A picture is worth a thousand words. I feel the following pictures will accurately portray my struggle from anorexia to binge-eating to bulimia to recovery. This post is meant to serve as a timeline from 2008 to the present. If you were to gain one thing from this post please remember this: You don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one.
Terminology: Ed = Eating disorder
This is how I looked most of junior high and my freshman and sophomore years of high school. In this picture, I am a sophomore in high school. At this point, I was very restrictive on what foods I ate. I will not speak of what foods I restricted as I do not want to trigger anyone who is currently struggling with Ed. We were on vacation in Washington D.C. I never fully enjoyed this trip because I was constantly thinking of food and worried about how many calories I would eat at dinner. Even after walking for miles while site-seeing, I would walk on the treadmill right when we got back to the hotel until dinnertime – just to burn more calories. (This is my beautiful younger sister, Rachel – she shows up quite often in these pictures).
I had very low self-esteem. In fact, I had my sister take this picture so I knew what I looked like from behind. Due to my distorted self-image at the time, I felt that I needed to lose weight because of this picture.
2009: Transitioning from Anorexia to Binge-Eating
Homecoming Dance – I never had a date, but I would go with friends to all of the dances. I loved dancing. But not being asked out to the dance contributed to my low self-esteem. I remember feeling so awkward taking this picture. I felt so exposed with the spaghetti straps and felt uncomfortable wearing heels and dangling earrings. At this point I was gradually allowing foods I had restricted back into my diet. My biggest struggle with eating foods I had restricted was the social image. All throughout junior high and the beginning of high school I was known as the “health nut.” In fact, my friends would try tricking me into eating my restricted foods. When I started eating things that actually tasted good, I felt like I lost my identity as the “health nut,” I wasn’t unique anymore, I was average.
2010: On the Verge of Binge-Eating
This is my prom picture during my last semester as a senior in high school, again, no date. In fact, my dad was so incredibly kind and bought me this corsage to make me feel special and loved. At this point I had finished playing volleyball for my high school and club teams and started enjoying exercise classes at our local gym. I would go before school in the mornings and again in the afternoons. This is when I started to enjoy Spin and Bodypump. However, I had an unhealthy mindset when I exercised. I constantly had to out-do myself and would only take Sundays off to rest. I had already been accepted into the Nutrition program at a university in California. I was very anxious about college and nervous about this life transition. I began eating large quantities of food while watching television after I worked out. I started feeling out of control around food. But I would force myself to get rid of it by working hard at the gym. I was still living with my parents at this time, so I didn’t go full-fledged eating disorder yet….but I was about to.
2011: Full-Fledged Binge-Eating
At this point I had just finished my first year of college. It was an incredibly stressful, lonely year for me. I was taking challenging courses and was constantly home-sick. My typical day would involve working out in the morning, attending classes all day and evening, picking up food from the cafeteria, hustling back to my dorm, watching television shows on my laptop, and eating everything in sight. I would feel incredibly guilty and angry with myself for losing control. I would try to force myself to study even though my overly full stomach writhed with pain. I would force myself to go to sleep amidst the feelings of self-loathing and bloat. Then, I would wake up, vow never to lose control over food again, work out until I felt like I had control, and start my day all over. My body would still be digesting all that food from the night before. As the day progressed and the stress piled up, I would turn to food to console me. The self-loathing only doubled and tripled with each meal. I did not socialize much during this year. Ed has this funny thing of keeping you isolated. Ed becomes your friend. In recovery, we learned to speak of Ed as a person. Someone who would try to consume your life. I hated Ed and loved Ed all at the same time. Ed convinced me to train for a Half Marathon to compensate for all the extra calories I was eating. At this time, I also became a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Spin Instructor – again to find my identify in being a “health nut.” Do not be fooled by my smile in this picture. It is completely fake. I had forced myself to do this Half Marathon. I hated every minute of it. I hated running, I hated training. In fact, I pulled my hamstring while training, an injury I am still dealing with to this day.
