When I was 14 years old, I had a very close friend. We spend as much time as we could together and one of our favourite pastimes was our weekly swim at the local pool. One day, while taking a break from swimming at the local pool, I asked my friend “do you think I’m fat?” I knew that I was bigger than her but this was the first time “fat” had come into my mind as a word that might describe me. My friend’s response “you could probably lose some weight” pierced me straight through my chest. I was fat, and I didn’t even know it. How could I not have known?
I started trying to control what I was eating, but I knew nothing about dieting or weight control. It was 13 Years ago and the internet wasn’t around full of weight loss ads, tips and tricks – I’m thankful for that. I started limiting junk food and purging occasionally. I don’t know where the thought to purge came from, I’m still not even really sure why I started. This continued until I was 16 when I passed out at school. I went to my doctor and after answering what felt like a barrage of questions she said that I had an eating disorder. I saw her write “EDNOS (Restrictive)” on my chart. EDNOS, what was EDNOS? I later discovered that it meant I had a restrictive form of an eating disorder but didn’t really fit into any one category, my eating disorder was “not otherwise specified”. I felt lost, like I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Here was this label to describe me and it didn’t actually tell me anything except what I wasn’t. My doctor said we would keep an eye of my new disorder, but we didn’t talk about it again.
I kept up with what I was doing, even though the results were basically non-existent. I didn’t own a scale but I knew that my body wasn’t alright, I just didn’t know what to do about it. I ate a snack instead of lunch, if I ate anything at all, and purged about 2-3 times a week. I kept my secret safe, didn’t tell anyone and kept myself from passing out, God forbid I’d be faced by those questions at the doctors again. I had a new doctor who wasn’t aware of my disorder and I wasn’t going to bring it up.
A month after I turned 18 I decided that I was finished messing around and not getting any results. I was starting University and I was going to take control of my life. I was taking my life in my own hands. I was going to lose weight. Shortly after that I discovered calories. There was this mysterious number on the back of my Cheerio snack mix called a calorie. When I went to the gym, the same strange word was on my treadmill. If I wanted to lose weight, I just had to keep the numbers on the machines higher than the numbers on my snack bag.
For a few months I spent hours at the gym, working off every calorie I ate. I realized how much easier it would be to just not eat certain foods instead of having to work them off. I lost a lot of weight, and fast. One day I woke up and realized that I was 10lbs below the weight that I had always thought was perfect – I knew then that I was in trouble, and not as in control of this as I thought I was. I was able to keep my weight stable, and although it was “normal”, I was very deep into my symptoms and behaviours. Because my weight was normal, I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing. The severe restriction and occasional purging were just the sacrifice I had to make to have the body I wanted, wasn’t this what everyone was doing to control their weight?
This continued all throughout my university years. It helped me cope with the pressure of a very competitive program, the loss of a long-term boyfriend, my perfectionistic tendencies, depression and anxiety. My eating disorder was my safe place, my comfort, my religion. As the end of University loomed, I felt lost and ungrounded. What was I going to do without school? My whole life school had been the constant, what would I do without this massive time and energy consumer in my life? Deep down I knew exactly what would happen, I saw my eating disorder getting worse as the days to graduation counted down, promising to take over completely when school was finished. For the first time, I was afraid of my mind and the control it had over me. One day after discovering that I hadn’t eaten in over 3 days my new boyfriend and longtime friend Carson begged me to eat something. It was late so there wasn’t much to choose from, and even less given my incredibly strict rules about what I was and wasn’t allowed to eat. I ended up agreeing to some soup and after an hour of crying over eating a simple bowl of soup and being unable to finish it, I knew I needed help. It was then, at the age of 23 in 2009 that I started seeking help for my disorder.
I did all the research I could about those mysterious words on my medical chart from 7 years earlier in my old doctor’s scratchy hand writing “EDNOS (Restrictive)”. I found out that she was right, I had an eating disorder and had been suffering from one for a long time. I looked everywhere for some help in my community, a counsellor, a group, a specialist. I found some referral forms for a local Eating Disorder Clinic and took them to my new doctor. She was shocked when I handed her the forms that I had filled out with all of my symptoms and behaviours. I hadn’t talked about any weight or body issues with her, she didn’t know that I was purging a couple of times a week and limiting my calories to a very dangerous level. She looked at my weight and didn’t know what to say, it was as if she was finally putting all the pieces of the jigsaw together now that she had all the picture on the box to compare it to. She compared it to the weight I had put on the form as my pre-disorder weight. Although my current weight was low, it was still “normal” for my height, it was a long way from where I had started. She put a new label on my chart “AN (P)”. This was the purging subtype of Anorexia Nervosa, anorexia nervosa… I couldn’t be anorexic – I was too fat! All the BMI calculators said so, the scale said so, she must be wrong.
Check out part 2 here!