I’m really honored and blessed to share the story of a girl who I’ve met while writing about eating disorder recovery. Her heart is SO Christ centered. And when I asked her she was more than willing to open up and vulnerably share her story. Jade blogs at Surrendered Stomach, and I hope you can add this SWEET girl to your blogroll! 🙂
Jade’s story is truly one of being surrendered to Jesus, and I pray that you are encouraged by it!
Picture Credit: Sarah Tau Photography
Thank you so much Emily for the opportunity to share here on your lovely blog. You have been a strong inspiration to me on my journey and I am honored to “be” here. 😉
I’m not sure where my story begins or ends. I am simply a work in progress seeking to be healed by Jesus. I am confident that as I allow Jesus to become a greater and greater part of my life and thoughts, eventually my eating disorder will be eclipsed by His love. I want to honor Him by my existence because He is the one who created me, has been with me through all the good and bad parts of life, and is helping me along the path of recovery.
Thus what I am about to share with you is not my story. It’s God’s story. It’s the story of God saving me from a continuous cycle of negativity and self-hate that has manifested itself in my eating disorder.
Although there are many negative details that could have been included I want to focus most on Christ’s restoration of my mind.
My mind is where my eating disorder began and in the same way my mind is where God’s healing begins.
From a young age I formed habitually negative ways of thinking about myself and would severely self-critical anytime I felt I had “failed.” I wanted to be perfect and when I felt I wasn’t, I would become deeply disappointed or outrageously angry with myself. I believed that I had been saddled with a bad personality and at times regretted my very existence.
Thus long ago the foundation was laid for the perfectionistic thinking that served as the catalyst for my eating disorder.
And when I turned 15, everything came crashing down.
I had anorexia.
You wouldn’t know it at first because I still looked like a normal, healthy teenage girl. Yet inside I was in silent turmoil. That is why I am adamant about the fact that eating disorders has no weight criterion. Although my weight would later plummet, my anorexia began in my mind.
My eating disorder took firm roots during the rocky transition time from kid to teenager. I became increasingly interested in all things health and wellness.
I seriously analyzed my health habits. I took up running and read all the books on health I could find. I increased my water intake, searched for healthy recipes, and experimented in the kitchen as much as I could.
Everything appeared to be fine at first. People commented on how “healthy” I was and how well I was taking care of myself. While it is true that an increased interest in health and fitness is not bad in itself, trouble was looming on the horizon. I was fast becoming sick and I didn’t even know it.
Around this time, I was experiencing chronic indigestion. Every time I ate my chest would burn like a fire for hours afterwards.
For awhile I just ignored the pain and dealt with it in silence. However, my indigestion grew worse so I told my mom. Thinking that the indigestion might be the result of an allergic reaction to specific foods, I followed my mom’s suggestion to keep a food journal.
I was totally astonished by what I discovered through tracking my meals so closely. My eating habits looked completely out-of-whack on paper!I’m eating way too much and way too many varieties, I thought.
For a time my realization changed nothing. I didn’t slash portions or cut out variety. Thoughts that my eating was “out-of-whack” simply rolled around in my head.
But soon several things would work together to bring me to a cold, hard resolution.
For the sake of time and privacy I will only name a few.
I found out that my sister and I weighed the same. This was a huge deal to me because she is four inches taller than I am. I panicked. What is wrong with me? Why am I so big?
I ran into relationship troubles. Girls whom I had kindly befriended suddenly became cold and distant. They ignored me as if we had never had a relationship and I had never previously existed. I was bewildered and confused by this unusual behavior.
Thoughts that I now realize as totally false lodged themselves in my head. It’s because I’m too big. That’s why they don’t like me.
Subconsciously, I filed this reasoning away as truth. I’m fat. Something is wrong with me. I need to change.
So I did.
My mindset regarding food and fitness gradually became disordered. I began measuring my food, counting out everything, obsessing over calories, cutting my portion sizes, chewing and spitting, running longer distances, and weighing several times per day.
