Im going to share with you a very personal story, not a lot of people have heard this story, in fact probably none have heard it ever in full, so here it goes. Not even my family and close friends, because I have always been scared of being judged, until now. To family and friends please don’t be offended that I never told you about this sooner. Im putting myself out there now, hoping it may help others and shed some light.
In my studies of holistic nutrition the topic of eating disorders has come up a number of times. There is a large stereotype and misconception with eating disorders. For example, in my sport nutrition text book the section on eating disorders in athletes is in the Female athlete section…
I will stop there and now begin my personal experience with disorder eating, or whatever you want to label it…
So my unhealthy obsession with food and exercise began in grade 6. I was very active, played basketball, danced, and ran in track and cross country and was going through a growth spurt (about the same height I am now). Being in puberty and being young I had a lot in my head, and one of those was my ideal body image. I had no problem with my tummy (it was very flat already) or arms, what I wanted was thinner thighs, and essentially I wanted a thigh gap.
I taught myself how to read and understand food labels and that’s when the problem started. I used to simply eat whatever I wanted when I was hungry, and my parents were good about keeping nutritious, healthy food in the house. I began to obsess over the amount of fat or calories in foods, I would rarely eat pizza, chocolate, other junk foods my friends ate in fear of gaining weight. If I did happen to eat more or eat something I didn’t think I should have, I would make up for it by doing exercise, usually via going for a run. I also started weighing myself… every day. I started having berries, granola and non fat yogurt for breakfast and wouldn’t bring any lunch to school except an apple and granola bar. My only nutritious meal was dinner, which my mom would cook. I started losing weight pretty quickly, because I was so active, and clearly I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed.
The thigh gap started to show but I wanted to be even thinner still. Clearly because I was athletic I had quite a bit of leg muscle which I did not think about at the time, I just wanted lose fat and get super skinny thighs.
I had only recently started getting my monthly female reminder, and pretty soon after my period had started, it stopped. At first I didn’t care/ I was excited because who wants to get their period! Little did I know this was a red light that I was underweight and had such low body fat my body was not producing the amount hormones it should have been anymore: Amenorrhoea is the name for this condition. This can cause lower than normal bone density, and increase the risk for stress factures (which I did not know at the time).
I was more active than I had ever been. I think it was around grade 7 when I started to get knee pain during and after running, which I did a lot of! This frustrated me because I couldn’t do as much exercise as I wanted! This started to affect my performance in sports, dance, and gym class. I never saw a physio or anything for it because I just wanted to stay active and was afraid of having to rest it, and I didn’t think it was a big deal. I started also doing some pilates videos at home when I couldn’t run. ( I am not saying that my eating disorder caused my knee problem, but I think it was one of the main reasons it started, along with my high activity level and lack of adequate rest).
The obsession with food became worse when I felt good feeling hungry. Feeling hungry and having an empty stomach was an accomplishment for me, and I would often skip breakfast and lunch. Never mind having low blood sugar, I felt good about being starved.
Obviously because I was curious about weight loss and health I started reading books and magazines on the topic, I remember reading somewhere that when women have such a low body fat percentage it can actually be unhealthy and one of the main signs is that they lose their period/ stop menstruating. At first I just thought it was just because I’m so active and young, no big deal right? Wrong.
At my lowest I think I weighed 95-97 lbs, which may not seem very low, but I am the same height now, with a little more muscle mind you, and weigh 130 lbs.
Whats strange is I never looked like the typical girls you see in pictures in articles about eating disorders, I looked like your typical pre-teen, skinny, athletic girl. Although my nick name at school was skeletor, my thinness never alarmed anyone, because it didn’t look like those pictures or girls with supposed “eating disorders”.
I began to slowly realize I had a problem, and it wasn’t healthy to continue. I was deprived.
It took awhile to start eating normally again without being paranoid about the calories or fat in food. But I did this all without telling anyone, by myself. I think it was the summer of grade 8 that I got my period back and was a healthy weight again. It was in grade 8 also that I cut out dairy because it gave me stomach aches and gas.
So now, when I hear people talking about others and saying “Oh she must have an eating disorder she’s so skinny!” it makes me mad. Im not sure why, maybe its because no one thought I had an eating disorder when I did, and the fact that people are judging others, without knowing them at all.
I have learnt a lot from this experience, and it is one of the things that lead me into my passion for health, nutrition, and fitness. From an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise I now have a healthy balance of the two.
By sharing this I am not looking for sympathy, because I don’t need or want that, what I am hoping is that we will stop judging others based on their body composition. And know that not all people with an eating disorder or disordered eating are extremely thin like the models we see in fashion magazines. And that eating disorders don’t only affect women, they affect men too. Guys are equally as self conscious as girls about their bodies, but they don’t show it the way we do. One of the things I never did was complain to others about how I wanted to lose weight, I just did it. I was stubborn. I think that may be why no one ever thought I had an eating disorder, because I didn’t complain about my body to friends or family.
I guess my point is that everyone is different, and if you think a loved one may be dealing with an eating disorder or have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, approach them and don’t assume anything, and please don’t go telling others what you think and spreading gossip.
And to all the girls out there who think they want a thigh gap or want to be super thin, please focus on your health. By being active and eating healthy we can look our best and be a healthy weight, and not look like some unrealistic version of skinny whose thighs have been trimmed down with a photo editing software. Everyone always tells us those photos are edited, but I think we keep forgetting.
The road to loving yourself is a long and windy one but it is oh so important that we find peace with our bodies and strive to treat them well by being healthy: eating well, being active, and feeling good.
If you read this all, thank you.