Eating Disorders: And the Questions Everyone Wants Answered

Made in His Image was going to talk about forgiveness on our blog today, but a meeting I had changed that. Tomorrow, we will post on forgiveness, so please check back for that. We will be discussing forgiving the inexcusable. 

Today I spoke with a beautiful young woman who asked questions that mirrored many I have received, so I wanted to post this today. I hope the following is of help to you. Please contact MIHI with any questions.

Much of what is written below is taken from my book, so please do not repost or copy without noting this blog. Thank you!

It was April and I was in 8th grade. We were going to field hockey practice when I overheard two upperclassmen talking about a girl in our school who was overweight. Why are they speaking about her like that? That is so mean! I wonder if they talk about me like that? What if they think I’m fat? What if they laugh about me? I glanced down and saw my scuffed up black shoes. Then noticed my skirt which was two inches to short for this Catholic school. Every morning at prayer one of the teachers reminded me of that fact, Maura, your skirt is supposed to touch the floor when you kneel. Please tell your mom to fix the hem or you will need to get a new one. 

Then I panicked. Okay, great now I’m sure people are talking about me because I’m fat and my skirt is too short. Why can’t my mom just fix the skirt? I don’t want anyone talking about me and I don’t want to get in trouble. I was an exceedingly anxious child. My exterior proved to be as fragile as egg shells at times, and if I was corrected or talked to harshly, I shattered.

I remember going home from school that day and telling my mother that I was never eating ice cream again. She thought I was kidding, because what normal child says that? Well I’m going to show them all that I’m not kidding. I’m going to start running and swimming more and eating less. No one is going to talk about me behind my back.

My mom, an exceptional cook and baker has always provided the very best of food for us. Always making sure we ate healthy foods, with ample amounts of protein, calcium, and other nutrients. She often cooked organically and to this day, I prefer her cooking over countless restaurants. Yeah, Mom can make that better, I always say to myself whenever I am out to dinner and order something that doesn’t measure up to hers. To put is bluntly, I’m a snob when it comes to food.

But that year, I threw it all away with my defiance and lack of self-esteem.  My mom always insisted that I eat breakfast before school, so I started telling her that I would eat my toasted waffles on the way to the bus stop. I lied to her and that hurt me. But I have to because I know no one believes that I need to lose weight. What are they thinking? Why don’t they see it like me? It’s time for me to take matters into my own hands. I threw my waffles down the sewer drain every morning on the way to the bus stop. In the beginning, the guilt of what I was doing almost crushed me, but I couldn’t stop. As time passed, the lies started darting out of my mouth and the person I was becoming frightened me. Oh, I already ate breakfast Mom. Yes, lunch was delicious, thanks Mom. I had a snack on the bus, I’m not hungry. No, I only ran 5 miles (when I had actually run 7 or 8). I’m actually babysitting tonight, so I’ll eat there. And once I got there, Oh I already ate dinner at home because I was so hungry. 

I allowed myself a few hundred calories a day and went to bed starving. And there were countless nights that I couldn’t sleep because my hunger pains kept me awake. If I survived the day with only a few hundred calories I considered it to be a good day. If I had slipped, I was sure to punish myself the next day with an extra mile or two of running and even less meager portions .

I was severely anorexic for years. Then one day, I lost it. And ate everything in sight because I couldn’t take the hunger anymore. Afterwards, I felt disgusting and guilty. So I exercised  excessively to purge my body of all that I had just consumed. Why couldn’t I just eat in moderation? Why aren’t I worthy of three meals a day? People tell me I’ve always been thin, why can’t I see that too?

Anyone who has had or presently has an eating disorder knows the trap of what I have described. I share this with you today, because the emails I am receiving really touch my heart. It is my desire to be vulnerable with you women in hopes that it offers you hope. I boast in the Lord for what He has done in my life and I desire for you to be able to do the same.

I know that despite what I have done the Father forgives me. And He forgives you too. His forgiveness is ours for the asking. But we need to do just that, we need to ask for it. We need to beg Him for it. Several readers have asked what I did to overcome an eating disorder. I am humbled to share the following with you today.

Below are several of the questions I have been asked.

1. What will I look and feel like after my recovery from an eating disorder? 

That is an incredibly multi faceted question, but I will share with you what I know. First off, I would focus on recovery, which in it of itself will be uncomfortable because you are stretching yourself. You are growing in virtue and character and God is molding you into the daughter He destined you to be. Always remember that nothing worth while is easily attended, you may take two steps forward one day, and a step back the next and this is okay. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged, hope is essential. You fall down and you get right back up, you fall down again the next day after promising yourself you wouldn’t and then you get back up again and again and again. You must fight for freedom. God’s grace will be with you.

