Hey y’all– today I am tackling a topic that is much heavier than my previous posts, but is very near and dear to my heart: eating disorders awareness.
When I first contemplated this blog, I honestly wasn’t sure how vulnerable I wanted to get with respect to deeper heart issues. I had a blog several years back, and kept things very surface level on that. Last week, however, I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie May Wilson (she’s amazing, seriously check her out!), and she encouraged a certain degree of vulnerability if you feel like what you have to share could help someone else. So in addition to sharing outfit inspiration, various things that bring me joy, and travel tips, I also want to periodically share some deeper thoughts about how God has worked in my life. I truly feel that one of the biggest ways God works is by turning our tests into our testimony. This week (February 26-March 4) marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Let’s Get Real.” So less than two weeks after the launch of Palmettos & Pineapples, I’m getting real with y’all on here and sharing a little bit about my personal struggle with disordering eating and body image.
I was never overweight growing up, but around the time I hit puberty I started to become self-conscious about my body. I compared myself to girls in my class who hadn’t developed quite yet, and to the stick-thin models in the Delia’s catalogue (any 90’s girls remember the excitement of getting those in the mail?!). In 7th grade, I started swimming competitively for a year-round club team, so I was very active. My coaches never put any pressure on me regarding my weight, and throughout middle school my focus was still primarily on enjoying this new level of swimming I had taken up. Sure the insecurities about my body cropped up from time to time, but I didn’t give them prolonged attention or action.
Fast forward to high school–my freshman year I was still swimming year-round, but from November-February I was also competing for my high school team. This meant that some days of the week I would be at the pool for over three hours after school. My freshman year was the best year of my swimming career. I qualified for high school Regionals in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle events, and missed advancing to the state meet by one spot in each of those events. I remember touching the wall at the end of the 500 freestyle at Regionals, and looking up to see that I had swam my best time ever by 10 seconds. (Please note that I had been fueled by Golden Corral Mac & cheese and an ice cream sundae.)
Even though I had seen great improvement in my swimming times and was enjoying the sport, I still struggled with insecurity about my body. When my sophomore year of high school rolled around, I decided that I was going to eat healthier to further improve my swimming. It all started out innocently enough. I was trying to make conscientious food choices that would fuel my body, and trying to listen to my internal compass and make sure I was eating out of hunger rather than boredom or other emotions. By the time the end of high school swimming season rolled around sophomore year, I had lost some weight, but was still in a healthy range for my height. It would have all been fine if I had stopped there and maintained my new weight, except that didn’t happen.
I was absolutely TERRIFIED of regaining the weight I had lost, so instead of eating a sensible and adequate amount of food, I continued to restrict my caloric intake, despite having a rigorous exercise schedule. Then when I continued to lose weight, it became addicting. I experienced a euphoric high every time I stepped onto the scale and saw that I had dropped more weight. Things hit rock bottom my junior year of high school. I was pretty sporadic with club team swim practice because I had lost too much weight and was weak and not really enjoying the sport anymore. But I was going to the Y and sweating up a storm in their Cardio Theater under the guise of ” getting ready for high school swim season.” At this point people close to me were starting to get concerned, and even confronted me about my destructive behaviors and concerning weight loss. I got defensive and denied I had a problem, because whenever I looked around I still saw people I perceived as so much skinnier than me. Once November of my junior year rolled around I was getting my annual physical for high school swimming season. My pediatrician basically freaked out when she realized how much weight I had lost in the past year and that I hadn’t gotten my period in a year. (This sounds convenient, but is so unhealthy.) She diagnosed me with “abnormal weight loss” and I was ordered to come back in a few weeks for a weigh-in to make sure I hadn’t lost additional weight. At this point, I STILL didn’t think I had a problem, and thought everyone was making a big deal about nothing. And where my body was actually gaunt and emaciated, I still saw “fat”.
At this point, I had to go see a therapist. Let’s just say I was NOT thrilled at all about this because I thought that therapy was only for crazy people, and surely I wasn’t one of “those.” (Side note: Therapy is NOT just for “crazy people.” Therapy is amazing and I honestly think everyone should go at some point in their lives. Stay tuned for a post especially about this at some point). During my first couple months of therapy, I was very reticent and intentionally withheld info from my therapist. Once again, I didn’t think I had a problem and I really didn’t want to be there. Finally, my therapist figuratively “backed me into a corner” by asking me some questions there was really no way around. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, and was prescribed medication to help with this. (Another side note: There is absolutely ZERO SHAME in taking anti-depressants or any type of psychiatric medication. I bet there will be a separate blog post on this at another point.)
The therapy session where I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder was extremely hard and scary, but it was also a HUGE turning point in my treatment. You see, eating disorders are about so much more than food. For me, it was about perfectionism, the desire for control, and insecurity. I pushed myself super hard academically all through high school, and my junior year was especially rigorous. I couldn’t control how much homework, studying, and papers I had in all my Honors and AP classes, but I could control what I ate and how much I exercised.
The irony of it all is that in my attempt to maintain control, I was actually losing control. I was completely out of touch with reality, and my destructive and unhealthy behaviors were addicting. I also didn’t have a lot of confidence. I wasn’t popular and although I was a good swimmer, I wasn’t the star of the team. I was known for being smart, but that wasn’t cool so I wanted to be known for something else–being skinny. I was able to tackle these heart issues with my therapist, and I worked with a nutritionist and my doctor on working through the aspects related to my physical health. By the end of my junior year, I was much happier and healthier. I had gained weight I needed to gain, and in the process had realized it wasn’t a bad or scary thing.
I was a Christian while I was going through all this, but I was still very young in my faith and didn’t lean on God as much as I should have. Yet I look back at this time in my life as one of the biggest ways that He has worked and revealed Himself to me, and I truly believe He put me through this trial so that I could come out on the other side stronger and with a passion for helping other girls and women who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues. Although I was blessed with an amazing treatment team, I also attribute my triumph over this struggle to the Lord and His amazing healing and redemption. I am thankful for early intervention, and that I was forced to get help before my problem got even worse. My weight loss and food restriction weren’t severe enough to be clinically diagnosed as anorexia nervosa, but they were still a very real problem in need of attention. It is very possible for one to have an unhealthy relationship with food and body image without being severely underweight, so please don’t hesitate to get help if you feel this is the case! God is so powerful and recovery is possible at any point, but the treatment process will be much more streamlined if you get help before you develop a full-fledged eating disorder.
In my next post, I will be sharing some self-care actions I take to protect myself from relapse into my old ways, as well as some of my favorite resources for those who may be currently struggling. (I will be sure to link my next post up once it is live). For now, I am going to leave you with these reminders that you are beautiful and created in the image of God:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13-14