My disordered relationship with food has been the longest relationship I’ve ever had. We’re going on two decades now. But I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m the one who has more control—most of the time.
It’s been a long journey with a lot of missteps. The good news is, the lows caused by my eating disorder get higher all the time.
After about 20 years of this relationship, I’m ready to share this post, which is a brief history of me, my eating disorders, and this red dress.
Posting this is a big deal.
You can see my lumps and bumps in this red dress that I love but never wear.
It shows off the roundness of my stomach in a way that I always believed I needed to hide especially when wearing an outfit meant to make you feel good about yourself.
My stomach and I have also been at odds for about twenty years. She’s been my side chick as I maintained my LTR with my ED’s.
There’s a reason posting this photo is radical for me.
To explain its significance, let me take you a timeline of my relationship with my ED’s.
6 years old
I was in first grade the first time I realized I wasn’t thin enough.
I had already known that being smaller was better, but it was the first time that I can remember being ashamed of who I was and how I looked.
At this time, in the pre-mass-awareness of eating disorders and what causes them, my brothers and sister had a hard time keeping weight on.
They were thin, so thin and scrawny that my parents tried to fatten them up by giving them Pediasure, extra cookies at snack time, and full-sized Twix bars for my particularly underweight older brother.
I would ask if I could have one, or why they got to have those things when I wasn’t allowed, and my answer was “Well, they need it. They need to gain weight. You don’t.”
When I pushed more about the unfairness of the boys getting what seemed like a pot of gold in the form of a full-sized candy bar—I was told gently that I put weight on too easily, and we had to watch that so I didn’t get too chubby.
It wasn’t the first time I was told I gained weight too easily, and it wouldn’t be the last.
At that time, a statement like that could be considered helpful, protective, and even encouraging. It was never meant to be damaging, destructive, or harmful.
The more we know.
There are memories that stick with you, and I remember standing in the hallway next to our kitchen and feeling ashamed that I even wanted the candy bar and extra cookies. I remember feeling disgusted that I had even asked.
That’s when I started hiding the “extras” that I wasn’t allowed to have.
7 years old
I bullied my older brother.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did, and I’m still sorry for it.
I remember I once pushed him over and stole the untouched “fruit by the foot” from his lunch box during recess one day.
What I didn’t understand was how someone could leave the best part of their lunch uneaten, so I took it, and ate it while my best friend terrorized him with threats to tickle, scratch or kiss him.
When I asked him why he didn’t eat it, he shrugged and said he was full, a concept I already didn’t understand and still struggle to recognize.
8 years old
By 8, I stopped stealing from my brother and moved on to stealing from stores. Guess what I was stealing?
You got it.
Full-sized candy bars.
I’d go to another checkout aisle or crouch low next to my mom as she paid the cashier, and– BLOOP—up my jacket sleeve a candy bar would go. It’d stay hidden until we got home and I’d sneak up to my room to devour my forbidden goods.
I always felt shame and guilt and fear that I’d get caught. The shame and guilt were partly because I was raised Catholic and knew that stealing was wrong, but also because I knew this wasn’t the type of behavior that girls should be taking part in.
I felt ashamed because I continued wanting something that I was told I shouldn’t want and definitely should not have.
9 years old
My stealing stint didn’t last long. I got caught, and sent to confession, so I switched tactics.
I’d tell my parents that I was going on a bike ride, and that was a half-truth because I’d ride my bike a quarter mile up to the old Video World where I’d buy Sour Punch Straws and dime candy.
I’d take my goods back home, and sneak upstairs, and devour the lot as I read “Series of Unfortunate Events”. Those books still make me want Sour Punch Straws.
By 9, I already knew what a calorie was and I remember always thinking—well I could save this candy, or I could eat it all at once. It’s all the same number of calories eventually, right?
10 years old
By ten I knew I needed to lose weight because a kid called me fat while we were waiting in the lunch line.
11 years old
I discovered the Calorie King book that my mom kept on her shelf, it was called “The Calorie King: Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter” and it had a creepy image of a tanned white guy, with a white beard and a crown.
I started memorizing the calories for everything I ate and mentally kept track so that I wouldn’t exceed 1,000 calories a day. 2,000 was standard, so surely half would do the trick.
12 years old
I figured out how to get it down to 700 calories a day by the time I was twelve, and on good days I got it down to 400 without anyone noticing.
At the time, I was playing basketball in the fall, volleyball in the winter, and cross country in the summer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at this time I was introduced to my lifelong companions, depression and anxiety.
13 years old
Bu the time I was 13, I was 5’6” and weighed 85 lbs. I remember seeing that number on the scale and getting excited. I had lost 20 lbs, and people were complimenting me all the time for how skinny my legs were and how tiny my arms were.
My mom told me I looked like a model, but then she’d tell me she was worried about me.