Despite my efforts to stop it, indigestion continued to plague me. Since my indigestion always began shortly after meals, I became convinced that food was my personal enemy.
Because of my fear of food, my weight seemed to be dropping effortlessly and I was elated! I had never felt so in control before. It was as if I’d discovered new powers.
Around this time my family and I moved from the home I had lived in all of my life. Our new area was quite unfriendly. Very few people spoke to us at church. Although the high school kids I met in my new community were polite, I sensed that they already had their group of friends and weren’t looking to include anyone else.
I was a bit lonely but chose to ignore it. I didn’t need friends. Although somewhere inside I was hurting, I’d discovered an enchanting band-aid of food restriction, 100% clean eating, and exercise. My band-aid felt tight and comforting to the point where I hardly noticed the pain anymore.
“You need to eat some collard greens and pinto beans at 11pm every night!” A random lady at my grandmother’s church had just looked me up and down and blurted out this most unusual advice. I was taken aback. Why did she say that? I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. “They’ll fatten you up!” She said. With a few additional comments about how following her advice would help me to gain weight, she was gone.
I laughed. Me? Needing to gain weight? That was a joke. If anything, I could lose just a little more.
Later on, I related my strange encounter with “the collard green lady” to my family and we all laughed together.
“Jade, come here!” The next evening my mom called me to her with a note of seriousness in her voice.
Her searching eyes looked me over and fixed their gaze on my arms which hung like long spaghetti noodles at my sides.
“You look like you’ve lost some weight…” The scale appeared and she discovered that I had indeed lost some pounds–13 of them.
Soon I found myself answering probing questions about my current eating and exercising habits.
And then came the verdict.
“I think you have anorexia nervosa.”
What?! Huh? I was in complete denial. At that point I hardly knew what anorexia was.
I was told that I would need to gain X amount of weight immediately and was to monitor my progress with the scale every day. However, the next day when I went to find the scale, it was gone. I was totally confused. What is going on?!
My next meal was served by my mom. She seemed to pile my plate with food. I broke down and cried. I wept and I wailed. To me, eating such an amount of food was modern torture and I was absolutely disgusted. Why is this happening to me? What is going on?
Whatever was going on, I didn’t have a problem. I didn’t have anorexia at all. I was just fine. That “collard green lady” has ruined my life. I wish I’d never heard of her or her advice ever!
With these thoughts in mind I went into fighter mode. I wasn’t going to gain any weight. I began all out restricting.
I skipped any meal I could and when I did eat, it was charged with negative emotion. I felt guilty for eating and alarmed that what I’d worked so hard to build was being threatened. I reasoned that if I ate too much, I’d get worse indigestion than I already had.
Thus every meal repeated the same drawn out, painful experience. I would serve myself the smallest portion possible and my parents would promptly serve me more. I’d respond with tears and anger, protesting vehemently the entire time.
I made family meals miserable. I was miserable. I was both extremely angry and extremely scared. I felt constantly irritated and annoyed.
I lost more weight. Every week my weight went down one or two pounds. I made sure of that. I had no appetite and all I wanted to do was run.
My parents saw me losing more weight and disallowed me from running. I was devastated. I felt that a major part of my purpose for living was gone.
Yet even being disallowed from running didn’t help me to gain weight. I still ate as little as possible and found multiple creative ways to continue restriction.
I simply could not accept that anything was wrong with me. I was persuaded that I was perfectly normal.
Then life took a sharp negative turn.
My grandfather became very ill and died. He was a fun-loving, influential person in my life and I was saddened by his death.
My dad lost his job and our family was thrown into a financial crisis. Suddenly we had to move from house to house, living with strangers and friends.
In addition, I had taken on some particularly challenging courses in school. They were stressing me out and I was determined to get perfect grades.
Although my life was hectic and out-of-control, I convinced myself that I was okay. I handled myself well. I coped through my eating disorder–by controlling my weight and food intake. At least I’ve got this under control.
