By an Anonymous Guest Blogger.
Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography.
Rarely does any kind of fruitful growth happen without some discomfort.
Little 5’6” 120 pound me struggled to find peace in my changing body. Evolving into womanhood is not easy. It, like so many other countless things, requires a process. And a process requires patience.
I have journeyed the journey and walked the walk to find total acceptance of the woman God made me and the body He gave me, but each day it’s given anew, and the embrace comes anew.
In high school, I wrestled with the curves that marked my coming of age. Junior year was the hardest. I had gained weight from the sedentary lifestyle of recovery after tearing my PCL in a skiing accident that winter. Growing up, I had never had to TRY to be skinny. I was always active and it was natural for me. But that winter on the couch, out of commission, took a toll on me.
I tipped the scales at 140 pounds and I resented myself for it.
It was never diagnosed, but I can look back at the years following and see that I struggled with anorexia. I would go a full school day with only a corn muffin or an apple to sustain me. I would work out for hours at a time, take back to back spin classes, and weight-lift to help burn more fat.
The pounds did shed. And I can say that struggle as I did, I was always in touch with reality. I could see when I was losing weight and when I hit my target, and I would be happy then. The scale never dropped below 109. And I maintained an average of 115 with a rigorously restrictive diet and a time-consuming, compulsive work out plan. I did not miss a day at the gym. And I did not have peace in my body.
On Thanksgiving day, I declared myself a vegetarian, a concise and healthy way to cut calories and avoid the stuffed food coma nap on the couch.
The following Easter of my senior year, I declared myself a vegan, an even more restrictive diet and a sure way of cutting calories and keeping the pounds from climbing onto my bones. I was trying to be healthy about it. But the veganism proved far too taxing on my body. After a month of it, I had lost fifteen pounds, weighing in at 100 meager pounds. Reason kicked in, and I knew I couldn’t continue at that pace, so I switched gears back to vegetarianism.
Freshman year of college started up and my oldest brother Joseph decided he would join me at Ave Maria University to complete his master’s while I embarked on my bachelor’s. Protective brother that he was, I think he knew I needed him.
I would eat at the cafeteria and opt only for salads, turning my nose up at the greasy fries and burgers loaded on friends’ plates. I would scrutinize my body and compare it to the curves, or lack thereof, of my peers. I would be jealous of the girls with boyish figures and squirm in my own womanly body.
I would get depressed and binge. I would be invited out for dinner and decline. I would work out, then work out more. I would study, then study more. And if a paper kept me from my normal predinner work out, I would hit the gym at 1 am. EVERY day, I needed to sweat. It was how I controlled the fat from seeping onto my hips and waste.
That was what it came down to. And it was my brother, Joseph, who showed me that.
On my birthday that November, he came to my dorm to surprise me with a piece of cake, topped with ice cream, sprinkles, and a lit candle.
And my response wasn’t the one any healthy girl would have. Though I felt loved by the gesture, I was repulsed by the notion of eating something so unhealthy and so full of despised calories.
I blew out the candle and thanked him, but told him I wasn’t hungry for any cake.
Perceptive brother that he was, he looked into my eyes and asked why. It was the first time I had been confronted for my abnormally restrictive eating. He waited for an answer, and when no words came and his eyes were still searching mine for a reason, tears came. Because I want control. Because I’m afraid that if I indulge, I’ll want more, and I’ll give in to more, and then I’ll hate myself, and spend countless hours sweating in the gym to try to undo it. Because I hate my body and the way God made it. Because I wish I had no curves. Because I’m trying to be perfect and it’s HARD.
The philosopher in him did not react to my rash words, but responded to the eruption he had evoked. Years of holding back and not talking came out in one powerful protest. I thought I’d want to take all the words back. But I saw them scatter. They were gone and they were out of me. I was emptier, lighter, for the first time in years.
I felt the first wave of healing come over me.
