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By Amy Hastie
Physically, I may have looked “healthier” during those times, but in reality, I was still living a life full of rigid rules around what I could and couldn’t eat. It was exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and destroying me from the inside out.
I can vividly recall the first time I decided to restrict my food intake.
At 17, someone sat me down and told me that I should exercise more often and reconsider my food choices. I initially felt deflated, self-conscious and hurt, but those emotions soon turned into an overwhelming desire to change. I distinctly remember writing a letter to my best friend at school the very next day, excitedly boasting to her about this revelation regarding my lifestyle and how I was going to cut back on everything that I ate as part of a magical transformation. It was going to be amazing!
Looking back, it seems utterly frightening to me that I had been so determined and self-assured that I was doing the right thing, despite all of the potentially dangerous risks to my health. This particular teenage diet didn’t last longer than a week, but it instilled in me a lingering awareness of inadequacy in relation to the foods I chose to eat and how much I weighed. It’s like my eyes had been exposed to a horrific image that was etched in my mind and could never be erased.
A couple of years later…
When other things in my life seemed out of control, I made a few more attempts at diets. Again, nothing stuck until the year leading up to my 21st birthday when I fell, head first, down the dark and destructive hole of Anorexia. What followed was more than a decade of severe bouts of restriction, chronic dieting, and incredibly harmful physical behaviors.
There were months, sometimes years, within the past decade when I wasn’t being entirely controlled by Anorexia, but still being intensely dictated by diet culture. Physically, I may have looked “healthier” during those times, but in reality, I was still living a life full of rigid rules around what I could and couldn’t eat. It was exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and destroying me from the inside out.
I feel ashamed to admit this now, but up until recent times, I ate the same thing for dinner every week-night for about 10 years. Every single week-night. No deviations. No adjustments. No tweaks. The same. It was monotonous, a far from nourishing meal choice and a devastatingly obvious coping mechanism. Family and friends would often ask why my husband and I didn’t eat dinner together at home. I always used to brush it off by saying we had very different tastes. That wasn’t true at all as we actually shared many similar loves in food. However, the thought of deviating from my “safe” meal on a week-night scared me more than just about anything else in the world.
Then something finally changed for the better.
I had hit breaking point in the lead-up to our wedding. When it was all over, something began to shift in me, but in a good way this time. On my honeymoon, my husband and I ate a variety of exquisite food every day and every night. Part of me waited for a drastic change, something to go horribly wrong with my mind or body. Nothing did. In fact, with each delectable consumption, the better I seemed to feel mentally and physically. The only effect was the thrill of tuning into my hunger and honoring it fully.
During the honeymoon, I realized I was beginning to create an infinite distance from restriction. I was at a coffee shop, and I ordered a delicious beverage. The friendly young guy taking my order gave me a nod as he was writing it down and said, “Yeah! It’s Friday! Why not, right??”. I think I nodded in agreement with the well-meaning gentlemen at the time, but as I walked away, I found myself marveling at my progress. I had, without thought or hesitation, just ordered the drink I wanted, having no reason to choose it above its scrumptious taste. I hadn’t selected it because it was the week-end or even considered it to be a treat in the first place. I just had it because I felt like it. It may sound simple, but this kind of mental progress is huge for anyone who has endured what I have.
Decisions like what to order had not always been that natural. Menus were overwhelming, regardless of whether it was a day of “clean eating” or one where treats were “allowed”. While my friends and family would look at a menu in excitement (or simple indifference), Anorexia would sit with me and meticulously calculate the meal that would do the least “damage”. It was a consistently agonizing process, and one I certainly do not miss. After that day in the coffee shop, I started to perceive menus as lists filled with infinite possibilities of satisfaction, not rule books.
I told myself that when we returned from our trip, I would continue this new-found lifestyle … and I did. It was like that indignant feeling I had when I first decided to diet at 17, except this time, I took a stance on always eating exactly what I wanted. I vowed to never restrict again because this new way of eating (of living!) was far too liberating to give up on. I began reintroducing beloved old favorites or tasting entirely new ingredients. Foods I had once banned for making me feel “out of control” were no longer scary because they weren’t “off limits” anymore. I had legalized them indefinitely. It was all so wonderful and invigorating.
As I continue this intuitive eating journey, the next challenge is learning to cook...
Despite being 33 years old, I am well and truly back to basics, teaching myself how to prepare all kinds of new and gratifying meals. It’s certainly not easy, (I have already inadvertently created some minor kitchen fails!), but it is the power of choice over restriction that pushes me to persist with my culinary ventures.
The most life-changing aspect of my recovery has been the new-found belief that I am not only worthy of all foods today, but tomorrow and every day of my life. After so long, I have learned to listen to what my body instinctively wants, just like I used to as a little kid. Now, there are no “treats”, no “cheat days” no “naughty foods”. Anything and everything is quite literally on the table, and I am loving every single minute of it.
Our Community Educator Shares her Experience with Our Work, and Why Your Support Matters.
Why I Care
Advocating for mental health and promoting positive body image has always been important to me. Before I even considered starting my year of service with the Foundation, I researched unrealistic beauty standards and their influences on how we see people, including ourselves. At work I talk about harmful expectations of our bodies nearly every day, and my growing understanding of the mind-body connection is that it’s interrelated. One affects the other for better or worse. I’ve known this fact for a long time, and now I’m educating others about eating disorders, a mental illness that directly impacts both.
