When I was 25, I tossed our bathroom scale for good. It wasn’t because it was inaccurate or because it stopped working, it was because I was obsessed.
I was obsessed with my size. I was obsessed with an ideal. I was obsessed with a number: the number I saw on the scale.
Make no mistake: I know many people who worry about their weight. I mean, who doesn’t want to lose five or 10 pounds? Who doesn’t want to “look good” at the beach or impress that 8th grade bully at their high school reunion?
But is it normal to run to the bathroom after every drink, every meal, and every workout? Is it normal exercise before you leave your bedroom each morning and before you sleep each evening? Is it normal to weigh in five, six, and seven times a day?
Yes, and no.
You see, according to ANRED, more than 8 million men and women in the U.S. struggle with an eating disorder and as many as 1 in 200 people struggle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). And millions, probably billions, more struggle with their appearance.
But it isn’t normal to hoard food and avoid food. It isn’t normal to eat baby food when you are 22-years-old. And it isn’t normal to act like an adding machine: constantly counting things like how many calories are in two crackers, five sticks of celery, and one 12-ounce cup of coffee. Counting how many calories you have taken in versus how many you have put out. Counting the number of minutes you have run — the number of miles you have to run — in order to “earn” a rice cake, a cup of Cheerios, or a slice of barely-buttered bread. In order to add a splash of fat-free milk to that damn cup of coffee.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before I talk about my eating disorder and my battle with body dysmorphia, I should talk about my childhood. I should explain how it all began.
My own struggles with my body began in my “formative years,” i.e. when I was a pre-teen who wanted — and needed — to grow up. To “become a woman.” There was no defining moment when things went wrong. There was no instant when “the problems” began. One day I was young and completely unconscious of my body, and the next I was prodding it. Poking it. Stuffing it and tucking it.
Before long, I was dieting: I was eating less and exercising more. I was skipping meals. I was cutting out entire food groups. I was eating alone.
Before long, I was counting calories.
Before long, I was obsessed — obsessed with the number on the scale and the tag on my clothes.
Before long, my “diet” became a disorder — EDNOS (an eating disorder, not otherwise specified) and body dysmorphic disorder to be exact.
Make no mistake: I wasn’t fat. (In fact, I’ve always been thin. Not rail-thin but small, in stature and in size.) But I saw something that wasn’t there. I saw distorted and disgustingly thick thighs. I saw a swollen and disproportioned midsection. I saw someone who was worse than fat or ugly: I saw someone who was horrid and freakish. I saw someone who was grotesque.
I saw someone who I believed — completely and thoroughly believed — was unlovable.
But no one knew, and know one would know for many years. Because outwardly, it appeared I didn’t give a damn about my appearance. I was a studious, straight-A student. I was a bookworm; hell, I was a teacher’s pet, and those who knew me thought I was just focused — i.e. I was too focused on my studies to focus on my appearance (hence the oversized hoodies, extra-large tees, and baggy, wide-legged pants). And I carried myself that way for many years after high school. I carried myself that way even after college.
But I cared. I cared more than I let on. I cared more than I let anyone know, and while — at first glance — my loose ponytail and sloppy apparel may have been mistaken for apathy, I dressed in big clothes because I hated myself. Because I hated my appearance. Because I wanted to hide my body.
It’s been seven years since I tossed that scale. Since I started focusing on the person inside and not just “my skin.” And while I would like to say I am “better” — I mean, I no longer eat rice cakes for lunch and my days of drinking dry instant oatmeal are done — I still struggle. I struggle to keep “the numbers” out of my head, the demons at bay. I struggle to keep food in my stomach, and I struggle to see myself as sexy. As pretty. As beautiful. Because I am forever living in the shadow of my disease.
I will forever live in the shadow of my disease.
But every single day I don’t count calories, I get better. Every day I run and workout, I become bigger, faster, and stronger. And every day I do not step on the scale, I am happier. Every day, I become a little bit healthier.