January 2012, I had enough of those horrible nights of binge-eating. One night when all my roommates were asleep I snuck into the bathroom and tried sticking my fingers down my throat. It worked. Everything came up. And I immediately felt better. This was a pivotal moment. I had found my solution. I could eat anything I wanted and just throw it back up, no consequences. I was immediately addicted. I would hurriedly get through my day of classes and work, and then I would head to the dorm cafeteria to load my tray with food. I would ignore my apartment-mates as I locked myself in my room, turned a show on, and binged. When I was done bingeing and couldn’t stuff any more food down, I would sneak into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and throw it all up. I ended up just using the shower to purge. The shower helped drown the sound of my heaving and would clean me up before I walked out. I use the term “purge” because it is more than throwing up. Purging involves getting rid of emotions like guilt and shame associated with bulimia. Purging was addicting because it remained an outlet for me to release all emotions. It made me numb inside. I didn’t have to deal with feeling anymore, purging was my solution.
Deep down I knew it was wrong. I knew it was unhealthy. But I was addicted, bingeing and purging was my drug. At first I needed my fix once a day, then twice a day, then up to five times a day. I didn’t have a car on campus so I would ride my bike to different grocery stores and buy binge food. It was tricky working around my apartment-mates’ schedules, but it was possible. In fact, I would end up eating their food and would get caught numerous times. One of my worst eating disorder days involved renting a car, parking it behind a grocery store, and bingeing and purging into the grocery bags. I was a drugee hooked on bulimia. I would even get a high from it. It put me in a funk where I couldn’t focus on anything, I couldn’t feel. It consumed every thought. I was constantly planning my next binge-purge session, I would fantasize about it. But, those guilt and shame emotions always seemed to creep in. The excitement over chasing the high started to diminish. As you can see, I look incredibly unhealthy in the next few pictures. Again, due to my distorted self-image, all I saw were my flaws. I always had more weight to lose.
February 2012, I told my sister, who ended up telling my mom, for good reason. I don’t blame Rachel, it was scary hearing that her older sister was voluntarily hurting herself. I immediately started counseling with an eating disorder therapist. Essentially, what I learned is that an eating disorder is NOT about food. There are so many emotions and fears connected to an eating disorder. Eating disorders are a by-product of something much deeper. The eating disorder is the superficial retaliation of your true self crying out. That freedom and confidence you had as a child to just be you is suffocated with rules and fear. Your true self tries to break through, it gets your attention with the eating disorder. Now, the question is what are you going to do about it.
2013: Recovery Part I
January 2013, here’s what I did about it. At this point I was still attending school and working toward my Nutrition degree. I was bingeing and purging at least five times a day. I looked like a skeleton. I would go home every weekend because my family was very involved in my recovery and I was so homesick. I was depressed because despite biweekly therapy sessions, I seemed to only get worse. I couldn’t handle the stress of school while attempting to recover from bulimia. The counseling only brought up more emotions and fears, I would turn to bingeing and purging after counseling sessions to numb the feelings that arose. Then I would feel guilty for failing and beat myself up for it. I was caught in a viscous cycle with no rest. Then January 23, 2013 happened. I had enough. I was done with this cycle. All I saw in my future was a wife who would binge and purge while her husband was at work. I saw myself as a mother who would give her child a bath then turn around and purge into the toilet. Honestly, this was the direction I was headed, and I didn’t want that for my life. I called my parents at 10pm that night. I told them that I was quitting school and enrolling myself in a full-time eating disorder recovery program back home. They picked me up and we drove home in complete silence. The next day I called the program and they had me starting right away.
