If you take a quick scroll through this post, the photos scattered throughout will take you through the Memory Lane of my life, from ages 12-23. But what do they all have in common? Come on, I want you to try and figure it out.
The truth is, I was battling an eating disorder in every single one of these pictures.
Honestly, there never is (and probably never will be) a “right” time to talk about this topic, so I’m just going to tell it like it is: I struggled with bulimia nervosa for almost ten years. And it could have taken my life.
In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’ve partnered up with the National Eating Disorders Association to share my story. According to NEDA, 5.2% of 12-year-old girls and 13.2% of women under the age of 20 meet the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorders – this hits me very close to home because I was only 12 years old when I became affected with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Growing up, I was the chubbiest out of the bunch. My friends were stick-thin and ate very little, whereas in my household I was forced to finish everything on my plate. As one would expect, I had more baby fat than most kids my age.
My friends never made fun of me, but their parents did. Every time I would see them after a few months, they would often create seemingly innocent conversations about my body that sounded something like this:
“Oh, you’re so fat now! What happened to you?”
“You used to be so cute before, look at you now!”
“Look at how big your butt is!”
At home, these criticisms were a lot more frequent and less light-hearted. My mom would often make remarks about how ugly my stretch marks were on my inner thighs or that I needed bigger jeans because my stomach was spilling over them. Brutal and unwarranted comments about my body were normalized by my elders, so I was conditioned to accept them whether I liked it or not.
This casual criticism turned me into an antisocial kid. I had issues with making friends at school and often isolated myself from girls who I thought were prettier or skinnier than me.
During my first day of P.E. class in middle school, I was nervous about changing in front of other girls outside of my family. Out of curiosity, I stole quick glances of other girls as they were changing and noticed many things: they were much thinner than me, some already had boobs, and some wore underwire bras and thongs, completely opposite of my underdeveloped body in a cotton sports bra and cheap Wal-mart panties.
My self-consciousness took such a strong hold on me that I started to model my lunches after these girls at school. Many of them would have an apple, while others only had a sandwich. When I compared my cafeteria lunch of pizza and cookies to the other girls, I concluded that my diet was the culprit of my weight.
At 12 years old, I took what felt like the appropriate measures to tweak my diet: day by day, I ate less and less. I was hungry all the time, but my pants were fitting a lot more loosely, and I felt a little bit better about myself.
I eventually made friends with girls who looked just like me, but they started to question my odd lunch routine. I grew insecure about my strange eating habits, so I went back to my old lunch consisting of pizza and cookies to fit in with my friends. I got so comfortable with this routine that I began eating more and more both at home and at school, and of course, this led to me gaining a lot of weight.
One day at lunch I had eaten one too much and suddenly felt an unyielding guilt. I excused myself from my friends’ table, went to the quietest campus bathroom, and checked every stall to see if anyone was there. When it was clear, I locked myself in a stall, got down to my bare knees on the dirty floor, and forced myself to throw up. This was when my “diet” began.
In the beginning, I told myself I had control of it: I only threw up my lunches only at school and nowhere else, but eventually I started throwing up at home too. First, I only did it on rare occasions when I was home alone because privacy was limited, but when my older sisters moved out it quickly became a ritual.
High school came, and I finally got a boyfriend. Being with a boy in an intimate way made me self-conscious at first, but he showered me with so much praise that I started to crave more of that attention. I then became obsessed with maintaining my weight.
A rigorous diet plan was implemented, and after 3 months the weight fell off. My self-confidence blossomed. I became that girl I finally envied. I was finally normal. But that wasn’t good enough for me. All too quickly, I became dissatisfied with my pant size and wanted to be smaller.
On top of my diet, I started getting on the treadmill at home. This would have been fine if it was 30 minutes a day or something similar, but I forced myself to stay on the treadmill for hours every day. It wasn’t normal.
Suddenly, my weight loss hit a stall. I grew frustrated and my school performance suffered as a result: I was distracted, constantly worrying, and could never master the balance of eating too little or too much. Some days I wouldn’t eat at all, and other days I would eat everything I could set my eyes on. As a result, I would throw up.
