Coming into College Without Being Completely Recovered from an Eating Disorder

Author: Alex K.

received_1487353294648546One of the most difficult parts of my eating disorder journey was coming into college with the disorder still intact. Surprisingly, this was even more difficult than the re-feeding process and the family method of recovery I had to go through for months before even entering my freshman year. I was used to having meals picked out by my mom, with no say in what I ate. This made it easier for me to sit down at a meal and just eat what I was told to eat. Coming into college, however, I was not only alone on all the aspects that all the students around me were alone on, but also I was alone with my eating – something I had little to no control over for a very long time. Unlike me, many students didn’t even think twice about their eating.

What was a normal way to eat? I had no idea. I was still, most likely, at a weight where I was too unhealthy to make food decisions on my own as well as where I was biologically unable to get my period. I had absolutely no idea what I should and shouldn’t be eating, and it was even harder to eat what others around me were eating without having the overly excessive urge to purge afterwards. I followed what my roommate and friends did. I banked on watching their eating habits to learn my own; however, that wasn’t what my body needed at the time, I wasn’t my friends, and they weren’t me. My metabolism was absolutely shot. I barely even had one. Eating one meal a day, like some of my friends did, was not going to help speed my metabolism up at all. So, I turned to alcohol to make eating easier. It got rid of all my guilt, which abled me to eat the food I was leaving out during the day – and all in one sitting without feeling full.

Drinking also helped me with the social aspects of college that I had forgotten how to handle, missing out on them for almost three years beforehand. I could drink, eat what I wanted, and talk to whomever I wanted without feeling the slightest bit guilty. I put myself “out there” more than I should have, for I still lacked confidence, which to this day, I am working on building.

As a coping mechanism to feel better, my drinking caused massive problems with my eating disorder. I knew I would eat a lot the during the nights I’d be drinking, so I’d minimize what I ate during the day. I continued this vicious cycle: first, starving until the later hours of the day until I could finally binge on what I found in the school cafeteria, and then waiting a huge gap of hours until I was too intoxicated to realize what I was eating and if it satisfied my body. I would sometimes even reach the point when I’d have to binge drink to rid myself of feeling too full.

This went on for an entire school year, when the weight would quickly, in large amounts, pile on. I was blind to it because I would drink away the reality each night. It made things easier, but not without consequences. I was beginning to put on weight. I wouldn’t listen to those around me who told me I shouldn’t only be eating once a day. But, I couldn’t stop this. It had become a habit. I was still sick, and so the habit continued and drew my attention to the fact that I was no longer too thin but rather too obsessed with the “freedom” alcohol gave me and the food it allowed me to eat. To my sick mind, my insecurities about my weight only seemed to last the few hours of the day that I was sober.

Each day, I would see myself in the mirror, realize the weight gain, but still be too sick and deep into the disordered thoughts to realize what I was doing was harmful. To my sick mind, I could just drink again the next night and not notice that I was at a weight that, for the first time in a long time, was not too thin but rather too heavy, bringing on a grandiose hormonal imbalance. This continued and got worse as the year went on. Each night, a new excuse to drink came about, and more food went into my body. The girl who used to be horribly thin was now having a hard time believing she ever was thin in the first place. The bloating from the excessive drinking and the salt from all the food made it impossible not to notice how different I looked. I wasn’t the girl I was when I started college. And, not because I had put on weight, but because the eating disorder had shifted from eating almost nothing to drinking to the point where I could drink and eat almost anything.

***

One thing I have learned throughout my journey with an eating disorder is that people in this world are very narrow minded. It was inevitable that comments were made about how “different” I looked from the beginning of freshman year to the end. I was “hotter” then. I was ugly now. This was not something the eating disorder wanted to hear. I was too deep into the drinking to trigger back into my anorexia, but I continued to drink to rid the pain and fear of what others would think. I cannot pin point exactly when it hit.  But it hit, and I realized that I could not live this way anymore. My organs were damaged from my anorexia. I worked so hard to get to a somewhat healthy weight. How could I let my weight skyrocket to another spectrum of unhealthy? When was I going to learn to balance? It was mid-summer after my freshman year, and even then, I still wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be. But, I didn’t give up. I began to teach myself balance. It was absolutely horrifying eating more than one meal a day and steering away from drinking to make things easier. But, I had to take it upon myself to learn to do so. I was too embarrassed with how I’d let myself go. People would make comments of how different I looked, and I knew they weren’t positively connoted. I started going to the gym again, slowly. And, it was horrifying. I used to run upward of 15 miles when I was sick, and now I couldn’t even walk one. This was when I knew that i had to go to the gym, but not to get skinny; I had to do it to be healthy.

I hadn’t been healthy in four years. I had hit my highest and lowest weights in a matter of one year, and I had to find my body’s balance. I slowly started to workout. I still ate when I wanted and drank only sometimes, when I felt I “had” to. But, I continued moving forward with the aim of finding what works for my body. No, I am not where I am comfortable, and I still get comments that compare me to how I looked when I first started college to how I look now. But, I will not let these comments trigger or discourage me. What people don’t realize when they say, “You looked so good,” was that I was still very sick. I almost wasn’t able to start school, but my therapists and treatment team had faith.

I hit a rough patch, another spectrum of an eating disorder, that won’t go away in a day or even a year or maybe even a lifetime. But, what I went through has helped me learn how to deal with the unexpected things that might pop up at any given time.

What I hope people get out of this is that it is absolutely inappropriate for anyone to comment on anyone’s image because nobody has any idea what someone may be going through. Each person in this world has his or her own struggles that he or she deals with each day, and making a comment on how someone looks or acts can really sabotage a persons ability to get better. I someday hope to learn that my body isn’t what defines me. I’ve made friends at my lowest and highest weights, and have been loved throughout each struggle. Yes, ignorant people make comments and think certain things, but what matters is that I am working out and eating healthy now, for MYSELF, not for them. And, when I finally am happy with myself and when I learn what my body and mind need to stay healthy, I will be able to, as I am trying to now, raise awareness of the simple truth that the only thing that defines a person is who he or she is on the inside. I want people to know that once they find confidence within themselves, they will not only be happy, but also healthy. Hopefully, this will diminish the prevalence of eating disorders and help more people understand the seriousness behind them. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and stick with people for a very long time. They are not impossible to beat, but they are possible to raise awareness for and to help reduce. Every BODY is beautiful!

-Alex K.

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