This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while now because it’s something that affects so many men and women, and friends and family of those men and women.
Let me just say that this post does NOT include numbers, weights, calories, etc. It’s my firm belief that specific numbers should not be discussed on blogs and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves when bloggers post their lowest weights/specific calorie intakes. It’s triggering and encourages competition so you won’t find that here.
My own struggle with an eating disorder began my junior year in college, though I exhibited disordered eating patterns for years before that. At the time, I knew it was a way to gain control over my life, to attempt to be perfect, but I didn’t realize how dangerous these goals actually were. Well, it wasn’t the goals that were dangerous, it was the way I chose to go about them.
I’m grateful now that I got help so quickly on in my eating disorder, though I did lose almost a year and a half of my life because I was in and out of treatment centers, ambivalent about giving up my most prized coping mechanism. When I did finally decide to get serious about recovery, it took a lot of hard work to recover both a healthy body and a sane mind. For me, regaining full mental health was the most challenging part and recovering from it all was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But the interesting thing is that now I’m back in school as a post-bacc student, and I’m faced with a lot of old triggers, though I have the skills to handle them, which I’m so grateful for.
Unhealthy behaviors run rampant on college campuses (I know there are plenty of examples of healthy college students, but that’s not the focus here). Late night study sessions, stress from classes, roommates, relationships, work, pressures from family and coaches if you’re an athlete…it’s a lot for young people to handle.
What I Wish I Knew Then…
I wish I knew that comparisons are chicken sh*t. They really are. Everyone has their own path and thinking less of yourself because you think someone else is better is probably going to make you feel worse about yourself.
If you want motivation to be better or do better, acknowledge your positive attributes and incorporate habits of the people you admire, but don’t berate yourself for not being who they are or where they are. They’re not better than you because they’re where you want to be. They had to start somewhere too.
I wish I knew that eating isn’t optional.
Sounds pretty basic but if you’ve struggled with an ED you know it’s not. If you don’t eat, your brain and your body can’t function. Forget school. Forget your job. Forget your relationships and a healthy, normal life. You can’t have those and an eating disorder, not long-term anyway.
I wish I knew that I wasn’t as broken as I believed I was.
One of the biggest differences between myself 3 years ago and now is that now I know that I’m not broken. Far from it.
I’m not perfect and there are things I could improve about myself, but I also have everything I need in me to be happy. (PS–when you make yourself happy, it takes the pressure off of all your relationships and you become a magnet for the kind of people you’ve always wanted in your life)
I wish I knew self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Going back to school has been a challenge for me in that I’m still finding balance between self-care and my other responsibilities (classes, working in a lab, my own business, my social life and relationships). But it’s also not ok to use being busy as an excuse for not taking care of yourself. I’m currently working on turning that around in my own life though I do a much better job now than I used to! :)
I wish I knew that my body shape/size didn’t dictate my worth.
I used to believe being a certain size or weight would make me perfect, worthy, beautiful.
Trying to achieve that weight made me miserable. It didn’t make me more attractive (when I gained back most of my weight, my boyfriend told me he loved my recovery body way more than my sick one), it didn’t make me happier, and it didn’t make me feel in control, which brings me to…
I wish I knew that eating disorders provide illusory control, not real control.
You control your eating disorder only for a short while, and then it controls you.
I don’t ever want my life to be consumed by obsessive calorie counting, compulsive weight-checking dates with a scale every morning, and not-so-secret trips to the bathroom after meals. That life was miserable and I don’t want that for myself because I know there’s another way to live…and I don’t want that life for anyone else either!
My hope for college students (and those before and beyond college), both male and female is that they will realize that they are worth more than a disease that is all-consuming, that their worth is already established and they don’t have to earn it by using an eating disorder, and that when life feels out of control, there are ways of coping and people who can help.
You are worth it and life is worth it.