I wasn’t skinnier than some of the other girls I knew, so I wasn’t worried. It felt like I was just getting closer to normal. I wasn’t even close to as thin as my brothers, so what was the big deal?
Parents would tell my mom that they had noticed how thin I had gotten. Every time she told me, it’d send a thrill through me, and it was motivation to keep going.
I was exhausted all the time, my legs were covered in bruises that never seemed to go away, and my hair started to fall out but I was finally “scary thin”—the goal.
14 years old
I got mono and had to stop playing volleyball the year that they went to State. I remember being devastated, but I was more terrified that I’d put on weight from not being active.
During the time that I was forced to take off, by some grace of God, the Universe, the Holy Mackarel, I snapped out of it.
I remember the turning point distinctly. My mom told me if I didn’t start eating I’d never be 6 feet tall. I had never thought of that, and that seemed more important at the time than being thin. After all, if I was tall, I’d automatically be thin.
15 -18 years old
I gained about 30 lbs within a year of abandoning my starvation diet. I was uncomfortable with my new body, and in high school which is the embodiment of uncomfortable.
Despite letting go of my anorexia, I still counted every calorie that went in my body. I kept diet journals and bought tracking tools to make sure I was aware of what I was consuming.
All through high school, I experimented with weird diets.
Sophomore year I tried to eat nothing but sunflower seeds and an apple for lunch. Then I’d go home and eat all the snacks out of my parents’ pantry.
I’d try to eat half of everything I got, but I’d just end up hungry and bingeing on all the food later.
I experimented with fasting, but my concentration levels plummeted.
It was hard though, because any time I engaged in these disordered eating behaviors, I’d get rewarded with compliments.
People would tell me how great I looked, and how they wished they had will power like I did or how they hated me for looking good.
It gave me a complex and a renewed obsession that lasted well into adulthood.
I remember always having a feeling of moral superiority when fasting or going on the seeds and apple diets. My peers and even the adults who knew would just comment on a crazy diet they were on, commiserating with and validating my yo-yo dieting and disordered eating.
It was normal for a teenager to be consumed with counting calories and weighing herself. It was what everyone did. Losing weight for prom, homecoming, summer—it was strange if you weren’t dieting in some way at some point.
That shouldn’t be normal.
19-21 years old
My disordered eating, maladaptive stress coping mechanisms, the shock of college, almost ten years of on again off again restricting and the introduction of alcohol into my life was a recipe for the binge eating disorder that I developed in my early years of college.
I’d spend days trying to restrict, restrict, restrict—and by the time I’d end up home I’d end up ordering and eating enough Chinese food to feed a family of four.
If I spent the evening drinking, as I did on most weekends, it was a habit for me to order a medium-sized Papa John’s pizza and eat it all before passing out in front of the TV.
Using Food as a Way to Not Feel
I remember even in the happiest moments of my life during this time, I would always feel the urge to binge as if my night wasn’t complete until I had indulged. When I lived in Spain, I would visit the bakery or the vending machine by my house almost nightly to get armfuls of baked goods and chocolates to eat until I fell asleep.
It was this compulsion that felt entirely out of my control. Every emotion felt invalidated if I didn’t include food as well. Happy—celebrate with cake. Sad—drown your sorrows in donuts. Excited—quench it with some candy. Hungover—you know what to do.
By the time I graduated, I was almost 200 lbs, and my depression and disordered eating had plummeted to new lows.
22 years old
I moved home after college, and in the second half of 2013, I made a few life-altering decisions. I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of teaching English abroad, and I joined WeightWatchers.
Now. In retrospect, I think deciding to move to China to follow my dream was probably what inspired me to take control back and get my health and mental health in order so that I could stop stuffing my fears and doubts down with Oreos and Ben & Jerrys.
At the time though, it felt like WeightWatchers was the saving grace that made me change my life because I got my health back. I do not in any way endorse WeightWatchers, and am in fact against using said tools/diets/tricks/”lifestyle changes” as I think they perpetuate the beauty myths and diet bullshit that we’ve all been brainwashed by so that corporations can make crap tons of money off our (mostly women’s) insecurities.
But anyway, that’s another soapbox rant for another time.
My Eating Disorders in Disguise
What I didn’t know was that the laser-like focus I had while doing the program was another symptom of my crushing perfectionism. It was my ED rearing its head again, only this time it was wearing the mask of “doing it for my health.”
I was fueled by the compliments and encouragements, and Facebook likes, and exes dropping into my DM’s. The excitement motivated me beyond the warning signs of the building anxiety I felt worrying about the future and what would happen if I—god forbid—fell off the program.
Read “The Truth Behind this Photo”
It tainted so much of what I did.
I stopped going out with friends.
I stopped going to dinners.
I stopped socializing, and I did it under the veil that I was dedicated and determined—not lonely and hungry.
