*Disclaimer: the following contains references to calorie counting and restrictive behavior and may be triggering to some*
To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure how to begin the story of my struggle with anorexia & orthorexia. Mainly because it’s difficult to pin-point when my mindset switched from the “average” thoughts of inadequacy brewed by a society filled with seemingly perfect people, to a dangerous eating disorder. Rather than lay it out for you chronologically, please allow me to explain with a few milestones
A New Chapter] September 2013:
I become a freshman at The University of Arizona. To say it was my “dream school” is an understatement. In my senior year of high school while most of my peers were slacking off “senioritis” style, I was hammering through AP classes in order to obtain a scholarship hefty enough to foot the out-of-state tuition. My junior/senior years of high school were spent in therapy and most of the time in a state of anxiety over things I realize now to be insignificant. I got through it by dreaming of days spent pool-partyin’ at U of A and nights divided between laughs with my sorority sisters and dates with my future husband who I was SURE I’d meet there (LOL). I placed U of A on one hell of a pedestal, and when I realized the reality was just that, reality, and not the fantasy world I concocted, I had to find a way to cope.
“Coping”] December 2013 – May 2014:In a campus full of girls with sexy, slim stomachs, carefully curled hair, and infinite Instagram likes, I started to feel awful about myself. I made it into the top sorority I wanted, but boys didn’t gravitate towards me like they did to my sisters. I wasn’t making friends left and right like I had expected to. I was homesick for anything that felt comfortable. I see now that feeling so out of control in an environment which I expected to be very very different is what lead me to take control over the one thing I knew I could: my intake. Terrified of gaining the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen”which in my mind would distance me even further from the model-esque girls I was competing with, I began developing restrictive habits. A smoothie made with just carrots, banana, and almond milk for lunch as my sorority sisters crunched on the chef’s special grilled cheese blend, “refueling” after a tough workout with a salad consisting of lettuce, tomatoes, and no more than a tablespoon of feta cheese – no dressing, never dressing. You get the picture. By the end of my freshman year I was three pounds lighter than when I left for college.Three pounds is nothing to be alarmed about, especially considering I wasn’t underweight before. In fact for most of my freshman year I was pretty happy once I got over the initial homesickness. I was sad to return home and even had a date calculator on my phone counting the days until I’d move into my sorority house for the first time.
Hooters & Healthyezsweet] May 2014 – August 2014:
It pains me to say it, but the birth of my Instagram account, which now inspires balance, intuitive eating, and self love above all else, was probably the real birth of anorexia & orthorexia for me. Orthorexia is different from other eating disorders because it is not strictly restricting nor does it always involve binging and purging. Orthorexia is a phobia of foods that are not straightforwardly “clean” or “healthy/wholesome”. Orthorexia looks at a pop tart and picks out the sugar content, the fat, the “bad carbs”, and then hands you a handful of baby carrots as a “healthy alternative”. Orthorexia is a bitch because you feel (or at least I felt) like I was being incredibly health-minded. And so did everybody around me. I spent all summer creating “low calorie” breakfast brownies, green smoothies under 200 calories, and sooo many bowls of oatmeal that earned me incredible praise in the IG community. I boasted with each creation the measly 250-350 calories each “meal” contained as if I were helping people by introducing them to ways to eat less. I am still carrying guilt over the who I may have triggered or negatively influenced during this period. I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.
During this summer I also began working at Hooters. and as much as I loved it, I was constantly trying to feel slimmer in my tight top and booty shorts. That couldn’t have helped the restrictive habits I was forming. And well, it didn’t because by the time the summer had ended two very significant things had changed. 1) I had lost a whopping thirteen pounds and was now considered underweight 2) With each dwindling day of summer I became more and more sure that I did not want to return to U of A.
