You Don’t Have to Struggle Alone: Eating Disorder Awareness

As a child, I was skinny.

I remember I had a purple skirt that I was able to wear from age four until age 11. The only thing that changed was the length — my legs kept getting longer until the skirt was too short to wear.

People always commented on how “tall and thin” I was. As though I really had any control over that. But, the older I grew, the more control I wanted to have over it.

I remember that my goal for high school graduation was to weigh less than my own mom weighed at her high school graduation. I beat her weight by two pounds.

Skinny, Picky-Eater, and Strong: My Eating Disorder Journey
Image by Jose Antonio Alba from Pixabay

So many people told me I was a picky-eater.

I can remember sitting at the dinner table until I ate the food I was served. I sat there for hours. I hated that bean soup! Tomatoes or tomato-based foods made me sick to my stomach, but people wouldn’t accept that. That was the food that was made, so that was what I had to eat.

I became really good at ignoring how my stomach felt.

I ignored feeling hungry. I didn’t like any of the foods at school, and I also hated the way the lunch line operated. It went too fast, there were too many people, and the food choices were strange or so different. And I hate buffets! How did I know what it would taste like or if I would like eating it? Why would anyone want to eat all that food?

I often felt nauseous after eating, so it was easier to stick to bland foods or foods I knew were safe— a plain bagel with strawberry cream cheese or a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich were my daily high school lunch. I also ate brown sugar frosted Pop-Tarts; Grape-Nuts and Corn Chex; spaghetti noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese.

Basically I subsisted on simple carbs.

It wasn’t so much that I thought I was fat, or that I felt anything much at all. I just knew that I hated eating. I hated that I needed to eat. I hated that food was how people had relationships. I think, really, I hated something about me. 

It wasn’t until I became pregnant that I started to realize my journey with food was unhealthy.

I know. You are probably thinking, “How did no one know?! No one can survive on toasted bagels with butter!” And yet, I did.

Even when I went to my pregnancy well-checks, no one ever said anything to me about how underweight I was.

I was in the “normal” range. And, I had really strong cravings for food I never would have eaten before. I remember how I would have these sudden urges to stare at the raw meat in the grocery store, and I could taste the steak in my mind. Not normal for me — as raw meat is something I would never have gone anywhere near before.

We discovered I was anemic. Iron supplements, multivitamins, and lots of red meat helped me through that one.

Each pregnancy after that, I remember feeling amazing. I loved being pregnant. I loved how I felt.

After my third pregnancy, I had a period of being treated for anxiety. I took medication, and I went to therapy. I was able to stabilize. I could recognize when anxiety was coming on and how to reset.

However, we never really addressed the food ideas I had.

I don’t think I even recognized it then — that I should talk about it and bring it to the forefront to address it and help myself.

I have learned so much about eating since. 

All of my kids have had exposure to so many healthy initiatives at school. It wasn’t like I didn’t know or understand. I was eating better than I did in the past. I could cook a well-balanced meal without being distraught. I didn’t force anyone in my family to eat foods they hated, and I always made sure there was something at each meal that I knew we all liked. I’ve read the Ellyn Satter Institute division of responsibility in feeding.

Over the past two years, I have been on my own personal wellness journey.

I joined a gym, and I started taking daily vitamins and supplements. For me, I realized I don’t get all of the nutrition I need from the food I eat, so supplements are exactly that — a way to add the things you lack to your nutrition.

They don’t cure anyone, but they sure do make me feel better. They widened the path for better eating. The gym where I belong also offers feedback on food journals. It took me three sessions before I tried that.

It was really hard for me. I realized how much my relationship with food was negative.

I was eating in ways that did not give myself what I needed. I was “skinny fat.” I looked healthy, but my insides were a mess. I was tired most of the time. All the things I remembered in my earliest pregnancy days.

Why was I willing to take great care of my body when there was someone else there, but not for my own well-being?

Time to make a change! 

I was also really enjoying becoming stronger. I felt powerful. I felt worthy. Taking care of my body has become one of my favorite things to do for myself. Last year I read this article and I realized, finally, that my way with food was disordered.

It was never so extreme as the most common eating disorders, but it wasn’t healthy.

I focused even more on learning what foods fueled my body, how to love myself and talk to myself in loving ways, and how to really enjoy who I am.

My struggle with food is not over. I don’t know that it ever will be.

I know that I love myself more now than I ever have. I know that I am loved and worthy. Life is a journey, and this is a part of mine.

This week, February 24 – March 1, 2020, is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. If you have ever struggled with food, in any way, this is a great place to start to find resources that can help you.

You don’t have to struggle alone.

Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.

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