I woke up this morning, hopped out of bed, and stepped on the scale. Just like clockwork, I’ve done this every morning as long as I can remember. I grew up in a “scale house” where I’d watched my mom step on and off the scale through years of Weight Watchers, low carb diets, and weight-loss shakes. “That will never be me,” I told myself. Even in elementary school, I promised that I’d never let my weight get out of hand. Being a young, naive little girl with a high metabolism, I thought keeping the pounds off was simple. I thought all you needed to do was work out and eat a salad occasionally, and just like that, anyone could look like a supermodel.
When high school came around, I was still on track with the promise I’d made myself. I’d watched many of my peers begin to hit puberty, and with that came body fat. Suddenly all of my friends sprouted hips and boobs, but all I saw was fat. I was shocked to see them wearing bikinis in the summertime. I didn’t understand how they didn’t see the fat that was so evident to me. I began reading a lot of magazines and tabloids. The pages were filled with photos of Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, the Olsen twins. That is what I wanted to look like. By this time, I had been taking ballet classes for eleven years, and my teachers urged me to begin to look at ballet as less of a hobby and more of a career.
I lived for ballet. If I wasn’t at school, you could guarantee I was at the dance studio. The world of ballet is focused around perfection, so a perfectionist I became. I spent hours in front of a room of mirrors in tights and a leotard, making sure every move was calculated and executed to a T. All this hard work began to pay off, and before I knew it, I was to begin training with a more prestigious company. I had heard rumors from other dancers that they had in-class weigh-ins, so I figured I would lose a couple of pounds just to be safe. I was by no means fat, but I certainly did not look like the tall professionals who floated around the stage almost weightless.
Just like that, I made my weight loss plan. I restricted myself to 1,200 healthy calories a day, took additional jogs outside of rehearsals, and hung up photos I cut out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog to keep myself motivated. I began to see progress within the first few weeks. Why was this so hard for people to understand? Weight loss isn’t hard. It’s simply a calculation. Burn more than you consume. It was that easy. I’d lost the three pounds and began dancing with my new, much more advanced classmates. My instructors never said anything about my weight, but they didn’t have to. During rehearsals I’d look in the mirrors and compare myself to everyone else. Even though I’d lost a few pounds, the only thing I saw staring back at me in those hours of rehearsals was imperfection. I could lose a few more pounds. This is what it takes to be a professional. It’s all a part of the job.
Soon I cut out breakfast, bringing my daily calorie count down to 800. I’d lost a few more pounds, and I felt on top of the world. People began labeling me as “tiny’ and telling me they were jealous of how thin I was. My favorite thing to hear was, to “put some meat on your bones.” That sentence was more motivating than any Victoria’s Secret photo could ever be. So I continued my workout regimen until I realized I had stopped losing weight. “Weight loss is a calculation,” I reminded myself, so I cut my calorie intake down to 500. I wasn’t really hungry anymore, and when I did crave that chocolate ice cream in the cafeteria vending machine, I replayed “put some meat on your bones,” until I convinced myself I didn’t really want it. Suddenly my weight loss became less of a calculation and more of a game. Each day I pushed myself to see how little I could eat. I kept all those weight loss compliments playing on repeat in my head, each of them much more fulfilling than any meal could ever be.
My days began by telling my parents I wasn’t hungry during breakfast, or hurriedly running out the door leaving no time for it. I took the lunch my mom packed me to school. My sandwich was too carb-y. I threw it into the trash can. Pretzels had too much salt that led to bloating. It too, went straight to the trash. I sifted through my lunches until all that was left was the carrots. My stomach would growl during class, but I wasn’t embarrassed. With each growl, I could feel my waist getting smaller and smaller. After school, I would make myself a small salad, or push my fork around whatever my parents had made for dinner. I was winning this weight loss game. As I got thinner, everyone else around appeared fatter and fatter. I watched my classmates eat greasy pizza in disgust. I just didn’t get how they thought that was okay.
One day during a rehearsal, I began to feel light headed. I thought about grabbing a snack, then realized I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too. I could either choose food or choose my new life as the “tiny” girl. This realization hit me hard, but I knew I was right. Food wasn’t worth it anymore. I could eat enough to get by, and that’s all I really needed. The next morning I stepped on the scale and read it in shock. Ninety-seven pounds. I couldn’t believe it. I stepped on and off again and again, just to make sure it wasn’t a misread. I placed my hands around my hips, and was overjoyed of how little my hands had to grab. There was no more fat to pinch. This was worth the hunger.
Suddenly my accomplished weight loss began to concern my parents. Did they not see how hard I’d worked to get here?! I did not have a problem. I could eat a big meal if I wanted to. I’d show them. The following night, I went to Chicken Express with my mom. I had calculated a kid’s meal into the day’s calories which I could easily burn off. I sat the greasy, fried, carb-loaded chicken in front of me ready to devour it. As I stared at the meal, all those compliments raced through my brain. All I could see was that number on the scale and I knew this meal would ruin it. I wanted so badly to eat it. I wanted to prove I didn’t have a problem. As hard as I tried, and as much as I wanted it, my brain just would not let me eat it. I began to sob uncontrollably in the middle of the restaurant. Maybe I did have a problem after all. I pushed the thought away.
Sitting in class the next week I got a note from the office saying that my mom was here to take me to a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t remember any mention of it, but it wasn’t unlikely for something like that to be scheduled last minute. The drive was longer than usual, and I was surprised to see that we stopped at a hospital rather than my usual doctor’s office. I shot my mom a confused glance, but she reassured me that we were just going to try out a different doctor. When my time came to talk to the doctor, I felt like the world came to a screeching halt as he let out the words: “eating disorder.” My head was spinning and before I could collect my thoughts, he explained he was writing Anorexia Nervosa onto my medical records. Anorexia?! He must be confused. Girls with eating disorders have a problem. I do not have a problem. My attempts at explaining it just came out as sobs, as he began to discuss my rehab options. The words cut me like a knife.
Now, five years later, I can proudly say that I am healthy and recovered. My recovery from Anorexia took a lot of time learning to accept my body type, which I accredit to the reason I am so comfortable in my body today. Thirty pounds and a whole lot of carbs later, I can walk proudly, even in a swim suit, in a body I would have once labeled “fat.”
If you (or someone you know) are struggling with an eating disorder, call (630)-577-1330, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website and helpline for more information.
To take a confidential, eating disorder screening created by the National Eating Disorders Association, click here.
Image via Shutterstock