Aggressive Anorexia & Isolation] September 2014 – December 2014:
Four months. Although having typed it myself I had to reread that timespan because I genuinely can’t believe this period only lasted four months. It felt like four years. It felt miserable. Let me explain. I moved into the sorority house I once dreamed of for “work week” AKA the week of preparation to invite a new pledge class of freshmen into our sisterhood. For those of you not familiar with Greek life, it’s basically a week of nonstop singing, bouncing, and organizing from 6 A.M. – 8 P.M. I’ve never felt ANYTHING like the anxiety I felt approaching that week…When will I get my workouts in? What if the meals the chef cooks (which would be the only ones available that week before campus actually opens) aren’t healthy? It seems so silly now and writing it I find it difficult to convey the venomous force of these thoughts. For that week I refused to eat with my sisters during meal breaks. I would visit the buffet then bring two plates to my room: one with food and one for measuring out portions I “was allowed” to eat in order to maintain my MyFitnessPal stats. I would take a picture for Instagram, then wash my measuring cup set in the bathroom as inconspicuously as possible so I didn’t have to face the other girls’ questions. At the time I mistook their concern for judgement and I feel remorse for the relationships I severed.
This practice continued for the four months following work week as well. I ate a total of zero meals in the dining room. Z-E-R-O. I opted out of 99 percent of sorority/fraternity socials and late night parties partly for fear of the calories in alcohol and partly because I knew I wasn’t eating nearly enough calories to prevent me from getting drunk off of one shot. I turned up my nose at almost every meal the chef prepared like his hand-rolled sushi, Swiss chicken entrees, and opted for microwaveable egg whites and proyo instead. The few things the chef prepared that I would eat included plain chicken breast and roasted veggies which still I wouldn’t touch until all of the oil had been blotted off. I was suffering embarrassing, sulfuric gas, noticeable bloating, and unidentifiable stomach pains – which resulted in me passing out at work and being rushed to the emergency room five months later -as a result of all the protein powders, protein bars, and processed low-calorie foods (rice cake & laughing cow lovers I’m lookin at you) which consisted of the majority of my “nutrition”. I went to bed every night feeling light-headed. It took me hours sometimes to fall asleep because I couldn’t find a sleeping position that didn’t cause my bones to poke out and bruise me. The morning I stepped on the scale and saw 104 lbs, the lowest I’ve ever been at 5″4, I knew I was sick. I could no longer label it as “restrictive tendencies”. I was anorexic, orthorexic, underweight, and I needed help. I called my mom and spent an hour on the phone with her confessing everything. I was in the process of transferring back to California, but my semester wouldn’t end until December and my mom feared I wouldn’t gain weight if left alone in my current situation. She did everything she could to assist me from afar which included mandating that I make every meal at least 600 calories and send her pictures of each. On one night during my first attempts in recovery I sent her a picture of the salad I’d made myself for dinner. I was already uneasy because in an effort to challenge myself I added corn and two whole hard-boiled eggs. When my mom demanded I pour at least two tablespoons of ranch dressing on top, I had to sit down in my room and hug my knees to keep from having a panic attack. I considered lying to her and then throwing the salad away after adding the ranch, but found a strength somewhere to try and be the daughter she raised. I cried the whole time, but I ate every bite.
Who I am Today] December 2014 – current:
Finally my semester at U of A ended and I returned home mid-December having raised my weight from 104 to 110 lbs. I was proud of my weight gain, but mentally I was nowhere near recovered. I stopped counting calories on MyFitnessPal but after restricting for so long, was able to mentally track in my head and it was making me crazy. Little by little I have trained myself to consciously NOT think about the calories in a food even if I knew them. I forced myself to stop following a strict workout regimen and listen to my body in order to decide what type of exercise to do that day. I’ll admit I never stopped exercising during my recovery and that’s mainly because while I was trapped in Arizona, my gym time was the only thing that made me feel happy. It kept me sane. Still, even today I recognize I still have work to do in terms of separating myself from exercise addiction. The trouble I face today is trying to differentiate between thoughts motivated by ED and those motivated by self love. I am passionate about healthy eating, about weight lifting, and especially about Blogilates– the only workout program to encourage body positivity and still bring incredible results in a fun, playful way. I never want to eliminate these things completely from my life, but I need to relearn how to practice them without associating them with disordered thinking. The woman I am today, at 117 (edit: 126) pounds, is the happiest and the healthiest I’ve ever been and I will only continue to challenge myself both mentally and physically. I no longer fear “unclean” foods and I no longer avoid eating things that make me happy. ED rules about when to eat and how much no longer dictate the way I live my life. And my passion for healthy eating, exercise. etc no longer casts a shadow over the things in my life which I consider more important like family, friends, my education, and ice cream. Ice cream is definitely up there on my list of love.
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