It’s Not About the Food: My Recovery From Anorexia
By Maura Preszler
Two months before graduating from 8th grade, while warming up before field hockey practice, I overheard two high school girls gossiping about a girl in my class who had a heavier build than I. Why are they speaking about her like that? That’s so cruel! My mind raced, I wonder if they talk about me like that? What if they laugh about me and think I’m fat too?
I glanced down at my scuffed up oxford shoes and noticed my skirt, which was supposedly two inches too short for the school. Every morning one of the teachers reminded me, “Maura, your skirt is too short. Please tell your mom to fix it or you will need to get a new one.”
Then I panicked. Great, now people are going to talk about me because I’m fat and my skirt is too short. I was an exceedingly anxious child and when corrected or talked to harshly, I shattered.
Upon arriving home from school later that day, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be eating desserts again. My mother, an exceptional chef, looked perplexed. After all, what normal child says such things? Well I’m going to show them that I’m not kidding. I’m going to start running and swimming more and eating less. I’ll prove it.
I was one of the thinnest girls in my class and have been a runner since I was five years old, so naturally, my weight was never something I needed to even remotely worry about.
But that night I stared intently in the mirror and decided that if I was going to be considered beautiful I needed to lose weight. All I could hear was the mirror shouting at me, Beautiful girls are thin and you’re ugly.
My mom insisted I eat breakfast before school, so I started purposely getting up later so I wouldn’t have time. I promised her I would eat my waffles as I walked to the bus stop.
But I lied.
Every morning I tossed the waffles down the sewer as I approached the bus stop. I have to do this because no one believes that I need to lose weight. What are they thinking? Why don’t they see how fat I am?
As the weeks passed, the lies started darting out of my mouth daily and the person I was becoming frightened me.
Oh, I already ate breakfast mom.
Yes, lunch was delicious, thanks mom.
I had a snack on the bus. I’m not hungry.
I only ran five miles (when I had actually run 8).
See mom I ate lunch and there’s my dish in the sink to prove it. I had really just taken a clean dish from the cabinet and placed it in the sink.
I weighed myself 20 times a day. I allowed myself 100 or 200 calories a day. If I survived the day on 100 calories, I considered it to be a good day. If I had overeaten, which meant 300 calories, I made sure to punish myself the next day by running more miles and eating more meager portions. I went to bed starving and most nights I couldn’t sleep because my hunger pains kept me awake. My body ached.
I shunned every reflection of myself, whether that be through a mirror, window, pane of glass, or the pool. When I saw myself I shuttered. Ah, I’m so ugly. I can’t even stand the sight of myself. How do people even look at me?
I had a pair of khaki J.Crew pants that I would try on multiple times throughout the day. Those pants defined me. They were literally my life.
If I felt like I had eaten too much or gained weight, I would immediately try those pants on. Ah, they are too tight!! Okay, I need to lose weight and run more. Or, Phew, they are still loose. Okay, I can relax for an hour or two. I was a slave to those pants for years.
When the doctor told me that I would still be considered thin if I gained thirty pounds I nearly passed out. Thirty pounds?? Are you crazy?? I would explode if I gained ten pounds! I wouldn’t be able to fit through the door or sit in a normal seat on an airplane, let alone look at myself if I gained thirty. Gross, I’m already ugly enough. Why does she want me to be a whale? Maybe because she is overweight herself? Yes, that’s got to be it, she doesn’t want anyone to be thin because she’s fat. This doctor is crazy!
Past trauma in my life plagued me and my eating disorder was all I could control. I didn’t think I was worth three meals a day. I was terrified that if I started eating again I wouldn’t have the self-control to stop. I convinced myself that it was better not to eat breakfast because, what if I couldn’t stop and just kept eating and blew up to three hundred pounds overnight? I was afraid that if I stopped running 50 plus miles a week I would let myself go.
Several weeks later as I was lying in bed I could literally hear my heart struggling to beat. I was petrified. I took my pulse and it was in the high twenties. I fought back the tears because I was afraid my heart wouldn’t be capable of handling the energy my tears would produce.
My bones were protruding. I was freezing. My hair was falling out in clumps. My fingernails were purple and I had fine hair growing all over my body. I knew that I had to make a change in my lifestyle or I could die. I promised myself that if I was alive the next morning I would get better and one day be an advocate for women in their recovery.