Having learned so much as a Community Educator for the Foundation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how people around me talk about their bodies. I find it empowering when friends open up to me about their own experiences; one because they trust me, and two because sharing stories related to mental illness helps reduce stigma. Hearing stories from strangers elicits further recognition that as a society we have an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies. One of these conversations particularly stands out:
While at a community event, a group of adolescents came up to talk with me. The oldest explained the difficulty of accepting her body’s shape. She told me she would skip meals and constantly exercise. She said her siblings teased her because she wasn’t as thin as them. She couldn’t have been older than 14.
Listening to her struggles evoked two emotions: sadness for what this smart, lovely young girl of color was going through, and gratitude that she chose to share that with me.
Now be honest, were you initially picturing a white girl? She was also wearing a hijab. Does that change your perception of eating disorders? I ask because oftentimes we overlook the fact that eating disorders affect anyone of any age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, and religion.
Eating disorders are prevalent, and they affect two things we live with every day: our minds and our bodies. Caring about mental health means encouraging self-care in others and supporting organizations such as The Emily Program Foundation that enable individuals to do so.
Why Your Support Matters
Half of all people know someone with an eating disorder.
-National Eating Disorder Association
The story I shared above is not an isolated experience. Reports from the National Eating Disorder Association show eating disorders affect at least 70 million individuals worldwide. Almost half of those people are American, including 200,000 Minnesotans. In a MN student survey, we learned that at least 11% of MN high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 52% of adolescent girls along with 23% of adolescent boys experience disordered eating in Minnesota. And eating disorders don’t just affect our children. The fastest growing segment of the population being diagnosed with eating disorders is middle-aged women, and 30% of men in the U.S. have an eating disorder. I could go on about the statistics of individuals being directly impacted by eating disorders, but above all, what summons your support is the fact that half of all people know someone experiencing disordered eating. It’s also important to remember that people suffering from eating disorders oftentimes cannot get better without the support of others. In other words, we are all in this together.
Written by Liz Parroquin
By Katy M.
Why do we ask ourselves so many questions on what we should weigh and what size we should be?
So many people step on the scale daily to see if they’ve lost or gained any weight, asking questions like: What does the scale say? Am I the right weight for my height?
If you think about it logically, the scale doesn’t tell us anything of real value.
It's a number.
A figure that means nothing when it comes to our own worth.
My favourite quote is:
The number on this scale will not tell you what a great person you are, how much your friends and family love you, that you are kind, smart, funny and amazing in ways numbers cannot define. That you have the power to choose your happiness, your own self-worth.
This quote is more accurate than any scale you’ll step on. When I believed in the dreaded scale, I was still unhappy at my lowest number. I was hungry and miserable. Eventually I understood that if you are happy and comfortable in your skin, you do not need to be a certain size because there is NO such thing as “the correct size”.
If you read celebrity magazines, you’ll see they are constantly criticising someone’s figure. This is not how life should be. Life is so much more than what you weigh; it is you as a person!
We are all beautiful with or without that number on a scale. It’s time we all start believing it.
*Trigger Warning: Some of the content shares graphic depictions of experiences regarding Anorexia, using size and body specific language. Please read at the discretion of your own mental health and emotional wellness.*
By Emily P.
For seven years, my ribs were a badge of honor. When they peeked through, I was powerful. As though the wars I fought with my body were worth the pain.
I earned that badge by skipping meals, throwing up, and hiding my food. My stomach flattened and my ribs rose. Sometimes, I imagined them bursting past my skin, and that felt strangely comforting.
I didn’t care that I froze when the air conditioning switched on. I ignored the bulging wads of hair that fell from my scalp. I disregarded my stinking breath and the blurred vision when I stood up. As long as I saw those ribs, I was superb.
But during my second year of college, I slowly morphed out of counting calories and obsessing over portion-sizes. I grew tired of my brain’s daily acrobatics with food, and I changed my focus.
I focused on friendships, creative projects, school, hard work: anything that pushed the eating disorder out of my skull, little by little.
Today, I don’t obsess over that badge anymore. I eat until I’m full, and I’ve learned to mostly love my ever-changing body. But there’s always a meek question that protrudes through my thoughts: Will I ever relapse?
It’s frightening to think about.
I cried the first time my double zero jeans felt tight. My brain set off an internal hurricane when I couldn’t pull them past my thighs. Learning to love my health and myself, that was a strenuous fight. And I don’t want to fall back into my former mindset, to fall back into Anorexia.
But there are moments. Moments when I see a bit of my rib in the mirror and a glimmer of pride emerges.
That’s when awareness snaps over me and I push that pride aside, concentrating on self-love.
I used to view Anorexia as a lightswitch that you could click off. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
But there are moments. And maybe there will always be moments. Moments signaling that the fight’s not over. Moments that morph my ribs back into a badge of honor.
It helps to acknowledge moments like these. Understanding these mental changes and actively thinking about my health, that’s how I cope.
And while people deal with Anorexia in different ways, I wonder if the feeling of uncertainty is universal. As I fight and look past my former badge of honor, I accept that my mentality isn’t black and white. That while I am better, I’ll strive to work through the gray.
To look back on the badge as a distant memory. To develop a new badge of honor: my health.