Hey y’all-hope you had a good weekend! Today kicks off a week that is very close to my heart: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA Week). During NEDA Week two years ago, I shared my personal story with disordered eating. Then last year I reflected on the NEDA Week 2019 theme of “Come As You Are” with encouragement to celebrate your unique self as fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. This year’s NEDA Week builds on the “Come as You Are” theme with the additional tagline of “Hindsight is 2020.” So in today’s post, I’m going to elaborate on “Hindsight is 2020” by sharing some things I’ve learned in recovery that I wish I could tell my 16 year old self!
A Little Background
I never received a full-blown diagnosis of anorexia. However, I lost a significant amount of weight from my sophomore to my junior year in high school. My body mass index was dangerously low, and I didn’t get my period for a year. It may sound convenient not to have this monthly visitor, but it’s bad for your bones! This might be TMI, but NEDA Week’s “Let’s Get Real” theme encourages authenticity. In addition, I had an unhealthy relationship with food, a fear of gaining weight, and detail that I had a problem.
My parents forced me to see a therapist (very different from my willingness to voluntarily seek therapy today). After a couple months my therapist diagnosed me with depression and OCD, common comorbidities with eating disorders. Thanks to intense therapy sessions during high school and additional progress in my thought patterns during my young adult years, I’m in recovery both physically and psychologically.
Freedom in Recovery
I’m so thankful for God’s grace in helping me through this trying period in my life. However, I still have vivid memories of the mental prison I lived in during that season. I don’t take for granted the freedom I experience when I do things that once gave me extreme anxiety. So, here are a few things I would tell my 16 year old self:
- It’s okay if you have a fried Chick-fil-a sandwich or nuggets.
- It’s okay if you eat dinner after 8:00.
- It’s okay if you have a snack right before bedtime.
- It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how many calories are in what you eat.
- It’s okay if you miss a workout.
- It’s okay if you aren’t completely drenched in sweat when you do workout.
- It’s okay if you snack on something other than an apple, carrot sticks, or turkey.
- It’s okay if you eat food from the concession stand.
- It’s okay if you deviate from what you originally planned to eat.
Recovery is a lifelong process, so I won’t try and say that I never have any unhealthy thoughts and attitudes about food try to sneak their way back in. But the difference now is I’m able to recognize those thoughts for what they are–irrational–and redirect my thoughts to what is true. And the good news is eating disordered thoughts are few and far between. And while I still tend to order healthier items when I go out, like the grilled sandwich at Chick-fil-a, you can bet I’m going to order something fried if I have a coupon!
Futhermore, it’s refreshing to feel the freedom to go to a concert or sporting event without experiencing anxiety about getting something from the concession stand. True story–once during high school I took an apple in my bag and whipped it out for a snack during a Matchbox 20 concert. While this may seem absurd and laughable now, it was no laughing matter 19 years ago. I knew the concession stand wouldn’t have any of my “allowed” foods. But I also I knew I would get hungry during the concert. So I had extreme anxiety about eating something that didn’t fit my restrictive food plan. Thus, I didn’t care how silly I looked eating an apple at a Matchbox 20 concert. Shoutout to my amazingly loyal high school friends for sticking by me during this time, and not disowning me because of things like the apple incident.
Life to the Full
Whenever I think about my past struggles with disordered eating, John 10:10 comes to mind:
“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
My triumph over my eating disordered thoughts and being able to experience food freedom now is a reflection of how Jesus came to give us abundant life and victory over any struggles we face.
If You’re Struggling
If you’re struggling with body image issues and an unhealthy relationship with food, I highly recommend seeing a therapist. While it’s important to restore a healthy weight to combat any physical consequences of an eating disorder, it’s also essential to explore the root issues behind your behavior. For me, it was very much about control and a compulsive need for perfection. Also, National Eating Disorders Association has lots of free resources on their website and social media pages.
There’s absolutely no shame in admitting you have a mental health issue and need help. Although I am in recovery for my eating disorder, I still take medication and see a therapist to manage my anxiety and depression. Some of the root issues that ignited my eating disorder still manifest themselves in other ways in my life. Therefore, I am continually working through that.
I hope you found this post encouraging and inspiring. If you find yourself dealing with anxiety over some of the eating situations that used to make me anxious, I pray that this post helps you realize that those anxieties aren’t rooted in truth. And mor importantly, I hope it encourages you to take the next step in seeking professional help.
Praying for anyone out there who may be struggling!
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