Eating disorders are a group of conditions that cause both emotional and physical issues. Each individual condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each has unique symptoms that separate it from the others. Most experts believe that eating disorders are caused when people attempt to cope with overwhelming feelings and painful emotions, by controlling food. Factors that may be involved in developing an eating disorder include: Genetics, environment, peer pressure, and of course emotional health (www.nami.org). The latter of this list what I want to focus on: Mental Health and how is relates to eating disorders and body image.
As not too many people may know, I have a history of eating disorders. Starting around age 8, I really started to become aware of my ever changing body – and I hated it. I was very self conscious and awkward, as most pre-pubescent kids are. However, in addition to my own skewed body image, I had to deal with criticism from family members that felt it was necessary to comment on my rapidly changing body as well. I can remember being told as young as 9 that I needed to watch what I ate, or else I would get fat. I remember countless times of having my stomach and arms pinched and jiggled, followed by remarks like “ooh Jasmine, you better slow down with all that eating girl!” Now don’t get me wrong, instilling healthy eating habits early is extremely important for all kids. The thing that most adults forget though, is how you present the information to that child. Had I been presented with this information from the simple standpoint that eating healthier foods is good for you and unhealthy foods are bad, perhaps I wouldn’t have always had the “fear of being fat” in the back of my mind…
My journey with eating disorders began with food restriction. The technical term is known as Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and is the second most common diagnosed eating disorder in children 12 and younger (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). I would only allow myself to eat when it was “time” to – meaning only 3 meals a day: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I wouldn’t allow myself any in between snacking, because it didn’t fit into the schedule. And when it was time to eat, I made sure that it was as “healthy” as possible. Fruits and veggies only, and certainly no sweetened drinks.
Along with restrictive eating, I also developed a hard core obsession of being what others perceive as skinny. Let me give you an example of what I mean when I say obsessed: At the age of 9 or so, I began running on the treadmill multiple times a day. (Because running around outside at gym and playing wasn’t enough…) I would rip pictures of thin models out of magazines, and post them all around the treadmill for “motivation” while working out. I even went as far as writing what I thought was inspirational messages on them along the lines of “This is what you can look like!” People diagnosed with ARFID, or those that restrict eating and calories are at higher risk for developing other psychiatric disorders; especially anxiety and depression (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). Perhaps that’s why I went from being a care free child that took joy in eating home cooked meals and the occasional bag of chips, to a very insecure girl that hated food and her body.
The next eating disorder I experienced was bulimia. Bulimia Nervosa is defined as “binge eating followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics” (www.eatingdisorderhope.com). When I was about 12 or 13, I started experimenting with purging – or inducing vomiting – as well as using laxatives. When I could, I would make myself throw up when I ate too much, or take laxatives. Each day I would obsess over my body in front of the mirror. I would poke and prod the areas I didn’t like, and would desperately wish myself thin. I was constantly jealous of my friends who were thinner than me, and questioned why I couldn’t have the same genetics or metabolism as they did. I just couldn’t find a place of comfort with my body.
As I got older I stopped purging and using laxatives, but I continued to restrict my eating. Eventually my old habits turned into new ones, and that’s when I began binge eating. Binge Eating Disorder or BED, is when a person loses control over their eating and eats a very large amount of food in a short period of time. They may also eat large amounts of food even when they aren’t hungry, or even after becoming uncomfortably full” (www.nami.org). I had developed a love/hate relationship with food over the years. I always appreciated a good meal, and food is a large part of my culture. Every holiday, celebration, birthday, family reunion and even death brought the family around the table for a huge feast. But I’ve always had that nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me not to “overdo” it.
As I write this post as a full grown adult, I admit that I still have issues dealing with food and my body image. About a year ago, I would challenge myself to not eat anything for days at a time, and would celebrate the victory of shedding a wimpy 3 pounds as a result. I’ve graduated from just restricting my eating, to counting my calorie intake as well. I feel guilty when I endulge in a full meal, and often times when simply snacking. I still daydream about taking a trip to visit Dr. Miami and getting the pudge sucked out of my stomach and transferred to my boobs. I’ve tried countless detox drinks and supplements, all of which of course never left me with the results I desired. I’m still on my journey of loving myself flaws and all. I now know that I’m #PerfectlyImperfect and #MenallyStrong just the way I am, and so are you Dreamer.