This is one of those uncomfortable posts for me, but I want to share. At the very height of my eating struggles, I longed for a post like the one I am about to write – someone with whom I could identify, who might help me know what was going on, who could tell me what to do. Google didn’t help, Pinterest didn’t help, Facebook didn’t help. Sometimes you need another human. I want to be that human for you if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’ve been trying to learn more about eating disorders for two or three years now because I’ve struggled with this feeling of being out-of-control around food – like what we’ve talked about with Binge Eating Disorder. I never told my doctor and, until now, I’ve only told maybe three people. From other kinds of therapy, I knew the right steps to find help. But I couldn’t find a place where I could go. I couldn’t find a web site with answers to my questions.
Here are the steps I knew I needed to take:
- I knew I needed to tell someone
- I knew I probably needed professional help – doctor.
- I knew I needed to build a support system for accountability
- I knew I needed to figure out how not to throw up
- I knew I needed to develop a good relationship with my body
- I knew I needed to develop a good relationship with food
But, that’s all that I knew.
The entire year of 2015, I struggled with eating. Did I have a disorder? I don’t know. I should have told my doctor, found out what I was dealing with, and taken steps from there.
Yesterday, I told you that I got confused along the way from the 1990s on. But then in 2011, I came to New Zealand and began to have stomach problems accompanied by severe fatigue and depression. By November of that year, I could no longer work and started the process of going from doctor to doctor. I went back to the States. The development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, and some pre-ulcers led to disordered eating for me. All of a sudden, everything I ate made me sick. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome made it worse because it was hard for me to get out of bed, let alone think of what I could or should eat. I wasn’t eating much unless someone helped me.
I began cutting out dairy and gluten and acidic foods like tomatoes as I learned that they affected me. The range of food I could eat was limited, and I was lucky to have people helping me along the way. My mom went through and made lists of things I could eat so that it was less confusing. My dad would bring me food home from town at any opportunity.
Somewhere in all of this, I started skipping meals. At first, this was because I was not on a schedule – sleeping most of the day and night. It was easier when I quit sugar for a few weeks. For a time I felt better and started teaching, but I was still not eating much during the day. The more I didn’t eat, the more I craved easy carbs and sugar again.
I started binging at night in private. I would avoid going places where I might see someone I knew, and if I went to a restaurant where people might recognize me, I would get something healthy to eat. At the supermarket, I only bought healthy food because some of my students worked there. I began to care about what I ate around others. I began to hide what I wanted to eat and was craving to eat. I’d get annoyed when well-meaning people asked me what I had for lunch or what I was going to eat for dinner. I often didn’t tell my boyfriend (now husband) everything I ate when he asked, and he asked almost every day on Skype just because he wanted to make sure I was eating enough.
I was skipping meals, feeling good about not eating; then, I was eating out of control later on. I’d feel guilty and then abstain from meals again. Then, I’d binge again and feel guilty. Sometimes, I even purged. My binge episodes were embarrassing and I hate typing this out for the world to see. I’d be so hungry that I’d order two or three times the amount that I would normally eat. And I would scarf it down more quickly than I’d ever eaten before. I’d pretend that I would just eat half of it and save the rest for another meal. But I never did. The more fast food I ate, the more sugar I craved, so I ate a lot of ice cream and welcomed the sweets my students brought to me, though I tried to eat them in secret. I threw up a lot of what I binged, and to this day I’m not sure if it’s because I wanted to or because I really felt sick. Maybe it was both.
It was like I was two people: a health freak and a fast-food monster.
I don’t remember what point I was at when I realized that I needed help. But, I started looking for it online at first. I wanted someplace I could call that would help me through – tell me what to do. I wanted to find an article to which I could relate. I didn’t want to ask the people that loved me for help. I didn’t want to bother them. I couldn’t find a place that was just for people struggling with food.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew that it wasn’t anorexia or bulimia and I believed the lie that I had to look like I had an eating disorder in order to ask for help. I wanted to talk to my doctor about it, but I felt like he would look at me up and down and shrug me off because I wasn’t bony. Which would never have happened.
I finally talked to my best friend and she helped with a plan to get control. Without her, I’m not sure I would have made it through. She helped me to see that there was a cycle I was repeating: starve myself, binge, feel guilty, repeat. She told me that my metabolism was messing up and that by not eating, my body was just confused. That’s why I was gaining weight. After I talked to her, I talked to my boyfriend about it, and we came up with a plan for him to help me. He asked me what he needed to do to help and I told him what I needed. He would remind me to eat and not to skip meals in a positive way. I would not lie to him about what I ate or did not eat. He would encourage me, and I would accept the encouragement. I talked to another best friend closer to where I lived and she helped me as well.
My boyfriend and my best friend got me over to New Zealand last year during the American summer, Auckland winter. I cried a lot, and hated food. Everything I ate – even apples or oats or other things we consider healthy – made me feel guilty. I hated eating around Mark. But both of them looked after me, talking me through it. They were the support team that I needed and we made plans on what I needed to do when I got back to the States.
Because I couldn’t find where to go, I joined the YMCA to start taking care of my body the right way. I was very careful about this – not to over-exercise. I needed to make exercise about loving myself rather than hurting myself. One reason I joined there is because I saw that they had a thing called “wellness coaching”. I knew that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a personal trainer at this point, and I wanted some sort of nutritionist – or really just someone to talk to for a little while. I needed someone that could work with my fatigue – someone who wouldn’t judge me.
For a month, I met with the wellness coach. She made me a very basic plan that I could stick to. She saw that I couldn’t talk about food without crying, and she was patient with that. Little weekly goals: Eat little meals throughout the day, try to go to one workout class a week – a small one, and come see her weekly. She gave me information about protein to eat and she basically just listened to me. My larger goal was to build a healthy relationship with food while building a healthy relationship with myself.
Since then, I have married and I am doing well eating in New Zealand. From time to time, it’s hard. But it helps having my support team in place. You who read these blog posts are on that support team now, whether you know it or not. And I am grateful.
This blog is the start of something that can help others. I want to have a center somewhere along the line. There needs to be a place where people that are struggling with food, depression, self-image, and just general life struggles can come and find sanctuary. I want a literal, tactile Little Sanctuary. I want it for you and I want it for me.
In the next few weeks, we’ll start fundraising here to create such a place here in Auckland City. And I will be working hard to make this dream a reality. It’s my birthday this weekend, and this center is my dream for the year – and will hopefully be a place where women can find help for years and years to come.