Back in my 20s I was very concerned about what other people thought about me. I let their opinions dictate how I lived my life. And I was too scared to proclaim to the world who I was, plagued with insecurities and self-doubt. I also struggled with self-worth and an eating disorder because I thought that my looks determined my worth and that if I wasn’t beautiful, well, then I was obsolete.
These feelings of unworthiness led me to an eating disorder. It all started innocently one day.
I was in the first year of sobriety and was a guinea pig for psychiatrists. Curious, I weighed myself on the scale and saw that I had lost 10 pounds due to the antidepressants I was on. This made me happy. In a relatively short time, I had gone down from 117 pounds to 107.
I thought that if I could just get back to 105 pounds, like I used to be in freshman year of college before I had a drinking problem, then I would be truly happy. So I restricted my food intake and within another short amount of time I had surpassed my goal: I was 104 pounds.
That should have been the end of it. Except for the fact that the problem was in my mind, and had nothing to do with my weight. So at 5’4′′ and 104 pounds, I still didn’t feel happy or worthy of love. In good eating disorder fashion, I thought that if I just got down to 100 pounds, then that would mean I was good enough and lovable.
But of course, I didn’t stop there.
Being so obsessed with the number on the scale, I eventually got down to 94 pounds. I looked unhealthy and people noticed. Concerned friends looked at me with knowing sympathy in their eyes and would try to feed me and encourage me to eat.
I hated myself and everything about me. I wished I could disappear. And so I made myself smaller and smaller (physically and mentally). I remember people telling me that I looked unhealthy and was too skinny. But it wasn’t until I saw a photo of myself when it really hit me.
I saw how skinny I looked.
The worried looks from others didn’t sink in until I could see it for myself from an objective vantage point. It was strange because every time I had looked in the mirror I didn’t see an overly skinny girl, I just saw how much I hated myself. However, when I saw this photo of me, I realized that it was true; I was unhealthy and I definitely didn’t look good.
I thank the universe for whoever took this photo of me (I can’t remember now) because it was what changed something inside of me. It literally made me see that I was starving myself into oblivion.
Learning how to eat
Even after seeing that photo, eating disorder recovery didn’t come easy. I attended a 12-Step eating disorder recovery group to talk about my problems. It was heartbreaking to hear how much these women hated themselves. I wanted to hug each one and let them know they were loved.
Ironically, I was unable to do that for myself. It took the support of friends telling me that I was worthy to eventually stop purging and starving myself. Caught in an unhealthy habit, I had to retrain myself to eat. Thankfully the darkest part of my eating disorder was very short-lived. Probably only a month or two when I was truly in it, it was less of a habit than other stories I heard.
The underlying issue was that I didn’t love myself and I felt powerless and out of control in regards to my mental health the cocktail of meds I was being fed. My starving myself was a way to try to control some aspect of my life and punish myself for the multitude of things I was ashamed of.
A new, better relationship
I’ve had to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. Which I can assure you is not always easy. Especially in the beginning.
Every night before bed, I would get on my knees to pray. I cried for weeks praying for the willingness for the willingness for the willingness to recover. Initially, I wasn’t ready to gain weight. And I wasn’t ready to let go of the control, but I was ready for the pain to stop.
I kept trying until it finally clicked.
This was the first meal I cooked for myself after deciding it was time to start eating again. I’ve saved this photo for over seven years because it was the moment when I finally made the decision to start loving myself by nourishing my body.
Eating Disorder Recovery
Now it’s been a long time since I’ve unhealthily purged or starved myself out of punishment. I’m healthier than ever and feeling great in my skin. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with feelings of self-worth.
When I was limiting my food intake to one power bar a day (I still can’t stomach any power bars) I realized that the number could go down to 0 and I would still feel unworthy. It was a struggle to finally be willing to recover from it and concede to the potential of putting on weight. But I’ve always been a fighter, so I fought for the inkling of hope I had for a better life.
I learned how to treat my body with love and respect. Now that I’m 31, I have less of a need to please people and prove myself. Years of self-hatred and self-harm led me to seeking a spiritual solution to my pain inside.
It’s been a rocky journey, but today I choose to nourish my body because I know it’s what protects and holds my spirit. My body is not who I am, it’s just the container. So I continue to develop my inner serenity and love. I start with taking care of my body in loving, gentle ways and the self-love flows.
I’m beautiful because of who I am, not because of how I look.