The issue of eating disorders is something that many women struggle with, but cannot address openly. It is an extension of the common struggle with body image and weight challenges, addressed in the 1st blog of this series by Liat K.
This raw and honest blog gives us a glimpse into an area that plagues many women. Though it is not something that should be raised in kallah classes or at the mivkeh, knowing that many women will have gone through such struggles, should inspire an extra measure of sensitivity among mikveh attendants and kallah teachers.
I’m not trying to lose weight; I’m trying to gain muscle. I don’t care about being thinner; it’s just about being healthy.
Getting into a rhythm. Going to the gym twice a week and yoga once a week. Going to the gym four times a week, ending each workout with yoga. Going to the gym everyday. One hour, two hours. Maybe one mile more. Maybe stationary bike too. Maybe a small workout before bed too. It’s just about being healthy. Granola for breakfast. No, too much sugar. Eggs. Egg whites, less fat, still a lot of protein. Carbs aren’t necessary; I need more protein and vitamins. It’s just about being healthy.
I am still trying to find the words. How do I talk about the summer of 2013?
The year before I had suffered a major bout of depression, and the year ahead was full of uncertainty. I felt unbelievably out of control. And on top of it, that winter before I had a three month stint of mono, which left me with some extra pounds and bad acne.
I framed that summer as a summer of change, mindfulness and progress. I was going to try yoga, take meditation classes, really take care of myself.
On the surface, I only had good intentions; I was coming from a place of positivity. But beneath that was that need for control. There was so much I had no control over, and I was desperate for some structure and agency.
Everything I did was toward a goal of being “fit and healthy.” Everyone I followed on Instagram was a health food blogger or weightlifter. I repeated inspirational quotes of self love and wanting to be better and healthier. I wanted to lean into this new lifestyle.
I found comfort in the routine of it all at first. I didn’t have to wonder what I was doing everyday. The gym was friendly, they had great facilities and it was a nonjudgmental environment.
I thought I was creating structure, discipline and prioritizing health. In reality it was an obsession.
We went on a family vacation. I woke up two hours early nearly everyday to use the hotel gym before we started the day. When I couldn’t work out, I ate less.
Then it happened. The nights where the seams I tightly sewed ripped open. I couldn’t run such a tight ship all the time, I needed a release. I began to consume thousands of calories in the middle of the night. But that release was so unhealthy, I thought I needed to balance it out. I started purging to undo the damage I did minutes before.
I couldn’t believe that I actually did it, after years of cautionary tales and horror stories. But I thought “if it happens now and again it isn’t a problem. I’m not like those other people with eating disorders.”
But it happened more and more often. And I stopped just doing it in the privacy of my own bathroom. I would use restaurant restrooms too. And then when my throat hurt too much, I resorted to laxatives. I even thought it was healthier. Like, it was supposed to be coming out of that end anyway, right?
It killed my stomach. I was in pain day and night.
I was in a bad mood all the time. My stomach hurt. My throat hurt. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted my rhythm, my control, and every time I lost grip of that control, I had to compensate.
Until the pain, mentally and physically, became too much. I never thought this would be an issue for me. I needed to do something.
It was time for a self-intervention.
Luckily I had a relationship with a therapist, and after months of hiding this issue, I finally opened up about it. She had compassion and understanding and instilled in me patience and self-gentleness. I learned how to balance the needs of my body with pleasure. I learned to know how and when to relax and let go of the control. I tackled underlying emotional issues I hadn’t dealt with before. It was a slow process, it still is. I am always going to struggle, like any woman does with body issues. But nothing meaningful comes easy.
I will never forget my pain; there’s always some seed to remind me of it. And I’m aware that there are women who have fallen much deeper than I, women who have not come out the other side like I have. What I have learned in this process, and what I want to pass on to others, is that it’s never too late to learn to love yourself. You’re deserving of self-love, no matter what.
My relationship with my body and body image is difficult and painful at times. It’s a relationship that requires constant attention and nourishment and love. It needs maintenance. And with the work comes something beautiful and lasting.
But it’s worth it. Because the alternative is excruciating.