He did not judge me. He only looked at me with a flood of sympathy and compassion. In that moment I was not alone in my battle.
There was a pause. And words exchanged. Words that struck my heart more than my memory. What I know is that he called me out, in loving, fraternal correction. He made me see how twisted my world was, how much my gaze was focused on ME, selfishly, and how sad that was.
He challenged me to start going to daily mass. So I did. And I started going to confession, to talk through my struggle with vanity and over-scrupulousness. In days of temptation to revert to my unhealthy self-absorbed ways, I would go to adoration, where I would kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and ask our Lord to empty me of me and fill me with Himself.
And His grace was sufficient. He blessed me with a friend who pulled me from my self-imposed isolation. I began to model my eating after her. It was like therapy. I witnessed her eat FULL meals and not gain weight. I didn’t know this was possible. We worked out together, in moderation. She taught me to balance my life, through her own beautiful, natural, ordered, lived example.
She showed me what freedom from compulsion looked like.
My weight stabilized without a battle. I thought less and less about the number on the scale. I thought more and more about the friendships I was making.
God pulled me out of the trenches I had been stuck in for so long. And there was Joy.
Why do I share this story? I share it because I don’t think I was as alone as I thought I was. I think the crosses I carried are crosses shared by many women. And I want to help them.
I want to share 10 seeds of practical wisdom–learned and lived advice–for any woman struggling with an eating disorder (whether it’s diagnosed or not):
PRAY. Surrender your struggle to Christ, and He will help you. If you don’t know what to pray, repeat the same intention again and again. “Lord, take me from myself and give me to yourself.”; “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew as steadfast spirit within me”; “Lord, let there be less of me and more of you;” “Lord, help me to love myself as you love me.”
TALK. We are weakest when we think we are alone. But the truth is, we are never alone. Find counsel, and open up.
BE STRUCTURED. Commit to three solid meals a day. Have a work out routine. The ordered life is the sanctified life. Strive for holiness in the minute virtues of daily living.
DON’T SNACK. Snacking lends itself to disorder. If you need something to carry you through from one meal to the next, limit it to whole nuts or fresh fruits and veggies.
DRINK WATER. All day. It’s so good for your body and your energy level. Want some flavor? Squeeze a lemon into it or infuse it with cucumber or fresh mint!
BE COMMUNAL. Going out with friends is GOOD FOR YOU! It will bring laughter to your life, and keep you from idleness, the devil’s best friend. Try to make eating more about the communal aspect than about self-indulgence. One of the best Lenten sacrifices I made was when I gave up eating alone for the full 40 days. It taught me total detachment from my own appetite, and it enforced the importance of sharing meals Eucharistically.
DON’T LOOK AT THE NUMBERS ON THE SCALE. Just focus on being healthy, all around. Muscle weighs more than fat, anyway.
STOP THINKING ABOUT YOU. Think about others.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES. It’s tempting to tell ourselves what we should NOT be doing – “Don’t eat now”; “Don’t think about food”; “Don’t crave that piece of cake.” But the problem with this way of thinking is that it puts all your energy into what you should NOT be thinking about. So instead, build your thought process around what you want to be doing rather than eating. “Go fishing”; “Write thank you notes”; “Tidy up the house”; “Start an art project” – Think about all the action-oriented good that there is to be enjoyed in life, and pursue it!
REJOICE IN YOUR BEAUTY AND THE BEAUTY OF OTHERS. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparison. The truth is, however, that we are all incredibly unique. There are all different kinds of beautiful! When you see someone whose beauty catches your eye, thank God for the gift of His creation! Do not scowl that your eyelashes are not as long as hers; that your legs are not as toned as hers; that your hair is not as flawlessly styled as hers. This kind of thought leads to jealousy, and that’s poison for the soul. Instead, admire what it is that makes her beautiful. Learn from her. And rejoice for what makes you YOU. God admires you! Let His love radiate through everything.
P.S. You are enough.