‘I looked in the mirror. ‘There’s no way I have anorexia. I’m not thin enough.’: Woman recovers from eating disorders, ‘I finally feel at home in my body

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some

“I was in elementary school the first time I realized I had a larger body. I was in about the fourth grade and remember looking over at the girl sitting next to me in class. I had noticed her stomach was flat when she sat down and not round like mine. I looked down at my body and thought, ‘Why don’t I look like her?’ It was a simple question that started the long journey of my complicated relationship with my body.

two young sisters on a chair
Courtesy of Brit Michelle

Approximately a year later was the first time I was told to lose weight. Imagine being a little kid going to the doctor’s office for your check-up and receiving concerned looks after stepping on the scale. That was my life. My mom was told I was too heavy and needed to go on a diet. Looking back, I know this is unethical, but we didn’t know any better at the time. I started attending Weight Watchers meetings and weighing myself regularly. I was learning to count calories before I even made it to middle school.

The dieting continued through my pre-teens and slowly transformed into disordered eating. My life was filled with low-fat foods and Alli weight loss pills. It was all-consuming. However, the turning point came at age 14 when I started attending a competitive dance studio. At this point in my life, I was used to being the biggest dancer in the room but had only attended an inclusive, family-owned studio. The new, competitive dance studio I started attending as a young teen was not this way. I was told regularly by my dance teacher I wouldn’t be a good dancer until I lost weight. By then, I had already had so many restrictions in my diet I thought the only way to lose weight was to not eat at all. So that’s what I did – I stopped eating.

group of dance girls
Courtesy of Brit Michelle

My family realized what was happening quite quickly as I was not hiding my condition from them. I remember going to Hugo’s in Downtown Houston to celebrate my sister’s birthday and refusing to order anything to eat in front of my family. I sat back in my chair with my arms folded while a waiter placed a plate of food in front of me and my family insisting I eat something. I remember staring at the rice that was beautifully plated with apathy, knowing full well I wasn’t going to touch a single grain.

Soon after this dinner, my mom scheduled an appointment for me to see a psychiatrist. I was so angry I ran away from home the day of my appointment so I wouldn’t have to go. When I returned home, after my appointment had been scheduled to start, my mom took me to the doctor’s office anyway. The psychiatrist had agreed to wait to see me. I barely spoke during the session, but she obtained enough information to diagnose me with Anorexia Nervosa.

When we returned home after that appointment, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way I have anorexia, I’m not thin enough.’ The stereotypical image of what someone with anorexia looks like was ingrained in my mind. I quickly learned you can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.

smiling girl
Courtesy of Brit Michelle

I had found recovery from anorexia by the end of high school. I felt confident heading off to college and obtaining a degree without the eating disorder following me. In a way, I was right – the anorexia did not return. However, that’s because it was another eating disorder’s turn. I was about 19 when the signs of Orthorexia Nervosa began. I was obsessed with healthy eating to point of being afraid of certain foods. I remember fearing dairy foods so much I would have anxiety attacks if I found a piece of shredded cheese in my Chipotle bowl. I would refuse birthday cake made specifically for me at my own party. I couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t on my list of approved foods. I was filled with anxiety around food, which affected my ability to socialize with others. I was isolated.

I met my now-husband, Taylor, when I was 20 years old, which was the sickest I’d ever been. I was emaciated and only had energy for thinking about food and completing my required, daily workout. There was so much I missed during those first few years together because of the eating disorder. I can remember football games, going out to dinner with friends, and ice cream dates I said no to so I could meet the needs of the orthorexia. I was consumed again and was having a harder time finding my way out compared to my experience with anorexia.

couple smiling
Courtesy of Brit Michelle

I was stuck in a recovery/relapse cycle with orthorexia for years. Four days after my 23rd birthday, Taylor proposed and I began one of the worst relapses I would experience with orthorexia. The pressure to fit into my wedding dress drove me to extremes. Wedding planning with an eating disorder was heartbreaking. I wanted to enjoy the beautiful moments of planning the event that would start the rest of my life with Taylor. Instead, I was hyper-focused on every bite of food I ate and overexercising using Beachbody programs.

couple on their wedding day
Captive Art Photography

Recovery from that relapse began the first day of our honeymoon. We were in Hawaii and I sat down at breakfast, looking across the table at the love of my life for a few moments. It was then I realized I wanted more. Not just for myself, but for Taylor too. I then headed to the buffet feeling at peace for the first time in a long time.

After our honeymoon, I was committed to orthorexia recovery for the first time. I navigated a few more years of ups and downs in recovery when I finally found freedom from eating disorders after attending a bible study group with my church. At the end of the study, I attend a conference that focused on helping me find healing. All of a sudden, during one of the conference sessions, it was like I had finally opened my eyes to God’s will for me. He wanted me to be free from food’s control over my life. It was then I decided to surrender the eating disorders over to Him. I left the conference room afterwards to get a catered boxed lunch, sat down with my friends, and ate. I usually would’ve inspected the content first and discarded my fear foods. Instead, I ate my whole lunch without a second thought. It wasn’t until after lunch I realized what happened. I remember letting out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding – a breath I had been holding onto for years.

church group at party
Courtesy of Brit Michelle

Ever since that day, eating disorders have not had a hold on my life. I struggle from time-to-time, but the behaviors never stick like they used to. I still need medication and therapy, but my faith is what has truly set me free.

To those of you who are working toward recovery, trust me when I say it’s worth it. It’s not easy, and it’s a daily choice, but I don’t regret recovery for a single day. My life is so much brighter without the shadow the eating disorders once hung over me. I finally feel at home in my body and in this world. Everyone deserves that – including you.”

Captive Art Photography
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