As a junior in high school, the mental and physical battle of anorexia whittled me down below 100 pounds for quite some time. I eventually hit an all-time low (literally) at 94 pounds. Thankfully, after almost a decade of ups and downs with one of the most deadly eating disorders, I was able to flip a switch and get back to a healthy weight. During the process, I gained some much-needed lbs and some much-needed perspective.
My biggest lessons learned:
- Strong trumps skinny. Every. Single. Time.
As much as fashion designers and Hollywood might like you to believe the contrary, being thin does not automatically mean being happy. In fact, I never felt more weak and afraid than I did when I was wearing a 00 (or shopping in the girls' section). It was almost as if I was trying to shrink myself away into something that took up as little space—and presence—as possible.
- You don't need to fear food.
I had a very strict list of "good," or safe, and "bad," or fattening, foods that I trusted like my Eating Disorders Bible. Fruit, soup and salads? Sure. Steaks, doughnuts and fries? Hell no. Such a black-and-white mentality made it nearly impossible to enjoy a meal, and every dining occasion just involved me keeping a running tally of the calorie count in my head. Food can be both fuel and something that is purely enjoyable and fun to share with others. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with the that.
- It's freaking freezing.
Save this one for trivia night: Lanugo, a layer of fine hair, generally is reserved for newborns who don't have enough layers internally to keep them warm. But adults with the same issue sprout that same hair, resulting in a strange extra fuzzy "blanket" that tries to catch the body's heat and keep it close. Still, I wore sweatshirts on sweatshirts to try to stay warm. And to hide my bony frame.
- Oh yeah, and everything hurt.
I took the ACT exam during the year I was most sick, and I had to bring a pillow to sit on for the three-hour test period because my bony butt would ache on the wooden chairs. Joints creaked, bones protruded so much it was difficult to even get comfortable enough to sleep. Plus, every button on a piece of clothing would cause a bruise. Hence my multi-year love affair with activewear (not to mention the fact that it made my healthy gains less daunting than buying multiple sizes of jeans).
- Starving makes you selfish.
You've studied Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? If not, here's the CliffsNotes version: It's a psychological concept that says one must satisfy his or her physiological and safety needs before focusing on other things like a social life, confidence, and true self-worth. This concept rings true with all kinds of eating disorders. When my body was fighting against starvation, I had little energy for things like politely responding to my parents' questions (sorry, Mom and Dad) or thinking about much else besides counting calories. Not exactly the happiest existence.
- Exercise is about so much more than negating what you eat.
When I was on my downward spiral, working out was as much of a numbers game as eating. What exercises can I do that burn the most calories in the least time? Screw muscle-building. Fry that flab. With the help of a psychologist (and lots of time), I was able to reframe that perspective to focus on becoming more powerful instead of more petite. As a result, I studied to become a personal trainer and group fitness instructor to preach the gospel of moderation and balance at the gym.
- Your body needs fat to work as a well-oiled machine.
Super-dry skin. Brittle bones. Risk for heart attacks. Depression. MIA hormones and periods. Without enough fat, your body is a wreck internally and externally—and you can do some real long-term damage in a short amount of time when you're below a healthy body mass index. (Check yours here.) While it was stressful to watch my curves come back, I'd take a butt any day over a broken bone.
- Everything tastes as good as (actually, better than) skinny feels.
Food is delicious. I mean, can we talk about these s'mores cookie bars?! (Those are only part of the reason why my New Year's resolution is to eat more dessert.) Trying to force your body to be skinnier than it's meant to be hurts. It's exhausting. It's isolating. I'd much rather count all the new foods I try than calories. On that quest, I've discovered health-boosting foods that also taste incredible (but would clearly have been on my no-no list) like salmon, avocados, and whole eggs.