2013: Recovery Part I (continued)
March 2013, I had been in the program for about six weeks at this point (my cousin and sister are in this picture). I would sleep and eat breakfast at home, under my mom’s supervision. Then I would go to the recovery house the rest of the day. I had individual counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, downtime, and scheduled lunch and dinners. Everything was supervised. I had to leave the door cracked and a counselor would stand outside it whenever I went to the bathroom. I met with multiple counselors, a dietitian, and a physician weekly. I enjoyed making recovery my full-time job. It was exhausting. I constantly slept. I feel that my body was deprived of sleep, nutrients, and just overall being taken care of. My body finally relaxed and enjoyed the recovery process. It was just that, a process. I would find ways to binge and purge on my way home from the recovery house or while my parents were gone. But one thing I always did was tell my counselor every time I purged. There was less shame telling a counselor than telling my parents.
2013: Recovery Part I (continued)
Slowly, I started recovering. I started introducing “fear” foods back into my diet. I was actually under orders not to work out, since I had developed such an unhealthy relationship with exercise. I started learning how to take care of myself. I cut my hair short. I got a motorcycle license and received a scooter as a gift. I started gaining healthy weight back. I actually started to enjoy myself. In fact during a counseling session I told my therapist that I was ready to date. I had never had a boyfriend, been on a date, or heck, even really talked to a boy, for that matter. She suggested I go on Christian Mingle for a week and try it out. I always did my homework assignments, so that is indeed what I did.
2013: Recovery Part I (continued)
March 2013, I went online on a Tuesday in March and by that Saturday – not even a week later – I was talking to Ben. Fast forward multiple Skype dates, late night phone calls, and constant texts, I was ready to meet him face-to-face. Since he was unable to get time off of work, I flew to him in April. I pretty much gave my parents a heart attack. After much convincing, they let me fly out to meet him in North Dakota. Yes, stranger danger is real, but we put up all the necessary precautions to keep me safe. He had arranged for me to stay with a family from his church and my mom had all the necessary contacts and phone numbers. I’m guessing my parents assumed I just needed to get it out of my system. They figured I would be back in California in no time. What was supposed to be just a weekend visit ended up extending to be a week. I knew I was going to move to North Dakota soon and we were going to get married (Ben was also on board with this plan!). I ended up staying the week to line up everything. Within that week, I had been accepted at the local university, arranged my on-campus living situation, and accepted a job as a group exercise instructor at the university’s wellness center. This picture was taken at a local park, it is one of our first pictures together.
August 2013, I moved to North Dakota. I applied and was accepted into the nursing program which began that following January 2014. Ben was sent to training for six weeks right when I arrived. I was really proud of him, but it gave me a lot of freedom with no accountability. I therefore relapsed. My family was very concerned that I was moving across the country for a guy I hardly knew. I had no support network in North Dakota like I did in California. My counselors reassured my parents that they trusted me and trusted that I was ready for this transition. It was a huge transition. For a while I didn’t handle it well. While Ben was gone I would binge and purge. I enjoyed the freedom as no one was hovering over me as I went to the bathroom. I met new people, but didn’t have to let them in on my dirty, little secret. I had a fresh slate, I could reinvent myself. But I chose to relapse and I relapsed hard. In hindsight, I was not prepared to cope with the emotions of the transition. I quickly fell back into my old bulimic ways. When Ben returned from his training, I told him that I had relapsed. At this point Ben was very aware of my struggle with an eating disorder, I disclosed that information within hours of talking to him for the first time on the phone. He will admit now that he didn’t realize how much recovery I still needed to do. In fact, I didn’t realize how much more recovery I needed.
