Losing Myself

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It seems like lately everyone I know is on a weight-loss plan. They are my friends and I love them and I'm ecstatic to see them taking strides toward being happy and healthy. But I've mainly stayed out of the weight-loss talk, and here's why:

My name is Stella and I have an eating disorder.

It probably started when I was very young. From 4th to 8th grade I went to an arts school where I majored in ballet. I danced six days a week, twice a day on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. While I'm sure there are many ballet schools that teach little girls how to dance and stretch and wear tutus in a healthy way, mine was not one. (Case in point: a good friend of mine was 5'8" with an athletic build. Her ballet instructor told her that if she ever wanted to see the stage she needed to get under 100 lbs. She ate only one apple a day for a week. And I thought she was awesome for doing it).

I am by nature pretty muscular. When I exercise, I don't become lithe - I become strong. So ballet was a constant struggle to lose not only fat, but muscle. I'm not sure when I discovered purging as a weight-loss method, but by eighth grade I was doing it regularly. I would skip lunch or eat a plain salad with no dressing. I couldn't escape family dinners, so I worked out a complicated mathematical system where so many bites of food equaled so many minutes of running or biking. I joined the track team and swam laps. And eventually destroyed my knees and had to quit dancing. Ironically, that only made things worse. I started high school in a new school where I knew no one. Without dancing, I didn't know what to do with myself. I joined the track team and the debate team. Debating was fun but caused me a ton of stress, so I exerted control over my life the only way I could - by controlling what went in my mouth. Every meal I skipped, every pound lost, was a small triumph. I ate Dexatrim and caffeine pills like candy.

When I started college I was 5'5" and a size 2. But whatever god or goddess watches over lost young women decided enough was enough and by random chance I ended up rooming with the best possible roommates I could have had. I was at Miami University, a school notorious for its sky-high number of women treated for eating disorders. I could have very easily ended up with a roommate who, like me, thought the world revolved around the number on the scale. But instead I had my awesome roommate M, and our across-the-hall mates A & B. M & A were athletes and four of us instantly formed a tight bond that has lasted through the years. We ate at the dining hall together, went to the rec center together, and finally things started to come together for me. I had great friends, I was having more fun that I thought was possible, my classes were challenging and interesting. I put on 30 lbs and grew an inch. My sophomore year, I discovered martial arts. I stopped weighing myself. I started eating meat again, lifting weights regularly, and discovered that putting on muscle could be a good thing. I met Mr Blue, and the rest is history. Kind of.

I am firmly convinced that eating disorders, like alcoholism and other forms of addiction, are life-long conditions. I am in recovery, but I am not recovered. Every day I have some sort of unhealthy thought. I don't keep a scale in the house and I do my best to avoid the one at the gym. About five years ago I started running competitively - gradually running longer and longer races. I think that being on a training regiment appeals to the part of my brain that needs to control my body.

My biggest fear is that someday my daughter will ask me if she's fat. Our society bombards our girls and young women with unhealthy images and unattainable goals. When I hear about girls in elementary school that are dieting - even taking diet pills! - I am so afraid for Lil' Blue. Even now I try every day to give her some sort of positive message about food. I keep her in the kitchen with me while I cook, and eat snacks and dinner with her every day. We try new foods and say "yum yum!" I don't read or keep any magazines in the house if they have models or actresses or other absurdly skinny women. And most of all, I try to let her know that she is beautiful and valued and wonderful from the inside out. Because I don't ever want her to feel that her value rises and falls inversely to the number on a scale. And because of her, every day I have a new reason to value myself - because she deserves a mother who is happy and healthy.

Posted by oballard at 10:24 AM  
Feener said...

important post, thanks for being brave and sharing.

August 24, 2008 at 1:02 PM  
Anonymous said...

wow! thanks for sharing. I've been on a diet for the past two weeks and last night I ate a salad without the dressing...and only an apple for breakfast. Your post made me realize that no matter what, keep healthy.


August 24, 2008 at 6:43 PM  
Stella Blue said...

I think being healthy (physically and mentally) shines through. Someone may be physically perfect but if they're unhappy or unhealthy, they aren't beautiful. And vice versa - healthy, happy people are beautiful!

August 25, 2008 at 1:16 PM  

I am also in recovery for disordered eating, and there are days I struggle with it more than seems feasibly possible. Your story struck a chord with me, because the roots of my struggle really were planted in my youth by the things my mom would say indirectly and, for me at least, directly at me. Over the course of one summer while in high school, I was able to hide the fact that I did nothing but pop diet pills and eat one small meal a day in front of her. The remainder of the day was filled with exercise, not eating, and obsessing about food. I was rewarded for losing a lot of weight very quickly, and it took me a long time to realize how sad that is. I then turned into a binge eater. Stress and secrets would set me off.

I did a year of therapy. I fought to accept who I am as a healthy woman still struggling. I still fight with the feeling that I'll never be 'right' in the eyes of my mom, who clearly has her own food issues but would never talk of them to me.

I want to love my body and all it has done and what I want it to continue doing for me. I don't always treat it well, but I treat it better than I have in the past. I just know I'll always be in a state of recovery.

Thank you for this post...

August 25, 2008 at 7:30 PM  
Robin said...

Thanks for sharing your story and passing down good habits of what a healthy woman is supposed to be.

All daughters would benefit if more of them had mommies like you!

Stay strong, girlfriend.


August 26, 2008 at 8:20 AM  

Wow. Thanks so much for sharing. It can be tough - at least for me - to share things that are super personal.

August 26, 2008 at 8:24 PM  
Jaywalker said...

Yeah, me too. And it's taken me even longer to kick it into abeyance I'm 33 and have only really put my ED to bed in the last year or so. It's hard when people around you are dieting, isn't it, and for me, it's also hard when I put on some weight but know that I can't allow myself to get into the destructive spiral of weight loss.

Sounds like you are doing a fantastic health job of staying sane keeping your daughter sane and happy. Gives me hope!

August 27, 2008 at 4:29 AM  
Elsie Button said...

Hi, thanks for sharing this. You are v brave, and It is so so important. And great that you have such a healthy positive attitude.

August 27, 2008 at 2:28 PM  
Laura said...

Thank you for talking about this important topic that many people are hesitant to discuss.

Your daughter has a wonderful role model.

August 27, 2008 at 9:06 PM  

You are so strong and brave! Your daughter is going to be just fine. The fact that you are aware and paying attention is the first step and makes all the difference. When you are ready, you can also show her this awesome video about women in advertising.


August 28, 2008 at 1:06 AM  
Stella Blue said...

wow, thanks for the great comments everyone! You guys are the best - funny, smart, and supportive. I think its wonderful that women can help each other stay healthy.

August 28, 2008 at 8:02 AM  
Feener said...

just to let you know you won my book giveaway - can you email me your address so i can have the author get you your copy


August 29, 2008 at 7:15 PM  

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