During this time my weight determined my happiness. I weighed myself obsessively. If my weight was low, I was elated. If it was high–I immediately slashed my portions even more and waited for my body to respond. I was still solidly convinced that I was “too big.”
I kept a calm exterior but inside I was very angry. I was angry at my parents for cutting back on my running. I was angry at them for telling me to eat more. I was angry at life. I was angry that God designed humans to have to eat such huge amounts of food.
My prayer life died. I was obsessed with food and numbers. I couldn’t focus and would end up on calorie counting and BMI websites when I was supposed to be spending time with Jesus.
Yet through all my anger and vigorous denial, I heard God’s voice speaking to my heart. I remember sitting in church one morning singing the hymn “I Surrender All.” I can’t sing this, I thought, because I haven’t surrendered all.
At that moment I knew that God was calling me to surrender my eating disorder–to voluntarily give it to Him.
But I didn’t want to. I had no intentions of pursuing recovery. I hadn’t even truly accepted that I truly had a problem yet. My eating disorder was what was getting me through my tough times. I was strangely comfortable with it. I wasn’t ready for change. I was scared.
One morning I noticed my mom looking at me with a critical eye. I cringed. I knew what was coming.
“Get the scale,” she said. I did and stepped on. The number glared back at me like an angry judge. I’d lost weight again.
My mom was visibly upset. That made me sad. She told me I’d need to gain a certain amount of pounds by a certain date or else.
I was beginning to see that I had an eating disorder. While a part of me wanted to gain the weight and be kind to my body, a part of me didn’t. I hesitated. I’m not sure I’m ready for all this.
However, my mom made me promise that I would gain the needed weight.
Although I’d made similar promises before, this time I determined to carry it out. I could see how hard this was becoming on my family and I didn’t want them to suffer.
Although not quite within the allotted time frame, I gained the required weight and passed it.
My secret? I started binging. Gradually began to eat more and more out of sheer frustration, confusion and anger. Whole packs of this…huge servings of that. I ate until I was physically sick. I was angry that I was being forced to gain weight and I was angry that I was gaining weight. I used overeating until I was sick as a way to punish myself for ‘losing my self-control.’
I binged then starved and binged again. I repeated this cycle countless times. Although I looked more physically healthy than before I was firmly trapped in another manifestation of my eating disorder. I was discouraged and upset.
“What do you have to lose by surrendering all this to God?”
That was my sister’s response after I had finished sharing my most recent food and fitness woes. I’d cried, complained and whined but now I stared back at her in wondering silence.
In that moment something clicked. This is exactly what God has been trying to tell me.
I considered my options and allowed myself to realize for the first time that I had absolutely nothing to lose by surrendering my eating disorder to God.
Instead, I could only gain! I could only gain strength, security, comfort, love, perfection and peace from Jesus.
God could replace my eating disorder. If I allowed Him to occupy my eating disorder’s space in my heart I would no longer need to use it as a tool to cope with life. In exchange He would give me peace and direction and help me to make sense out of a crazy and tough world. He could help me get rid of my anger and pain and someday bring me to total healing!
My story is not yet finished but I am happy to say that I decided to accept that I do have an eating disorder and am daily seeking to surrender it to Jesus. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t still have struggles with food, body image, and balance. I definitely do but now I have help to make sense of them.
I still have tons of emotional and physical healing to do but Jesus is bringing me gently along the path of recovery. I often mess up but He helps me to rise up again. He gives me His strength and encourages me to keep on trying.
God is replacing ED in my life. My story is not mine. It’s His story of healing and I am amazed at how much He has already restored me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I long to share what I am learning through my experience with an eating disorder and my recovery process to help others who are also struggling to break free from the (false) security and comfort of ED.
The biggest thing I am learning I recovery is profoundly simple: No matter what you’re currently struggling with or how much your eating disorder has beat you up, know that Jesus loves you, wants to see you recover, and has the strength to set you free!
Thank you Katie for letting me share this story for the MIMM link-up!