Throwing up became an everyday occurrence. Then it progressed to several times a day. I knew this wasn’t normal and that I would eventually face some serious consequences, so I told the only person I trusted: my boyfriend.
My boyfriend strongly recommended that I seek professional help, but I immediately became defensive of my secret and told him that it wasn’t a big deal. I told him I didn’t do it often and that I could “quit” if I wanted to. I didn’t want my parents, my friends, or anybody else to know.
I anointed my boyfriend as the protector of my secret and someone that could keep an eye on me: he promised to make sure that I wouldn’t spiral out of control. This didn’t turn out as planned.
Once, he caught me when I took too long in his bathroom because I threw up in the sink. When I tried to flush it down with water the sink clogged up, so I had to scoop my own throw-up with my hands and toss it into the toilet, which took about 20 minutes. When I finally left the bathroom he confronted me about it but I denied it, saying my stomach was hurting and that I was sitting on the toilet. We never spoke about it ever again.
Because he was aware of my actions, I became even more elusive about covering up my tracks that I stopped throwing up and resorted to other methods of purging like exercising too much or even taking laxatives, all of which made me suffer severe side effects. I was always weak, dizzy, or in pain.
Although I was doing all of these things to purge, I never lost weight, and it frustrated me even further – was I doomed to be like this forever? Why couldn’t I just be happy?
Years passed, and into college, I carried my bad habits with me. As a result, I became even more isolated. I only had my boyfriend, but it wasn’t enough. I still felt empty.
Our relationship became toxic: we had many explosive fights that became a major source of anxiety for me and I started to develop panic attacks as a result. Most often, the fights would end with him storming out and me sticking my head in a toilet to throw up to numb the pain. On the following days, I refused to eat or drink and slept through the entire day so I wouldn’t be conscious to feel angry or sad.
I became severely depressed, and my bulimia worsened to the point where eventually I started seeing blood in my throw up. I also noticed something even more horrifying happen: my heart started to skip beats. It was frequent for my heart to race after throwing up, but then it continued to race long afterward. For the rest of the evening, I felt my pulse grow alarmingly irregular.
Over time, I grew extremely weak and fatigued: I felt like sleeping all the time, and even when laying down my heart would skip. I still chose to ignore it, but on those days I wouldn’t be physically strong enough to even crawl out of bed.
When I was 20, I was having a binge episode well past midnight and my mom randomly walked into the kitchen to ask me why I was up so late. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the forehead and then said nothing else except, “I love you.” Just like that, I was unraveled.
After she left, I scrambled to the bathroom and threw up everything I could. I couldn’t do this anymore. I needed to tell my mom.
My mom heard me sobbing back in my bedroom, so she came in and asked me what was wrong. That’s when I told her the hardest thing I’ve probably ever had to say in my life: “Mom, I need help.”
Later that week, I took my mom and dad with me to the hospital and got an official diagnosis.
I explicitly remember the moment where my doctor explained that if my sickness progressed I could start facing severe complications like “cardiac arrhythmia,” a condition in which the heart has an abnormal heart rhythm. When the heart becomes weak or damaged, arrhythmias can result in heart failure and cardiovascular collapse. If it became critical, I would need to be hospitalized.
When I heard her say that, a chill went through my spine: that was exactly what was happening to me.
Knowing I could die in my sleep from heart failure was probably the scariest thing I’d ever heard. But at that moment, something inside clicked: I was actually afraid to die. This fear meant that deep down I still valued myself and my life. And so that day, I made the decision to get better. I made the decision to fight for my life.
At first, I struggled with being honest with others about my problem because it was terrifying to reveal my biggest secret to the people who were closest to me. I didn’t want to be judged. However, there was a sort of peace I felt when I audibly said, “I have an eating disorder.”
