Eating disorders are scary. They are scary because they creep up on you and before you know it you can’t go back. They take control of the body and the mind–they are mind altering even. I look back on the days I suffered from this illness and I remember that I had actually changed as a person. I was mean to my family and friends, I snapped at people for no reason at all and I sunk into such a depression that I didn’t even feel like my life was worth living. I remember sitting in the bath tub the night my parents informed me that they would be sending me away for treatment and sobbing. I was crying because my eating disorder had become my security blanket and my friend and I did NOT want to let go. How dare they try to make me part with this, I thought to myself. How DARE they. I will never give it up, it is the only thing that makes me feel in control and I can’t imagine my life without it.
That was a long time ago, but the memories are still very vivid and clear to me. Before I explain the healing process I should explain the development a bit more. Aside from the fact that growing up I was always a little curvier than my athletic and slender girlfriends, I also grew up as a perfectionist. I wanted everything to be just right–whether it was my grades in school, my relationships with teachers, my music and athletics or anything else for that matter. It was not something my parents made me feel I had to do, it was myself really. I wanted to be the best, or at least close to the best. I never excelled at athletics so I migrated to the arts and music instead. I also put every ounce of my energy into academics in school, eventually earning myself a full academic scholarship to the university of my choice. But there was still one thing that I hadn’t gotten perfect. I didn’t like my body. I came to the conclusion that I would have to change it so I started dieting.
I didn’t start dieting until high school. High school was when I started noticing boys more and only the cute skinny girls dated the hunky guys, or so I told myself. Dieting consisted of a milieu of crash diets–Atkins, South Beach, The “Juice and Protien Bar Diet”, you name it–I tried it. I also tried a plethora of diet pills aka appetite suppressants along the way. Ughhh the havoc I wrecked on my body through those years truly sickens me now. But I was young and clueless. Eventually the dieting led to starvation–extreme starvation. I selected about 5 or 6 extremely low calorie food items and decided that was all I would eat, period. I tried to survive on fruit, diet soda, bran cereal, and an occasional salad. Well it worked! I took my 5’7″ 160 lb. frame down to about 120 lb. in a matter of only about 4 months. Ha! Did people notice? Yeah, people noticed. I felt great about the weight loss, although I didn’t particularly enjoy the attention and all of the comments–but overall guys were starting to notice me more and shopping for clothes was tons of fun! But even though I felt good on the outside I still felt wretched on the inside. I knew I had this deep dark secret and I was hoping and praying no one would ever find out. I was starving myself to look like this.
But the starvation didn’t last forever. Eventually I turned to binge eating, also known as compulsive eating. After a few short months of no food at all I started to go crazy. My neurons were literally bouncing off the walls of my brain and out of control. I would wake up and eat a bowl of bran cereal with soy milk, go to school and have nothing but diet soda and maybe some carrots, then come home cranky, crabby, deprived and hungry. That’s where the compulsive eating took over. Every compulsive eater has different food preferences, oddly enough mine were still fairly healthy–but food in large amounts over a small period of time is never healthy. Stuffing your face until your stomach hurts and you can’t move is never healthy. Eating so much that your only option is to throw some of it up afterwards is NEVER healthy. I binged on frozen yogurt, fruit, cereal, crackers, anything–you name it. I would feel so guilty and disgusting afterwards that I would lock myself in my room and cry. If my stomach hurt badly enough I would throw up…then cry some more. It was a sad, sad, sad time of my life.
Lucky for me my parents caught onto my eating disorder before I did too much damage. I never got lower than 120 lbs. and I didn’t lose my menstrual cycle, corrode my esophagus, cause intestinal damage or bleeding, rot my teeth, lose my hair or fracture any bones (these are just a few of the many eating disorder side effects and symptoms). My check-in at the rehab treatment center reported: slightly below suggested body weight, dehydrated, low cholesterol, low iron, low protein, Vitamin D deficiency and very poor attitude. ha! That was me. Nutrient deficient and defiant as hell. I was one angry bitch. I completed my treatment at Remuda Ranch treatment center from Nov 2001-Jan 2002. The Ranch is located in Wickenburg, Arizona–an astonishing 2,000 miles away from my home, my family, my friends, my high school senior class… my life. I will say this, inpatient treatment for eating disorders is the most effective and beneficial form of recovery, especially for young people. I was FORCED into recovery because I was under 18, but adults can only be admitted voluntarily. Thank the Lord I had not reached my 18th birthday because there was no way I would have entered rehab voluntarily. Remuda Ranch was one of the greatest gift my parents and God have ever given to me.