After that night, I realized that I was missing out on life. I wasn’t allowed to go to dance class anymore, compete on the swim team, run, or go to summer camp. Yes, I was breathing, but I wasn’t living. I was simply surviving, hoping that tomorrow I would still fit into my J.Crew pants.
I wanted to be healthy.
I yearned to enjoy my life minus counting calories. I day-dreamed about what it would feel like to eat a bowl of ice cream without worrying about the caloric intake. I wanted to put half and half in my coffee like a normal human being. I wanted to lick the bowl after making brownies and not obsess over the fat content in the chocolate and butter.
I wanted to drink orange juice again.
I wanted to live.
As I recovered, I removed the towels I had put over my bathroom mirror. Over time, I was gradually able to glance in the mirror without cringing. For the first time in years, I didn’t see an ugly human being anymore.
I learned that seeing my ideal number on a scale would never fulfill me. It’s exceedingly empty and tiring. And trust me, I tried everything. At my lowest weight, I was thirty-five pounds lighter than I am today and it’s a miracle I’m alive.
Instead of dwelling on what I disliked about my body, I tried to focus on what I liked. I wrote a list in my therapy journal and here is what it said.
I love my hair. I love my big blue eyes. I love that I have long legs. I love my cheekbones.
I love that I’m athletic and like to run. I love that I can create things with my hands. I love that I can swim in the ocean and know how to ride the waves.
It’s interesting, I have one dimple on the right side of my face. I wonder why I don’t have them on both sides? Anyway, I use to hate that dimple, but then a boy told me it was cute. It’s growing on me. I don’t love it yet, but I’m getting there.
I love my resilient attitude.
I pondered how much physical exertion it took to exercise without any fuel in my body. Or how many hours I spent planning my ‘meals,’ which were more like small snacks. Along with the days I wasted obsessing over counting calories, keeping my eating disorder a secret, and the relationships my eating disorder strained.
I used to think, What would happen if I put all of the energy that I use to keep my eating disorder alive towards recovery? Actually, scratch that, what would happen if I just used a fraction of that energy towards my healing? I would be a changed person, I’m sure of it. I know it would hurt. But on the flip side, I can’t live like this forever. Let’s be real, I’m miserable. I’m destroying relationships and slowly killing myself. Alright, let’s do the darn thing. Let’s recover! I want to live again!
I tried to remember that just because I had a moment of struggle, defeat or a bad day in my journey of recovery it didn’t mean that I hadn’t made progress towards freedom.
I actively worked on being patient with myself and taking it one step at a time. I sought to embrace the change and when I fell, which I did, I didn’t stay down. Instead, I dusted off the dirt and tried to embrace each opportunity in my life to seek beauty. And I started anew the next day and no matter how many times I messed up I never gave up.
I learned that recovering from my eating disorder isn’t about being perfect. But it was about making smart daily choices, even if I didn’t feel like it. Those daily choices eventually helped me to form new habits, which cultivated a lifestyle change.
In the beginning of my recovery, it was an intense challenge for me to put a spoon or fork in my mouth. I felt like I was shoving food down my throat. So in the beginning I had to eat with my fingers, forcing myself to stay at the table until I had eaten a serving of food. Eventually I started using utensils again.
Today I can eat a bowl of ice cream at one o’clock in the morning and not give it a second thought.
I drink orange juice now, just like I desperately yearned to be able to do. I can go out to dinner at a restaurant or to my favorite coffee shop and get a mocha and not obsess over the caloric content. I work out in moderation and I never run over five miles anymore.
It’s been almost 20 years since 8th grade and reflecting on my journey I have learned that my validation of beauty and sense of acceptance isn’t the width of my waist or my BMI. I can never quench my yearning to be loved through the number that flashes back at me on the scale. My worth comes from my intrinsic dignity as a human being.
I’m married now and have two beautiful baby boys. Since becoming a mother I am even more in awe of how God designed and created a woman’s body to carry a child for nine months, give birth and then feed and nurture that child. It’s absolutely incredible. My first pregnancy definitely caused many past insecurities to resurface as I gained weight and it’s remarkable how God used and still uses my son Pio to heal me as I struggled greatly with body image while pregnant with him. Being pregnant with my son Noah was so much easier and while I can’t say I never struggle anymore because I know it will always be a journey I know that my worth isn’t determined by my weight. I am Pio and Noah’s mother and there is no greater gift in the world than that.
P.S. You are enough.