It’s not something I aspired to. I didn’t get out of bed one morning and decide, yeah, today’s the day this is going down. It just happened – slowly, progressively – happened. It’s consumed 23 years of my life. It’s all I know. It’s who I am.
My name is Amy, and I’m Anorexic.
Yep, there it is. My issues with food and exercise started when I was 11 years old. I’ve pretty much done it all – hidden food, thrown it away, thrown it up, exercised it away – and this is just the PG-13 stuff. I’ve been hospitalized, through outpatient programs, in therapy and on medication. I’ve been deathly thin and at other times at a healthy weight, but one thing that’s been constant is the never-ending battle in my mind and my mental struggle with food, weight, exercise and body image. I’m not going to go into major details here and now, but I will be talking about all of this ‘stuff’ at Paleo (f)x in April and I’m working on a book. Right now I’ve been seeing an awesome doctor since the end of August, and for the first time in 23 years, I’m truly getting HEALTHY – not just body, but also mind and spirit.
Why am I ‘coming out’ about all of this now? Well, it hasn’t been a secret – my history with food is out there. I’ve been around the block a couple of times – through all my ‘recovery’ missions though, the thoughts and the obsession never truly went away. There were always rules around food – how much, what types, when I could eat – and exercise was mandatory. These behaviors and habits were my safeties, my coping mechanisms, the only things in my life that I could control – I didn’t know what to do without them. Mine isn’t an isolated case. Every day, I work with, talk to and see people struggling with food – some of them recognize it and others are in a place of denial, searching for any possible explanation for why they’re in the situation they’re in and most of them are looking for a simple solution. There are stories on the internet about people that have been ‘cured’ of eating disorders, food addiction, binge cycles, etc. just by switching to a Paleo, vegan, ketogenic, bodybuilding, or other diet types – unfortunately, there is no style of eating or food elimination that can change, take away or heal the ‘junk’ behind the behaviors. What effectively happens is one obsession, one coping mechanism, is simply traded for another. In my case, Paleo was a convenient way to JUSTIFY restriction. I entered the eating disorder world with an intense fear of fat, a fear that didn’t go away with Paleo – it let up a little but it also villainized many of the foods that were once ‘safe’ to me. Now carbs, dairy, beans, grains, and fat were evil and my list kept getting longer.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t catch this when it was happening and I’ve asked myself that more times than I care to think about. The reality is that when you’re into something – like really into it, there is nothing else. There’s no outside the box. The eating/exercise behavior or coping mechanism is ALL THAT MATTERS. You start believing the lies it tells you – and with 100% honesty, I can say that I was truly convinced that there was something physically wrong with me and that was the reason for my low weight and for how I was feeling. The last thought that crossed my mind was that it was my eating disorder – AGAIN. I spent thousands of dollars on a functional medicine doctor and tests to FIND something, anything, wrong with me. I was scared, but I was trapped and I didn’t know how to stop it. I knew my workouts were out of control, I knew I was losing weight – but I was eating, that’s how I justified it to myself. All of the other times I had done this, I was starving myself. It wasn’t like that this time. My eating disordered mind was smart – a seasoned pro at manipulating my food and exercise so that it could stay in control. There were times during a workout, lying in bed at night, during the day – that I would wish something would happen – I would get sick or injure myself badly enough to have to quit doing what I was doing. I wanted and needed someone to tell me that I could STOP.
I know that there are a lot of you reading this that can relate to this on some level. Even though it may not look like you’re struggling on the outside – it’s still there. You too are trapped in a living hell, consumed by food restriction, binges, overeating, food or exercise addiction, food obsession and control, a fixation on a certain body weight or body fat percentage – the label isn’t important, stopping the cycle is. Know that it is OKAY to STOP – and that the cure doesn’t lie in more restriction.
Every day I get to help others that are fighting food battles and seeing/working with so many people/clients struggling with food/exercise issues hurts my heart. I get it. I know what it’s like to be ‘in the trenches’ and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. There are some folks out there that have questioned my ability to do my job based on my history, but as my doctor put it, “Who better to help people with food issues, than someone that has food issues.” If you haven’t been through it how can you help someone that’s in it? This stuff is ingrained in me and I can often identify it in others just by glancing at simple one page questionnaire. I have turned away clients that are insistent on starting a ketogenic diet, but tell me that they have issues with binges when they try to go from a normal diet to Paleo. I have clients that came to me looking for answers in lab results, maybe it’s a thyroid thing, a hormone thing, a gut thing; maybe the autoimmune protocol and a crap ton of supplements will take care of it. Often the answers that I give them aren’t the ones they want to hear – but I refuse to feed the cycle and will do everything I can to give them their lives back. I love my job, my past is not a secret – it is something I share with many of my clients, none of them have deemed me incompetent, or have stopped working with me because of it; in fact, most of them have thanked me for understanding and for giving them permission to STOP. I am right now, giving you, this same permission. It’s okay to STOP, it’s okay to cry (I’m crying, right now, as I type this), it’s okay to feel, and you are NOT ALONE. I’m in the trenches with you – it may seem like a lost battle, but keep fighting – we’re going to win the war.
There is so much more to this story – it’s my life, it’s not pretty, it’s far from perfect, but it’s made me the person that I am today. We all have a story, one that has led us to where we are now – but the ending is still waiting to be written. I am determined to make my ending happy and yours can be happy too. If you’re trapped, reach out, there is help, you’re not alone and there are people that get it. I get it.
If this story bored you to tears, stop reading now; but, if you’d like to hear more, I will be speaking at Paleo f(x), April, 11-13th about my experience and about our crazy, complex relationships with food. I am also writing a book with the gory details and if it gets picked up by a publisher, you’ll hear the rest of the story.