I’ve been a perfectionist since long before I had any other issues, though anxiety, depression and crippling self doubt eventually followed. I had disordered eating patterns well before I had body image issues, though now they have been intertwined for some time. And for me, part of my support network, part of finding my way back out of my impulses to control my food, part of my recovery, involved hiring a trainer.
My original disordered eating patterns had nothing to do with weight loss, and everything to do with control. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I loved planning out what I was going to eat, and then seeing that plan through. It was harmless enough in the beginning: I’d plan out a snack of, say, buttermilk biscuits with honey and a chocolate milk. Or I’d decide to eat spicy fries and pizza for lunch. Hardly health food, or food for weight loss. Except, little by little, I would get stressed if I couldn’t figure out the right plan for my meals, or if my original plan fell through.
Several triggers turned my self-criticism and disordered eating into full-on body loathing and the preliminary stages of a serious eating disorder. I had a bad summer home after my freshman year at college, with friends who spent most of their time exercising and counting calories. My brother was beginning some of his worst battles with what would eventually be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. My friendship with my best friend was splitting apart at the seams, and I was grasping at straws to feel in control of something.
I turned to my food. If I could just keep on top of my food, if I could just control what went into my body and how it looked, I had decided everything was going to be alright. I was lucky to have (and still have) a supportive partner, who, having dealt with eating disorders in his own immediate family, was vigilant around my behavior. So, I never went down to a critical weight. I might have looked a bit on the thin side, but I never reached a state where my body truly started to shut down, though I did eventually become lethargic and anxious.
I mention my size because as Jennifer Sommer, MS, RD, CSSD, Registered Dietitian at Eating Recovery Center in Denver notes, there are caveats to my own approach to eating disorder recovery. Namely, that individuals who get down to a very low body weight should not embark on exercise regimens without the consultation of a doctor or a medical professional:
[Exercise] can be a part of recovery but it’s a little bit of a tricky subject and not appropriate for everyone. A benefit of exercise is obviously the increase in endorphins, which can help to improve mood. This can be beneficial with eating disorders, as depression and anxiety often coexist. Also–exercise does not need to be cardio to be beneficial. Studies have actually shown that people receive more mental health benefits from yoga and strength training. However, before embarking on an exercise program, individuals should be screened by a medical professional for osteoporosis, abnormal labs, low heart rate, electrolyte imbalance or other medical issues that could be dangerous if they started exercising.
Throughout my early twenties, I kept my eating disorder at bay. Sometimes it would flare up and rear its ugly head–hello, Grad school! Other times, I kept it at what seemed like safe distance. But, if I’m being totally honest, it was always there, humming in the background, controlling my decisions on food and my body, constantly trying to steer me down the path of self-loathing.
Then one day, I decided I wouldn’t take it anymore. It was, coincidentally, around the time I decided to be a writer. I knew I was going to spend ninety percent of my time being rejected, and I knew I had to recharge my own inner battery. I had had enough with the self-doubt and the anxiety, and I decided I needed to take action. But any time I’d ever tried therapy, I’d often left angrier and more confused than when I’d started. So I started my mission elsewhere.