Recovery is not immediate, it’s a journey. It is a long and rocky road to be honest. Remuda requires a minimum 60 days of inpatient treatment to every patient. I lost 2 months of my senior year of high school. Would I even graduate? What am I going to tell my friends about where I’ve been? What are people going to think of me? Am I going to be laughed at and teased? Are they going to force me to gain back all the weight I’ve lost? What will they make me eat here? How can I possibly get out of here faster to go home? These were just a handful of questions that riddled my mind. For the first 2 weeks I actually lied to every counselor, doctor, nutritionist and nurse–I told them I did not have a problem and I had no clue as to why my parents left me here. HA! Who was I fooling really? I am sure this wasn’t the first time they saw a patient play games. Well the thing about inpatient treatment is that it eventually wears you down. What got to me the most were my observations and interactions with other patients. I saw girls as low as 75 lb. come into my house at Remuda. I watched girls get changed for bed at night and saw their bones! Not just rib bones but hips, pelvis, knees, elbows, collar bones, jaw bones, you name it! It really sickened me but it also saddened me. I saw temper tantrums, cutting, excessive exercising, OCD, anxiety, depression, sadness and everything else that can accompany an eating disorder victim. I didn’t believe I would have ever let myself get that bad, but in reality an eating disorder is an illness–and you can’t control it.
Over the next 60 days I learned the causes, symptoms and triggers of an eating disorder. I learned the tools to deal with the feelings I had and the tools to heal myself. My eating disorder stemmed from my strive towards perfection and my need for control. Once I developed the eating disorder I became good at it, and I didn’t want to let it go. It comforted me, it challenged me, it made me feel like I had something special that nobody else knew about. It was my little secret. But my secret came out and I had to confront and deal with a lot of things– my family for lying to them, my friends for deceiving them, myself for hurting myself and my Lord for not turning to him when I needed him the most.
Through faith and the recovery process I finally began to heal. After 2 months I was sent home and put in an outpatient treatment program, which included a nutritionist and psychologist. I can’t say that recovery was perfect for me, because it wasn’t. The worst part about coming home was feeling like my family would be watching my every single move, and that in itself was daunting and nerve wracking. My suggested body weight was about 130 lbs so I did not have to put on much weight while at the Ranch. But I also knew that my classmates would suspect something was up. I had confided in my closest friends about my treatment but the majority of my classmates thought I took an extended vacation or had a rough battle with mono. I was not ready to tell everybody about my illness and my recovery so I did not say much after my return. I did however use the tools I had learned to continue on the path of recovery. I wanted so badly to be healthy and treat my body kindly. With only a few minor “relapses” I continued on to fully recover from my eating disorder. I graduated high school (on time!), got into my dream college, and the following summer moved onto the university campus in the dorms. College wasn’t easy for me, and as I explained in my journey towards health, I definitely struggled. But I never turned my back on my eating disorder recovery and I never will.
During the process of recovery, I had loads of doctors and counselors tell me that addicts never fully recover. I was told that my illness would follow me around for the rest of my life and I had to constantly be in a recovery mindset to battle it. Here’s the thing… I say they were wrong. I overcame. I conquered. I survived.
** Although my blog contains information on vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as eating disorder recovery, I do not recommend adapting a vegan diet as the sole form of eating disorder recovery. Recovering from an eating disorder involves mental healing along with relinquishing extreme food/diet control. Veganism, because it is not yet mainstream, can be a difficult journey and require extreme control. Although I strongly recommend and believe in a healthy vegan diet, I do not think it is the only way to be healthy, nor do I think it is a proper healing method for eating disorder patients unless paired with proper nutritional and psychological counseling **