It happened as we were pulling into a gas station.
“So…I’ve been learning about something interesting in health this week,” my daughter began as we pulled into the parking lot. Oh boy, I thought to myself, this could be interesting. Please let it be digestion or the chambers of the heart or even excretion.
“I learned about eating disorders.”
I had been dreading this moment since my first pregnancy 14 years ago. I remember walking through my house, hoping that the little person inside who wouldn’t stop kicking me was an active little boy, because the prospect of raising girls was, quite frankly, terrifying. How in the world could I be expected to raise a girl to have a healthy body image when I had so completely failed in that area my entire life???
And then God gave me not one, but two girls.
Back in the car, I breathed a prayer for help. Lord, I’m going to have to wing this one. Give me the words. Really, that’s all I could ask for – just give me the right words for this situation, because I feel completely unprepared.
And so I dove in.
We talked about what she had learned – that an eating disorder is a type of mental health issue, and why people develop eating disorders. We talked about the different types of eating disorders and what each type entails. And then I took I deep breath.
“So…you actually know someone who had an eating disorder,” I began. I looked in my rear view mirror to see two sets of saucer eyes, followed by them breathing the question, “Who?”
I simply said, “Me.”
Dead silence in the backseat, as the saucer eyes grew even larger.
“Really?” they asked in disbelief.
And so I began the simple version of my story. I told them that going into my freshman year in college, I knew I was making some decisions that weren’t right for me, and I ended up at a school too far from home. Even though I had plenty of friends at school, for a variety of reasons, I felt more alone and isolated than I had ever felt in my life. In a world that felt completely out of control at the time, I turned to controlling the one thing that I felt was within my grasp: food.
I told them that I was anorexic for about two years, and that it became a situation so out of control that eventually I had to drop out of college and go into day treatment at a local hospital. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, and I wanted to stop, but was too scared. And eventually, with time and Jesus and meeting my husband, I found my way out.
What I didn’t tell them was the specifics: the morning weigh-ins, where I would punish myself if my weight hadn’t decreased, and how I might celebrate with a half glass of cranberry juice if I had. I didn’t tell them about not being able to sleep at night for the hunger, or feeling unsafe driving because my brain was so foggy from lack of nutrition, or the absolute fear of eating anything outside of the same three meals I had deemed safe to eat every day. I didn’t tell them about the panic of when my period stopped due to being malnourished, or that I made a promise to my mom that I would go into treatment when and if my weight dropped below 90 pounds. (It did.)
I didn’t tell them that the battle isn’t over. I didn’t tell them that the moment I found out I was mom to a baby girl, a new battle began: the battle to develop and live a life that demonstrated a healthy body image. A life where we accept and celebrate the bodies God has given us, in all of their different shapes and sizes. A life where we enjoy food and recreation and eat well to nourish our bodies, rather than punish our bodies with strict diets or taxing workout regimens. A life where we eat our vegetables, and feel no guilt about eating our ice cream, too.
Don’t get me wrong…I often fall short of this goal. Some days I look in the mirror and remind myself that I will gladly carry a few more pounds than I would like if it means that I am instilling a healthy body image in my daughters. Other days I look in the mirror with disgust at the havoc that pregnancies, c-sections, stress, and too much chocolate have wreaked in my body over the years, and turn my head away in shame.
But in those moments I am reminded of this: I earned those scars – the ones I wear on my skin, as well as the ones on my soul. And each of those scars is a reminder that I fought and won the battle against anorexia, and that, with God’s help, I am continuing to fight and win the battle of positive body image for both myself and future generations. It’s an ongoing fight but a worthy battle, my friends. Those precious bodies and souls, created in His image, are absolutely worth it.
This post is in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25-March 3, 2019). If you suspect yourself or a loved one of having an eating disorder, please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information and resources to find help.