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I stared at the restaurant’s bathroom floor, in plank position, with tears streaming from my eyes. I did push-up after push-up, wishing I could burn off this feeling of fullness and guilt. My family was waiting for me, but I couldn’t pull myself off the dirty tiles until I broke a sweat and felt deserving.
Even then, I wasn’t sure if my eating disorder was legitimate.
My body size been exactly average since I was born, determined by an outdated equation of height and weight which was never supposed to be official. With few exceptions, I ate every meal. My friends in high school never had to ask me why I didn’t have a lunch, nor did they ever find me running to the bathroom after each meal.
These facts may not sound like a typical eating disorder narrative, but they do not negate my experience. I have an eating disorder because it is a mental illness, not a physical affliction.
I have an eating disorder, and if I call it anything less, then I will always be waiting for it to get bad enough.
I have always had a conflicted relationship with my body. I remember being in fourth grade and crying over my baby fat. At twelve years old, I stared at myself in the dance studio mirror, wishing pieces of me would just disappear. As harmful as these thoughts were, my debilitating relationship with food didn’t fully strike until high school. I knew my body was about to change, and I wanted to stay as small as possible. My hips were beginning to grow, my body suddenly storing fat in places I wasn’t used to seeing larger.
Ever the perfectionist, I was terrified about this lack of control over my own body.
I channeled my obsession with control into my food, not by starvation or purging, but in the name of “health.”
The internet is a dangerous place for a disordered mind, and I quickly found hundreds (if not thousands) of articles, websites, and blogs dedicated to living a healthy and fit lifestyle: “I just want to be in shape!” I told myself.
I ate the exact same meals every day, repeating the same combinations, while recording everything with religious devotion. I wrote out plan after plan of off-limit foods and exercise routines. White rice was enough to make me panic, and my fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth birthday cakes were all accompanied by hot, shameful tears later in the night. I thought the numbers and calorie counts were my means of control, but in reality, they had control over me.
Before beginning my first year of college, I was overjoyed at the prospect of dining halls and new people. I thought I would be able to eat as little as I wanted without any concern or question, but this didn’t happen.
A mix of loving friends, incredible classes, and new leadership opportunities made me focus on my mind instead of my body.
I spent the entire semester experiencing food without guilt. I remember gleefully eating a plate of French fries, knowing my feelings were different, but unsure as to why.
Over Christmas break, this new-found joy for food changed completely, and my eating disorder returned worse than ever before. It was then I realized bad enough didn’t exist in the world of mental illness. I took a hard look at my relationship with my body and food, and knew without a doubt waiting any longer to change could be deadly.
I devoted the spring to loving my body and myself, recognizing bad body image days, and understanding how the feminine beauty ideals of our culture had so intensely incited my need to feel smaller.
I still ate systematically, exercised to burn calories, and got nervous around what I deemed to be unhealthy foods, but I fought back as hard as I could. I almost cried of happiness the day I went out for ice cream with my friends and was able to eat without guilt, shame, or self-hatred.
I still feel illegitimate about my eating disorder.
There are many days when I want to call it disordered eating or claim to have been on the verge of an eating disorder, but I know if I wait any longer to take it seriously, it is more likely to consume my life again. Because my body doesn’t look sickly or weak, I am afraid many people will not even try to understand my experiences. I still have to remind others of my legitimacy, and I still have to remind myself my feelings are valid.
Since recognizing my eating disorder, I became free from self-hatred, body-shaming, and society’s beauty standards.
I let myself dress how I want, and not how the world tells me I should. I am able to eat most foods without guilt, shame, or hate. I have a long way to go, as this all comes from a place of perfectionism, anxiety, and a fear of failure, but I am on the road to a more peaceful life.
I’m learning to appreciate my reflection, not because I look like a photoshopped model, but because I look like me. My reflection is perfectly flawed.
I am a fighter, a feminist, and a body image activist because it should never take doing push-ups on a bathroom floor to realize your eating disorder is legitimate. I am still learning how to share my experience, but I hope readers leave with this:
You are a story, and I want you to share it loudly.
You are a fighter, and I want to cheer you on. You are a complex, imperfect human being, and the longer you wait to tell your truth, the harder it is for others to speak.
Did you know “Libero” means “Free”? Libero started with a story shared by our Founder Lauren Bersaglio back in 2010. We believe when we share our stories we can champion mental health, end stigma, and spread hope. We would love to have you share your story and celebrate freedom with the rest of the Libero community! Click here to learn more!
SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.