Oftentimes, friends and even family didn’t react the way I expected them to. And let’s face it: my family and friends may have meant well, but they weren’t equipped nor knowledgeable enough to give me the tools and advice I needed to recover. So I sought out options outside of my family and friends.
I started seeing a therapist, who educated me about both the physical and psychological side effects of bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Learning more about my condition and how it affected my thoughts and emotions became an eye-opening experience. I then realized that in order to get better, it was important for me to replace my negative thoughts and beliefs about myself with positive ones.
My therapist also helped me come up with an action plan. For me, my first step was going grocery shopping with my parents and picking healthier foods and then learning how to cook delicious and healthy meals at home.
Being in the kitchen taught me one thing: food did not control me. I knew how to cook it, and what to put into my body to nourish it, so my healthier choices did not leave me guilty.
Regular check-ups with my doctor had confirmed that because of my years of binging and purging, I also had major digestive issues, which prevented me from properly breaking down red meats and richer foods. I suffered from severe gas, bloating, and days to even weeks of not having a single bowel movement. I had to temporarily change my diet to give my body time to readjust back to normal functions.
After several months, I was starting to feel normal; something I didn’t ever feel before. And I was so proud of myself because I did this on my own!
On the days I would get anxious, I decided to do something physically engaging that I enjoyed: dancing. I wasn’t very good at it, but I knew that before I was always so self-conscious to dance in front of anybody because I worried about how I looked. So I brought a full-length mirror to the garage, played my favorite music loud, and had private dance parties every day. No matter how silly I looked, I would have a good time, and by looking in the mirror I realized what my body looked like didn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would – it was how big the smile on my face was that made me never want to look away from that mirror.
I thought the hardest part would be reestablishing a healthy relationship with food and appreciating my fully functional, healthy body, but it actually wasn’t: the toughest battle was always wrestling with my negative feelings and unhealthy thoughts. My positivity wasn’t always at its peak, and I had several relapses as a result.
Each relapse felt debilitating, but there was pattern with each one: my relapses were triggered by specific people or situations that were causing a massive amount of chronic stress. Through regular visits with my therapist, I gained more tools and methods to cope with my stressors or distance myself from them.
It’s been almost 3 long and healthy years since my last relapse, and now I can say with confidence that my eating disorder is finally a thing of the past. I’ve realized that my negative perspective on myself was due to allowing toxic people into my life and validating my self-worth based on their opinions of me. The other half was allowing their beliefs to become my own, and from there, I set ridiculously high standards of myself and would punish myself as a result of not being perfect.
I know life can sometimes be painful, and at times you may wish nothing more than to feel nothing, but coping with self-destructive habits and punishing yourself to the point of numbness can yield irreversible and sometimes fatal side effects. At what cost are you willing to numb yourself that you’re willing to trade your life for it?
Happiness takes work. And for so long, I was terrified because the road to recovery seemed so neverending that I would die trying to get to the other side. But even then, just know that there are people like me who finally got better because we never gave up on ourselves and never stopped fighting for our happiness.
If you feel like you may be suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, then don’t hesitate to seek professional help. I refused to seek help for so long because I felt that admitting I had a problem was also admitting that I had no control. But that’s okay. Nobody is perfect. You should not fault yourself for being human.
The NEDA website has a variety of resources for you to guide you through your journey to recovery, starting with the Eating Disorders Screening Tool. Also be sure to check out the Warning Signs & Symptoms of an Eating Disorder.
Seeking help is also much easier than you think. If you’re not sure where to start, you can contact the NEDA helpline via phone, email, or even chat. You can also find eating disorder treatment in your area in just a few clicks.
If you feel that someone you know may be dealing with an eating disorder, please check out NEDA’s tips on How to Help a Loved One.
I debated on sharing my story for years because I didn’t feel that my voice would be heard, but I’m ending that cycle of self-doubt right now. If sharing the darkest moments of my life will help even just one person out there, then my job here is done.
So if you’re reading this, I wrote this just for you. You are worth it. Now you just have to believe that you are too.
If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please visit the NEDA website for more resources and ways you can find help.
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