3 Life-Changing Health Facts My Eating Disorder Taught Me

When I was fifteen years old, I lost twenty pounds I didn’t need to lose. On purpose.

I put myself on a strict diet after deciding that I just wasn’t skinny enough. And of course, I thought that being “skinny,” which by my own definition was much closer to emaciated, would make me happy. Little did I know that this was the beginning of an eating disorder that I would struggle to fight off for the next five+ years.

By the time we enter middle school, most girls have felt the pull to change something about themselves that’s “not quite right.” According to the National Eating Disorder Association, the issue begins even earlier. Forty-two percent of 1st-3rd-grade girls reported wanting to be thinner. The issue manifests itself as we get older, with a reported 35-57% of adolescent girls engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives.

I’ve been on every side of the spectrum when it comes to my health. I’ve been cruel to my body. I’ve dieted. I’ve binged. There were times during my recovery process when I’d become hysterical if I couldn’t make it to the gym that day and would refuse to eat anything that wasn’t on my “approved” list. There were other times where I’d come home feeling listless, eat junk food until I was uncomfortably full, and then spend hours hating myself.

I bet that if you’re reading this, you’ve felt crushed by the pressure to look a certain way at some point in your life. Therefore, babes, I’ve compiled some important lessons I learned the hard way during one of the toughest periods of my life. Regardless of your own back story, I’m sure there’s something here you can relate to.

Dieting 

“Dieting is the only game where you win when you lose.”

-Karl Lagerfeld

Long story short: it doesn’t work. Fad diets are everywhere; staring out at you from the glossy pages of magazines, lurking on the side of your webpage, shouting empty promises your way during commercial breaks. Even your goddam cereal box is trying to assure you that you can, in fact, lose 10 pounds in only 3 days! That’s basically the same as saying you can become a neurosurgeon or solve world hunger in three days. It’s just not doable.  The only diet that sticks is the one you’re on for life. Newsflash Regina: if you really wanna lose three pounds, put down the cranberry juice cocktail.

You can’t put yourself on a strict diet or you’ll live your whole life feeling deprived. If you love chocolate cake, eat the freakin’ chocolate cake at your cousin’s graduation party. If cheese fries are your jam, let yourself indulge every now and then. Obviously, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Moderation really is key when it comes to eating well and treating your body right, but you can’t go through life skipping pizza parties and never experiencing the glorious taste of a cronut. Food is a social part of our culture, and you’ve got to let yourself live a little.

Some people are all about counting calories and calculating how much they can and cannot eat. I tried that. It made me miserable. But every person is different. I’ve found that I feel the best when I just listen to what my body is telling me. I used to choose my meals based on what had the fewest calories. Then I did a complete 360 and ate all the junk I wanted. Today I know which foods make me feel good and which ones will make me feel blah. Health is one of my main priorities, but now that I’ve stopped obsessing over calories and dieting, I feel better than I have in a long time. And it feels good to feel good, ya know what I’m sayin’?

Exercise

“Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.”

-Elle Woods

Now I know that it’s hard for some people to love exercise. The couch is just such a welcoming and embracing place. I feel that. Some days I still live that. But I have to say that my relationship with exercise has completely changed since I was a confused 15-year-old girl.

I used to be obsessive about exercise. I had my workouts planned out down to the minute, and I’d freak out if something got in the way of my plan. Then I went through a period where I stopped exercising completely and started eating less to compensate. I bounced back and forth from these extremes until I realized I was looking at exercise from the wrong perspective.

We could all lie and say that we don’t want to look good on the beach or have legs like Carrie Underwood’s, but we might as well admit that that’s definitely in the back of our minds. Even more than that, once you realize that exercise makes you feel good just the same way as a sip of water on a hot summer day makes you feel good, your whole perspective on working out will change. Now that I’m in college, I look forward to taking a break from my books to go to the gym and sweat it out. I’m the type of person who gets stressed out very easily and exercise really is like therapy. BUT being motivated to move because it makes you feel good rather than to look a certain way makes you want to grab your tennis shoes and hit the gym more often.

You don’t have to sign a pact with the treadmill if you hate running or join a yoga group if you’re not the bendy type. Find a workout that makes you excited to pencil it into your schedule. Swim, rock climb, join a soccer league, fast walk around the city, belly dance, roller blade. You do you, girlfriend. Exercising truly is important for both your short term and long term health. You’ll live longer, look better, and most importantly feel better. So shake what your momma gave ya.

Mentality

“Remember, you’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

-Louise L. Hay

The voice inside your head will become your greatest enemy if you let it. It’s the voice that says you can’t buy the miniskirt because you don’t have the right thighs. It’s the voice that says you should skip the pool party because your stomach isn’t right for a bikini. You can let that voice win and foster a negative relationship with your body, or you can work on being kind to yourself. The latter sounds much better, amiright?

It’s so easy to scrutinize our flaws and forget about what we like about ourselves. I mean how many times have you looked in the mirror and thought “ugh, I wish I could change this.” Probably somewhere close to a zillion and five, no?  If you’re determined to get a six-pack, then power to you, girlfriend! But don’t forget about what you’ve already got going on. A good tip is to talk to your body the same way you’d talk to a close friend. Because guess what? You’re in your skin for life. The sooner you learn to appreciate what you like about yourself and be patient about what you’d like to change, the better.

I used to think it was the end of the world if I gained a few pounds because my entire self-concept revolved around my appearance. My poor mom witnessed many dressing room breakdowns. Fast forward several years and I’ve finally learned to reason with myself. If I feel like I’ve gained a few pounds or just feel a little sluggish, I’ll think about my habits lately and make some healthy changes. Maybe I’ll aim to run a few extra miles next week, and try that new green goddess salad recipe I saw online. Keeping calm is pretty much a good rule of thumb in any situation. Take a deep breath, smile at your reflection, and save your poor mother from the dressing room break downs.

I have finally learned that there are much more important things in life than looking like a Victoria’s Secret model. It’s important to be healthy, but it’s also important to have good relationships, career goals, and an appreciation for the simple things in life.

You are so much more than just the way you look. You’ve got a lot of power inside that head of yours. Use it wisely.

Megan Peterson

Editorial Contributor, Indiana University Major: Journalism and Apparel Merchandising Her heart belongs to: fashion, old Hollywood, the color pink, big cities, disco balls, airports and dance parties Her guilty pleasures: Diet Coke, Friends reruns, shopping sprees, and following Kate Middleton’s life a little too closely

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