that the scale would show a lower number than was real. In reality, even though I didn’t weigh myself at all through this whole half year leading up to this, id eaten pizza the night before and was scared the scale would read high
my mom saw the number on the scale and started crying hysterically and put me in the car to go to the doctor.
The Doctor told me to my face it didn’t sound like I was starving myself when I honestly answered with what I ate in a day. Energy needs are not black and white, some people require more to maintain than others. the amount of food I was rapidly losing weight on relative to other people with textbook anorexia was high so she didn’t think that i could possibly be starving myself.
Besides the “what do you eat in a day” I was not asked any questions at the doctors that day, and was told I probably had diabetes or celiac but those tests came back negative. Then I was told I had anorexia, kind of as a default because they didn’t know what else to tell me.
I was told I had to go away to residential treatment but I fought HARD and was given a chance to do it on my own, especially because it was the summer and I could be under supervision like a child at all times.
Full exercise restriction, 3500+ cal a day and I slowly gained 15 lb. doc said that was okay even though id lost 30 to begin with. Now I was 15 lb less than I started out at but for the first time in my life I had body image issues most likely due to the way my doctor and rd handled my situation. I was treated like a number, they didn’t get to know my situation, they just told me to gain weight and it would heal this all controlling mental illness but That’s not how it works.
I was also going to therapy at this time but wasn’t trying at all in therapy, I hid like a little kid behind my mom when she brought me in the first day. i just sat in my therapy sessions and cried and didn’t talk at all.
I Didn’t recover that first time. I put a bandaid on the problem. And the only reason I agreed to cooperate was so that I could go back to my coping mechanism for my anxiety and restrict my calories again.
My eating disorder didn’t manifest physically again until soph year of college at wake. Even though I loved my time at wake as you all know it can be a stressful environment. Most of us go from being a big fish in a little pond in high school to being a regular fish in a big pond with all the other regular fish because everyone is so smart
I felt like I lost my identity as the smart girl in high school and my identity as the sporty girl because I wasn’t playing my sports anymore. I picked up running because I still loved exercise but didn’t know much about exercise outside of sports and I didn’t know what else to do
I resorted back to restriction to deal with anxiety and stress on campus but this time it was coupled with over exercise.
And this time, instead of being ashamed and hating the stares and comments and my emaciated body, I thought my eating habits were normal because compared to my friends and those around me I seemed to be eating a normal amount, but it wasn’t enough for me. Health and nutrition is so individual.
This time, even though I was so small and so weak and sick, I felt like my body was a “normal” size
It wasn’t, but since everyone at wake is fit, or skinny, or short and petite, I thought that my body was normal
But i’m tall, i’m not meant to wear a size 00. I don’t function properly at that size
In fact, as my new dietitian told me when I got home for the summer after soph year, I was ounces away from death at that size.
Id had déjà vu when I got home that summer, my mom placing me back on the scale, crying more. Id relapsed and didn’t even know it because ed behaviors are so commonplace in this environment.
My new dietitian used necessary scare tactics on me. She told me that my body fat percentage was that of a 6 year old girls, and I needed to get it back up to at least that of a 13 year old’s.
She worked with me and met me where I was, realizing that numbers were a prominent part of my disease, and stripping all numbers from my recovery process. Instead she gave me options for meals and snacks. I felt like I had more freedom this time and wasn’t treated like a new puppy, although what she was doing had the same end goal, to get me to gain weight in order to also gain back my health and my life.
Simultaneously I went back to the same therapist id gone to when I got bad the first time
I started to give it my all this time. We started to get to the root of my issues instead of me sitting there in silence resisting help when I needed it so desperately. Actually talking to her led me to need to go to a psychiatrist, and get prescribed meds to treat the chemical imbalance in my brain that was making escape form this disease so difficult
The first time I was sick, I hated my skinny body. I hated how it looked and felt, but my ed had me so deep in its grips that it wouldn’t let me trade in my behaviors for freedom
The second time, when I thought I looked normal, and thought my body looked okay because of the environment I was in, I really had to focus on how I felt and what my body couldn’t do anymore. I had to realize that this was very literally a life or death situation and if I valued my life then I needed to separate my thoughts from my eating disorder talking and fight as hard as I could to escape
I had to look to other signs of progress to keep me going besides weight gain- having a normal period, getting the color back in my face, having my hair stop falling out, having more energy, being able to focus, etc.
That summer I was threatened with not being able to go abroad, but I also kind of didn’t want to. Wanted to stay with my safe foods because I was scared of spontaneity and breaking my routine.
I’m so glad I did because abroad (Australia) is where most of my recovery happened. I learned how much more there is out there than just control of what you take in.
I got out of my environment and saw that wake isn’t real life, and my routine isn’t the whole world- but rather it impedes me from being able to experience the whole world.
I learned that my body isn’t meant to just run and sleep and pass out on 2 tequila shots after restricting all day to “make up for calories.” Its meant to travel, to climb, meant for hugging friends, for eating good food, for getting stronger and not smaller, and meant to teach others the same.
In an environment like wake it can be really tough to realize that we are not meant to all look alike. We’re meant to be able to accomplish things that we cant do on an empty stomach and a fatigued body from hours of cardio. Its easy to get caught up in thinking that everyone looks like it, or everyone’s eating only vegetables for dinner, everyone’s skipping dinner to get drunk on less calories, etc. but you don’t know what else is going on in everyone else’s minds and bodies. Around 75% of women engage in unhealthy behaviors surrounding food, and 10% of women show symptoms related with anorexia, bulimia, or BED
I would place money that that number is higher at wake
even if a behavior is sadly normalized, it doesn’t mean its healthy. The only way you can know whats healthy for you is to look into yourself and ask yourself why you’re doing something, is it you who’s wanting to do this, will your quality of life improve by doing this, and can you live your life to your fullest potential while doing this?
it feels kind of weird to talk my story out or put it on paper when I was preparing to come and talk here because I feel like its my life condensed into one short presentation, and my story feels like its so much more complicated than I could ever put into words. I had to cut out so much to not have you all sit here for 5 hours.
but even if this is just a small glimpse into my story and my life when it comes to food and exercise and comparison, I hope that it can reach one of you and make you feel less alone, or make you realize that you deserve help and you’re worthy of help. You dont have to and shouldn’t live a life controlled by food- food is the thing that’s meant to keep us alive.
but this is what i’ve gone through and this experience has led me to the path that i’m on now- getting my masters in nutrition at UNCG with the end goal of becoming an RD, working with those with eating disorders and hopefully eventually opening a private practice to work with ed patients.
*I then went back up to the powerpoint I’d started with (pre-speech I gave some facts on EDs and dispelled some rumors about them. I had a list of my top recovery tips which can be found in my “recovery highlight,” and the last slide was a picture of myself when I was a baby, with my hands raised way above my head. I talked about how my parents used to do this thing with me where they’d be like “how big is Megan???” and I’d raise my hands up as they said “soooo big!” I said something along the lines of “Eating disorders prevent us from growing- not just physically. We are put on the earth to grow, yes physically but also mentally, emotionally, socially, intellectually, etc. and eating disorders of any type really prevent us from doing that. (I actually got nervous and said they help us do that LOL but quickly corrected myself woops).
CUE PANEL and das it