Thoughts on the Holiday Season as Someone Who Struggles with an Eating Disorder

***Trigger warning: If talk about eating disorders and body image is a sensitive subject for you, please do not read. The point in me writing this blog post is to shed light on a sensitive subject and hopefully show people that they are not alone in their struggles. I do not want to stir up anything negative in people.***

It’s taken me several attempts to write this. I’m still not entirely sure what to say. I’ve opened and closed this blog post so many times, but I don’t think I will ever truly figure out the best words to say on this topic. So here goes…

A few weeks ago was Thanksgiving – the holiday where eating a ridiculous amount of food is deemed perfectly acceptable. For many, the holiday can even involve multiple days of eating lots and lots of food; I know for my family it does. My parents and I always do our own little Thanksgiving on Tuesday or Wednesday (sometimes both days) where we eat a bunch of stuff from Honey Baked Ham, then on Thursday we spend the day with my dad’s family eating all the typical Thanksgiving foods, and of course after Thanksgiving there are leftovers. There are multiple days where we are eating a lot – multiple days where I am eating a lot. For some, this wouldn’t be a big deal. It IS just one week and it IS a holiday. However, for me, it is a big deal.

I struggle with obsessively counting my calories and restricting what I eat. It began second semester of my freshman year of college. I struggled with it a lot from then on into midway my sophomore year. No one knew. None of my friends, not even my parents…actually, they still don’t know…but if you’ve read some of my other posts then you know that they don’t really see mental health as being something that should be taken seriously. Anyways, it all started with two key triggers that really sent me spiraling:

  1. Comparison. I’ve always struggled with body image, going through periods here and there of genuinely HATING my body. In college, I was suddenly surrounded by so many girls with seemingly perfect bodies. The SEC university/Greek life culture was surrounding me. Although I was not in a sorority myself, I was still surrounded by all the “perfect” girls who fit the “beautiful Southern Belle” mold. They all seemed to have SO MANY friends and were going to so many parties and nights out at the bars. I was not doing any of those things. I was trying to be content with doing my own thing and confidently march to the beat of my own drum, but being content and confident is much easier said than done. It seemed like everyone was prettier, smarter, thinner, fitting in better, making friends easier, etc. I would look around and felt like I was not enough.
  2. Control. I was in season where I felt so very out of control. I went from being an honors student at college prep schools all my life to suddenly just being average in college. The thing is, “average” wouldn’t get me into a super competitive graduate program. “Average” wouldn’t make me standout and have that stellar application. From the very being of my first semester of college, one thing they were ALWAYS telling us was that to have a competitive application for (insert health science professional program here) you had to be the best. You had to make the perfect grades, you had to make the high test scores, you needed to be do observation hours, interning, and conducting research. You needed to do it all, and do it all flawlessly. One thing I quickly realized I could control was how much I did, or didn’t, eat. It became a sort of fucked up competition with myself. How much can I restrict today? I was struggling to succeed in my biomedical sciences classes…if I couldn’t be smart anymore then at least I could be thin. So, somewhere along the way, I began obsessively counting my calories. I’m still not entirely sure of what EXACTLY led to that happening. It was probably several little things over time but still…what made me reach that point?

As I said, this continued until about halfway through my sophomore year of college. As cliche as it sounds, one thing that helped me kind of break out of the obsessive calorie counting was New Years…although I still wasn’t exhibiting healthy behaviors with eating. Like a lot of people, I kind of took on the “new year, new me” attitude and decided that I was just going to eat “clean.” Basically, I started labeling my foods. Instead of obsessively counting calories, I would label foods as “good” (fruits, veggies, grilled chicken) or “bad” (pizza, anything fried, sweets). As long as I was eating something I considered “good,” I was in the clear and didn’t need to obsess. I would allow myself to eat ONE “bad” food per week…only ONE. If I were to exceed that limit of one, then it would turn into a ride on the merry-go-round of shame.

It still wasn’t healthy but in my messed up little mind it seemed logical. I just had to eat the things that were “good.” It was almost like a loophole to avoid calorie counting, but really I just replaced one unhealthy behavior (restricting, obsessive calorie counting) with another unhealthy behavior (labeling my foods).

Last semester was one of the darkest seasons of my life. My anxiety was at one of highest points it has ever been and some other things happened that really sent me spiraling. My anxiety took over and my depression got really bad as well. Eventually, I became too nauseous to eat most of the time, resulting in my weight going down. Watching that number drop became very satisfying for me. Just like freshman year, I was back in a place where I felt so very out of control…and just like freshman year, my weight became the thing I could control. I could control how much I ate, or if I even ate at all. It got out of hand, and it got out of hand fast. 30 pounds. I was down 30 pounds in just a matter of weeks. I went from being a healthy weight of 124 pounds to being 94 pounds, all because I wasn’t eating. I was craving the chance to just be in control of something in my life while everything else felt like it was going to shit.

It was awful. To make it worse, my therapist was threatening to have me hospitalized. I know she had to though. I completely understand that and I am honestly so thankful for her being so straightforward with me; it’s honestly one of the main things that helped to kind of force me out of it. The fear of actually being hospitalized for an eating disorder, the fear of my parents finding out, the fear of what others would think…it was enough for me to force myself to eat no matter how much my mind was trying to tell me otherwise, no matter how nauseous I would get.

Things have been on-and-off since then. I have good days and bad days. I have days where I will happily cook myself something really good and healthy, and thoroughly enjoy making it. I also have days where I eat a lot of not-so-healthy stuff. I’ll eat a bunch of pasta or enjoy some tacos and margs. I also have the days where I don’t eat as much. I restrict; I count the calories. I have the days where I check my weight multiple times. I have days where I am happy with my body, but also days where I genuinely hate myself. It’s a lot of ups and downs, and it’s draining.

One of the big problems now is that I’m still not at a healthy weight. Of the 30 I lost, only 10 of it has been gained…so I’m still 20 pounds down from where I was. I know I need to gain it back, but part of me finds it satisfying to watch the number drop; it’s like I’m doing something right. Part of me doesn’t want to see it go up, but deep down I know it needs to. Deep down I know that I need to gain weight and it will be healthy for me to do so. It’s still hard though.

I’m worried. Christmas is only a couple weeks away and I know it’s going to be the same thing all over again. We are going to be overindulging with meals. I’m going to be eating things I know I shouldn’t be. I always end up gaining a few pounds (5 or less, so it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal) when I visit my parents. I typically lose it pretty quickly when I get back home, but it still stresses me out knowing that I have gained weight and not knowing exactly how much since I don’t have access to a scale. It’s hard to enjoy the holidays and enjoy eating all the food when my mind is telling me to restrict. It’s hard to navigate family gatherings because I don’t want to eat so little that people comment on me not eating. But it’s also difficult because if anyone notices the weight loss, they see it as good. My family sees thin as good and I’ve had people say to me “Have you lost weight? You look good.” Part of me just wants to scream out and tell them because if they knew then they would understand that the weight loss isn’t good or healthy. It’s so hard because part of me wants to let people into my struggles with an eating disorder because I could really use some support and encouragement, but part of me is also too ashamed to do so. I am afraid of what people will think and I am afraid they won’t understand.

I really don’t know how to wrap this up. Honestly, this was therapeutic for me. I have never sat down to write about and reflect on my struggle with my eating disorder through the years, so this has been somewhat freeing for me to just get all of this out.

If you made it this far, thank you. Truly, thank you. I so hope that this was able to help at least one other person. I hope that there is one person out there who read this and can see that they are not alone. You are not alone. We are in this together. I am here for you and as always, I would love to connect and support each other in our journeys. We’ve got this.

With love, J.


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