2013: Still Relapsing
November 21, 2013 Ben proposed! In all honesty, I had actually binged and purged multiple times that very day. I was plagued by multiple episodes of bingeing and purging daily. It was as if I had never experienced recovery in the first place. Ben and I would work through each day together. He is the most patient, kind, and sensitive man. He would let me cry as I told him that I had messed up again. We would try to get to the root of the issue. At this point we both understood that each episode stemmed from something deeper, so we would explore what the deeper meaning was. It was emotionally exhausting at times, but he was a trooper. I also met weekly with our church’s young adult pastor’s wife as she had struggled with an eating disorder too. I was learning what it meant to find my identity in Christ, not in my eating disorder. I was learning what true freedom in Christ meant – that I was a beautiful woman of God, loved, and cherished. I never heard this during my initial recovery. I had left the most important component out during my first round of recovery: Christ. This is why I relapsed. I had not allowed Christ to heal me from the inside out, I was trying to recover by my own power. Being human, I am not enough to sustain myself, Christ is.
2014: Recovery Part II
May 31, 2014, Ben and I were married in California! Beginning January 2014 I started nursing school while planning our wedding from a distance. The stress was real and the temptation to relapse was even more real. I did relapse multiple times during this period, however, I started building my relationship with Christ. A true, authentic relationship. I wanted to know who I am in Christ – I was tired of bulimia. I desired genuine freedom – I prayed constantly to experience this freedom. It involved two steps forward and one step back for a while. I had an amazing support and accountability in Ben. He could write a book on how to support a spouse with an eating disorder. I would tell him every time I relapsed, I felt shameful, but I would feel relieved once I told him. Sin doesn’t thrive when it is exposed to the light. Together, we would pray healing in my life.
2014: Recovery Part II (continued)
December 2014, this picture was taken at Ben’s squadron Christmas party. I was slowly recovering each day. Each morning I had to wake up and battle. But as each day progressed, the battle became less and less fierce. Yes, there were days I completely blew it, but it was how I handled it. I imagined running a race, when I relapsed it was as if I fell down. I have to finish the race. I’m determined. But, each time I fell I had to get back up and start jogging again before I could go back to running. Each relapse required shaking the dirt off, holding my head high, and jogging. At this point, I was re-introducing “fear foods” back into my diet. The paradox is that in order to gain freedom you have to give up control. That idea was lost on me for the longest time. I found the greatest recovery progression by living in freedom. I would go to the store, buy something I used to fear, and eat it in freedom. I would listen to my body’s hunger and satiety cues in freedom, I would not purge because I was free. I was also developing a healthy relationship with exercise again. I was trying to re-train my mind to exercise in freedom. I slowly learned to enjoy moving my body, I learned to listen to my body when it needed to rest or when it desired to be challenged. I was discovering my true self, my true identity again. I was discovering that free, confident Megan who used to be covered by blankets of rules and fears. Christ was working through me and exposing the true “me.” The “me” He had lovingly created and was graciously healing from the inside-out.
2015: Fully Recovered (Picture taken at Half Dome in Yosemite for our 1st Anniversary)
Over this year, my body started normalizing. Our bodies have a natural place they like to be and over time my body learned to trust that I would feed it, rest it, and take care of it. Relapses still occurred, but the time in between started spanning weeks and then months until the end of 2015, I just stopped completely. I honestly can’t tell you the last date I purged, I know it was sometime in 2015. Back in 2012, I prayed that Christ would heal me over-night. He didn’t. And I am grateful for that. I am grateful for the struggle of anorexia, binge-eating, and bulimia. I am grateful to have found healing, self-confidence, and freedom in Christ that I never knew existed. The process was the most valuable part to me, not the end result. I learned that my true identify is not being a “health nut,” it’s not being “bulimic,” it’s being a beautiful daughter of Christ.
2016: Enjoying the Journey
September 2016, this is exactly why I started this blog. My journey from a distorted self-image to a new identity needs to be shared. I have been too quiet with my testimony. I know there are real women and men struggling with eating disorders and /or distorted self-image. Media has a way of distorting our views even more. My goal is that this blog serves as a healthy media tool to facilitate confidence and a healthy self-image. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m enjoying the journey.
Please feel free to comment and ask any questions. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am willing to lend a listening ear and help locate support resources in your local area.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA):
Call NEDA’s toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. They are open every Monday-Thursday from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (EST).