23-24 years old
A tragedy hit me in the hot summer of 2014. From there, my eating disorder took a new form in order to cope with the insanity that became my life.
Not only did I stop socializing outside of work almost completely, but I started exercising for hours every day.
After teaching all day, I’d spent hours running in the humid heat of Wuhan.
I’d get home and continue the workout doing T-25 and Insanity in my apartment.
This was coupled with binge eating in its most extreme form yet.
I remember on my 24th birthday, I visited some of my closest friends in China.
We went out for a nice dinner, and on the way back, I decided to stock up on snacks. I bought them under the guise that it was for all of us to enjoy while we watched a movie.
I bought about three grocery bags filled with cakes, and cookies, and candy. When we got up to their apartment, I proceeded to eat all three bags by myself after my friends decided to go to sleep. Turns out I was the one who wanted the snacks– not my friends. And I sat there on the couch crying because I couldn’t stop, and telling myself that this would be the last time. This would be the end of this bingeing cycle.
This wasn’t an isolated incident.
There were many times when I would remove myself from the fun to go to the store, buy binge food, and eat it all in secret.
I remember a night in Thailand where I left my travel partners after one drink. They tried to convince me to stay out. I hadn’t stayed out once since we’d arrived, but I convinced them I was ready for bed even though what was really happening was I felt a painful urge and intense anxiety that wouldn’t dissipate until I binged.
So, every single night while I was in Thailand, on the way back to my hut, I stopped at one of the many 7/11’s to prep for a secret binge in bed before falling asleep.
It felt completely out of control.
I felt completely out of control.
At that time in my life, the only two things I looked forward to was sleeping and eating despite being on the adventure of a lifetime.
The anxiety I felt then was insurmountable, and again, I focused on numbing it with my drug of choice—bingeing.
When I moved home, I still struggled with binge eating brought on by extreme diets—Whole30, Whole60, juicing, paleo, Keto, etc. They all exacerbated anxiety, and eventually, I forced myself to stop.
25-26 years old
By 25, I discovered this incredible community that called themselves Body Positive. I started reading the literature that I could find. My very first fat activist book “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living” by Jes Baker launched me into recovery in a way that I had never experienced. At the same time I bought a “Recover from Binge Eating” therapy course that I describe in another post.
This opened up a whole new world for me.
I started believing I could love my body in the before picture. That I didn’t have to starve myself or punish myself to be loveable.
It brought to light just how completely messed up diet culture is. It made me realize I don’t have to hate myself. Being soft is okay. It’s also okay to love and embrace yourself exactly as you are. Exactly as I am.
I don’t binge in the way I did in college and during my hardest year in China. I still struggle with desires to binge and desires to restrict. But lately, I’ve gotten better at stopping the thoughts before they take over.
I’m figuring out how to ditch all of what I’ve been taught to believe is normal for girls to believe. Dieting is NOT a worthy cause. A life goal of losing 20 lbs is NOT worth fighting for. I AM lovable even if I’m not a size six. And if I’m not a size six? I don’t have to do EVERYTHING in my power to get to that.
But this post is getting long, so back to the photos in the red dress.
Why is this a big deal for me?
Because I wore that dress with the roundness of my belly showing, the divots of my love handles. There is EVEN THE INDENT WHERE MY BELLY BUTTON IS.
I can hear the voices that the tell me I’m fat. I hear it when it says my bumps and love-handles are too gross or lumpy to wear that dress. And I can respond by saying fuck it.
Even if it takes a lot of pumping up to do, wearing this dress is one step in the direction that I want to go.
I want to stop caring so much about how my body looks. I don’t want to care if my rolls are showing or if people can tell that I’m a c-h-u-b-b-y woman. Wearing what society tell you that you shouldn’t because you’re just too much is radical.
Fight me on it. I dare you.
I’m writing this post because 6-year olds shouldn’t ever feel like they’re too fat to be loved or accepted.
Nine-year-olds shouldn’t know what calories are, and 10-year olds shouldn’t be obsessed with losing weight.
Women should wear whatever the hell they want regardless of whether or not you approve.
I’m writing this post because our size and shape shouldn’t stop us from wearing that bomb-ass red dress you’ve been dying to wear for months.
Still Figuring it Out
I’m still figuring it out and getting comfortable with the body that coincides with a mentally healthy version of myself, but this dress, as vain and frivolous it may seem, is a step in the right direction.
Showing myself compassion takes work. Sometimes, when I’m being extra hard on myself, I try to think about what I’d want my imagined daughter or niece to know and feel.
I wouldn’t want her to think she wasn’t perfect as she was, no matter what size. I’d never want her to hear me bashing my own body that may resemble hers. I wouldn’t want her to hear me fat shame or bash on other women, fat, skinny, standard, chubby or otherwise.
Instead, I would tell her to wear the damn dress and to be utterly unruly. Ultimately the only person whose opinion matters is the person who’s wearing the dress.