National Eating Disorders Awareness Week aims to combat society’s beauty standards, promote self-acceptance and to change the dialogue not just for ourselves, but for our children. The movement begins this week, from February 24 thru March 1. Here is just one story of learning self love and acceptance.
I’m always hesitant to open up and confess that I struggled with eating disorders in high school because I know what people think when they look at me. I’m tall, thin, and in good shape. I always have been. But eating disorders affect women of all sizes, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of judgement when you admit it. Even later in life.
Growing up, my mom spent a lot of time talking about and focusing on her weight. She tried several different diets, went through phases of exercising, and was always complaining about different parts of her body being “fat.”
I never saw her the way she saw herself, and that’s part of the problem with eating disorders. The way you see yourself isn’t the same as the way other people see you. The way you see yourself in the mirror just isn’t reality.
I’m not sure how it started, but I remember starting to think I was fat around the age of 14. I took some modeling classes with other thin girls, but I don’t think that’s what triggered it. I remember searching the internet for pictures of thin models and actresses, printing out their pictures and gluing them in a notebook for “thinspiration.” I remember writing down everything I ate and weighing myself every day.
At some point my unhealthy relationship with food turned into an eating disorder. I would avoid eating breakfast and lunch, and then after dinner with my family, I went upstairs and made myself throw up. It was a low in my life that I would never wish on anyone else. I was struggling without even realizing how bad it was.
I obsessed over the number on the scale and how much my hip bones, ribs, and collar bones popped out. I found a friend online to talk to, who supported me, and who dealt with the same feelings. It never occurred to me that we were actually hurting each other with our mutual encouragement.
When I was 15 I remember going to a modeling call and having the scout from the agency telling me that I needed to lose a few inches from my waist. I don’t think anything could have been more damaging to my self-esteem than to hear that while I was already trying to “slim down.” It’s been 15 years and I still remember exactly where I was standing and the devastation I felt when she said that.
One day I found out that a boy in my German class was also struggling with an eating disorder. Up until then, I didn’t think eating disorders affected men, but I learned that they can go to extremes to lose weight just like women can. We became friends and then he moved away right before my senior year of high school. I don’t know what happened to him after that.
I bounced back and forth between anorexia and bulimia for a few years. My self-esteem was low, I had very little confidence in myself, and I struggled with depression on top of the eating disorders. High school was definitely not the best time of my life.
Right before I turned 19, I met my future husband. We started dating and were engaged within six months. Four months later, we were married. I never told him what I was struggling with, but having someone truly love me and not want to change anything about me helped me begin to heal. He made me believe I was beautiful and valued just the way I was.
Now I’m 30 with three kids, one of them a daughter. I make an extra effort not to ever comment negatively on my body or anyone else’s. My kids are still young, but I don’t ever want them to feel the way I used to about my body. I don’t ever want them to say the things to themselves that I used to say to myself. My perception of my body will effect my children’s perceptions of their bodies. Kids are very aware of what we do, and I don’t want my kids to subconsciously learn that you’re not supposed to like your body.
My body has changed a lot since my first pregnancy seven years ago. But finally, I truly love my body. I’m not at my thinnest or at my lowest weight, but I have finally come to a place where I appreciate and respect my body. I am comfortable, content, and grateful. I love every stretch mark on my thighs and belly, my farmer’s tan, and the tiny, post-baby hairs that are finally re-growing all over my head. My body gave me three beautiful children, and I am grateful for every breath and every step it takes.
Overcoming an eating disorder takes years, but it can be done, and the end result is worth all the struggle it takes to get there. There are so many resources available to help, so many reasons to try to overcome. I finally see the real me in the mirror, and even though it’s taken half my life to get to this point, it feels like a huge burden has been taken from me.
Beauty comes in all forms, and to be “beautiful” doesn’t just mean you have a “hot” body. There’s so much more to beauty than just outward appearance. I want my kids, especially my daughter, to know that what truly matters is what’s inside of us. And teaching her that starts with how I treat and take care of my own body.
Are you struggling? Don’t do it alone. There is hope.