In terms of how you “will look and feel after recovery” – that is different for everyone. I am aware that this is a difficult thing to think about, so I commend you for your positivity. I am going to use myself as an example so as not to cause undue worry upon anyone. I began restricting food from myself in 8th grade. Negative self-image thoughts blew out of control that year. One day I overheard some girls criticizing a girl who was overweight. Uncontrollable thoughts raced through my head, Oh my goodness! What if they think that about me? What if I’m fat? I didn’t want anyone talking about me negatively, so I began to take matters into my own hands.

Now let’s back up for a moment, in 8th grade when this began, I was one of the skinniest and tallest girls in the class. I was very athletic and ate whatever I wanted without thinking about it. I mention that because when asking what it will look and feel like after an eating disorder one should take a look at themselves before their eating disorder began.

  1. I was not even close to being fat.
  2. I was a very competitive runner
  3. I had a very high metabolism
  4. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without even thinking about it.

I mention these facts because everyone’s body is different. And that is something you need to pray for the grace to accept. But don’t just accept that your body is different, embrace it and claim it as your own. When you do that, you will find freedom.

How does one do that?

By prayer, frequenting the sacraments and working with a doctor or counsellor who specializes in eating disorders.

To sum up the answer, everyone’s body is different and there is no generic response to life post eating disorder. I think it is very important to examine your body type prior to your eating disorder. More often than not, that is how God designed you and that is something you should be proud of, not ashamed of. And naturally as you began to eat more, or less if that be your case, your body will get use to you fueling it appropriately. But this takes time, so try not to get discouraged, take it a bit at a time. If you are an athlete, think of your recovery as training. When you first learned to run you didn’t go out and run ten miles, did you? No, you ran a mile. If you are a musician, the first time you sat down to play the piano you didn’t play Fur Elise did you? No, you probably played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hot Cross Buns or something similar.

You must take it a step at a time.

2. Is a full recovery possible? 

Another great question!

I think it depends on what you mean by recovery. Here is my thought process.

The word recovery means restoration or return to health from sickness. What if you were in a car accident in which you broke your left leg? Your leg would be put in a cast and you would walk with crutches. When your leg healed, the doctor would remove the cast and you would proceed with various physical therapy exercises. At first, it would be painfully to apply pressure to your left leg and you would unconsciously use your right leg to support a majority of your body weight when walking. As you process in physically therapy and your bones heal, it will become easier to apply equal weight to both legs. Eventually, it will feel normal again. So does this mean you are fully recovered? In my opinion, no, and here is my logic behind it.

As your left leg heals, scar tissue will also form, which can easily prevent range of motion, among other variables. Even if you were to get the scar tissue surgically removed, it will still be different from your right leg. So what does that all mean? It means that your leg is in remission, it is as normal as it can be. You might not be able to turn it a certain way or bend it as usual.

Life after an eating disorder is a life in remission. Yes, you can be recovered, but you could always slip again. Just the same way a patient with cancer can always get cancer again. No doctor can tell a cancer patient that they are not going to have cancer again. Now I don’t want this to discourage you, so please read on. I can tell you from experience that I have gone weeks and months without thinking about my past habits in regards to food. But, I still have my memory and sometimes I do think about where I have been and where I am today, which is only natural.

I want to clarify what I mean about being in remission in regards to eating disorders. Everyone has certain tendencies and ways in which they cope when stress, sadness, loneliness, grief and change. In relation to eating disorders, some people over eat and some under eat when these emotions arise, both are disordered. As you go through recovery you learn how to deal with stress in a proper manner, a manner that will not incapacitate you from carrying out everyday tasks. Also, unlike cancer, you make the choice if you are going to relapse again or not. As you go through recovery, you will learn the correct way to act when stress occurs and you are left with the choice to either act upon what you learned or your impulses. To live in recovery requires on act of the will, but the more you make the right choice the less you will think about it. For example, I don’t give it a second thought to have dinner and then a bowl of ice cream. In the past, I would make a conscious effort to sit down and eat a bowl of ice cream after dinner, it was more like a chore than a treat. Of course if you are just starting out on your recovery process, focus just on eating dinner.

If you want to be free, if you want to be normal again, eat out with your friends without worrying or wondering if you will go home to over eat, than turn to God. He is the One who can help you control your tendencies and habits. Surrender to Him and I guarantee you it will be okay. It takes courage and strength to do this and if you don’t feel as if you have the courage, then ask for it, because it’s yours for the asking.

To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often. – John Henry Newman

MIHI exists to help you recovery, please email or call us today. We want to help YOU!