*The numbers I discuss within this post are not meant to be ED triggers. If you are someone who is sensitive to reading about someone else’s weight and body fat (even though this is about stuff that happened a while ago), please don’t read the rest of this post. If you choose to read this and comment, please be respectful. Thank you.
If you saw my “things I hate” post, you saw that I hate, among other things, eating disorders. I hope that you can easily see why. They wreck people. For life.
I’ve been putting off this post for a while. It’s just been sitting in draft status, waiting to be published. I’m not sure why I am choosing now to share it with you, but I am. I think that I need to give you some background to help you understand . . . well, me.
I can remember being young – maybe 8 or 9 years old – and getting ready to go to the pool. We rarely went, but when I did, I always had a t-shirt on. Always . . . even in the pool. In dance class, I always had on baggy shirts over my leotards. (I went to a recreational, not pre-professional, school.) If I look back at pictures of myself from this age, I cannot understand why I did this. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t skinny, but I wasn’t fat even by a long shot.
This continued. My self-esteem kept falling lower and lower. I didn’t have boys calling me, and I didn’t have “boyfriends” like so many of the other girls did in middle/junior high school. The guys that did express interest were sooooooo not my type. Not at all.
When a guy finally did express interest in me and I felt something in return, I began dating him (in 10th grade). I ended up marrying him 2 months after I graduated high school. Even on our wedding day, he did not compliment me. If there is one day that you tell a woman she’s beautiful, it’s on her wedding day. In our 8 1/2 years of marriage, I honestly don’t remember him complimenting me when I wasn’t telling him how sad I was about how I look or that he never complimented me.**
When we married, I was probably around 130 lbs with what I assume was a fairly high percentage of body fat (since I ate a poor diet and didn’t exercise, and look puffy in my pictures). My then husband was maybe 145 lbs soaking wet with bricks in his pockets, and looked pretty darned thin. We immediately moved to the middle-of-nowhere Georgia. The town only really existed because of the college and the gorgeous waterfall around which the campus was built. We had the college, a Walmart, an Applebees, a small coffee shop, 3 grocery stores of various degrees of quality, a few gas stations, a couple of banks, a Cato’s and a Shoney’s. That was really it. It sucked.
Despite working two jobs, I could barely earn enough money to cover our expenses. I worked days (which were only 6 hours) at the college as a secretary for $6/hour. I waitressed Friday nights from 6-10 and Saturdays from 8-4 at Shoney’s. I earned $2.13/hour plus tips. With tips, I pulled in right around $90/week, if I was lucky. So between the two jobs, I made about $1100/month – before taxes. My grocery budget (including cleaning stuff, toiletries, etc.) was whatever I earned in tips on Saturday, which was usually about $40-$45. That didn’t go far. We ate lots of cheap, cheap, nasty food; it was all junk. We got to the point that we even went to the food pantry. (Oh yeah, and I got my birth control free from the health department. So poor.)
As I ate this junk, I started gaining weight. I didn’t exercise at all. I walked from my apartment on campus to work, but that only took about 10 minutes. I did that 4 times per day (I came home for lunch) and a few times tried this whole running thing (and did 1 mile), but that was the extent of my exercise. By the time we moved back home a year later, I’d gained over 10 lbs. I then started working a desk job from 12-8pm, which threw off my eating schedule. I was overeating, and gained more weight. I can’t tell you when it was, but I remember getting on the scale one day and seeing 144. I freaked out. Again, because I was lacking muscle tone, so much of this was fat. And it looked like it.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I was heavier than I wanted to be, but I had no idea how to lose weight. I began lamenting about this to my ex. He wasn’t the sympathetic listener type, and wasn’t good with this sort of thing, so he just said, “If you want to change, change. Stop whining and do something about it.” So I did.
It started with a stationary bike we had bought at some random time. It was cheap, cheap, cheap, but the pedals went round and round, so whatevs. I set it up in front of a little tv, and religiously pedaled away every night at 7:30pm during Friends. I did this every night, and I started to see the scale budge. Then I started taking walks. Then I decided to cut out red meat and pork. Then I started counting calories.
I still ate some junk and drank beer here and there, but rarely. I made sure to budget enough calories for it when I did. I can remember forgoing food most of the day just so I could have a couple of beers after dinner. I also ate all sorts of things labeled as “fat-free” or “lite”. (Just about all of that stuff is crap.) I did it so I could feel like I was eating more since most items were lower in calories than their regular counterparts.
I started running a little. And I do mean a little. Running was something that was very, very hard for me to get into. It’s funny how things have turned out, huh? But seriously, I wasn’t running a ton . . . maybe 5-10 miles per week.
The weight started coming off, but since I truly wasn’t exercising a lot, it was mostly because of my calorie restriction. The rational part of my brain kept me eating; I knew I needed at least something in my body. Also, I love food. But the irrational part was giving the rational part a serious run for its money. I had read that a female needed 1200 calories per day, so I aimed for that, no matter what my activity level was. There were many, many days, though, where I was only hitting 800 or 1000. I figured that was better, since it was lower.
I can remember going to a wine festival with a girl friend and her friends. We stopped for food on our way there. They all had substantial sandwiches in anticipation of the pending alcohol consumption. I had a few pieces of fruit. They looked at my like I had grown a second head, but I made up some excuse about not being hungry, while feeling ravenous. I can remember walking around in the heat (it was August) with so few calories in my system, trying to consume wine without showing how I felt. I went very light on the tastings. It sucked.
I should mention that it was during this time that my marriage was also heading south. The worse things got on that front, the worse my eating habits got. It was the only thing I felt that I could control in my life at that point.
As I lost weight, people noticed. They would say something to me, and I assumed that it was always a good thing. I think at first it was. But as I continued losing weight, maybe people didn’t mean it quite so much as a compliment, rather meaning it as almost a warning to stop. If that is the case, I didn’t pick it up. Instead, I used it as motivation to continue with my habits.
At one point, there was even a little office weight loss competition and I entered. At that point, I was 117lbs. The other 3 participants were all trying to lose 10+ pounds. They told me I should shoot to lose just 5, so one guy picked up 5 pounds for me. Why no one sat me down and told me flat out to stop, I’ll never know. (Except that I know that’s a hard conversation to have.)
Throughout all of this, my ex said nothing. He never mentioned the weight loss. This also caused me to continue in my messed-up ways. I figured that at some point, when I’d lost “enough”, he’d compliment me. At some point, I’d look “good”. I had forgotten to look at myself through my own eyes, and was busy trying to make myself into something that someone else might like.
Finally, my ex moved out. I was beginning to heal in many ways, but first I had to stop the damage I was doing to myself. I was 107 pounds with 13% body fat. To some of you, that’s not a terribly low weight. When you think of someone with an eating disorder, you probably think of someone with anorexia who is much lighter. On me, though, 107 is gross. It is significantly less than what I weigh now.
I went to a therapist and she diagnosed me with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS. (I’ll talk more about EDNOS in another post.) I began to work on myself. It was hard, but it turned out that divorce was the right thing for me. It was the key to unlocking me from my depression and eating disorder. This all happened right before the holidays, and I am a sucker for all things pumpkin, cranberry, mashed or stuffed in a bird (pre-vegan days). I was able to finally let myself eat. It was weird, but I did it. I managed to figure out how to eat a little more normally over the following 6 months or so. It took some effort. Oddly enough, it was during this phase that I started running more.
I’m going to cut this Part 1 here. I’ll be back with Part 2 soon.
** I never want to publicly badmouth my ex. Ever. He is not a bad person, but he was not good for me. I am hopeful that he is happy and is loving someone who loves him back.