Here we are at a friend's party a few weeks ago.Some of you may remember my blog entry months ago about wanting to make friends at the gym. It was a place I was starting to spend a lot of time in and actually enjoy, but still, something inside me adhered to the belief that because I didn't look like I worked out, I didn't belong there. Slowly, though, that belief dissipated, and I've since made a group of friends I adore and really connect with-further proof that my theory that I didn't belong in a gym was ludicrous. One of those new friends is Jessica Clark. Yes, she's a big-time model. Yes, she's the girl from Usher's "Let it Burn" video, and that's her gorgeous photo below from the September issue of Lucky. And yes, she has battled eating disorders. Her story (and her courage to talk so openly about it) really inspired me-and I hope it'll do the same for you. Welcome, Jessica.
Hi, everyone. As Margarita said, most people who know me know that I have struggled with anorexia and many, many years of severe bulimia. These are the eating disorders we all talk about, but there are so many among us who struggle with binge eating, or with the less discussed "disordered eating." Sometimes the signs are obvious, but how many women suffer from eating disorders in isolation for years because they manage to maintain a weight within a "healthy" range, or are able to laugh off bingeing in its clinical definition as just "loving food too much"? Of course, any unhealthy relationship with food isn't about loving food, it's about a preoccupation with food that can become an obsession. We think about it all day, dream about it at night, plan out our next meal before we've started to digest the one we just ate. When I was severely restricting my intake, I'd wander around the aisles of a supermarket, staring at the displays of food, and get lost in them for hours. When I was actively bingeing and purging, I'd sit in class plotting what I was going to buy from each of the different markets on my way home. (I'd split up my purchases among the different delis because I was embarrassed to be buying enough baked goods to feed 5,000 all from one place.)go to town. I'm not sure that a preoccupation with food will ever completely leave my consciousness. But I can tell you that I no longer live in fear of food (Is it too much? Not enough?) the way I used to. And I can also tell you that I'm able to have a real, loving and truly intimate relationship with someone other than food. The truth is, I believe it's almost impossible to properly love and be loved, to be fully present and honest with someone else, when you're hiding food wrappers, sneaking off to the bathroom to throw up or enduring the agonizing results of the box of laxatives you swallowed earlier. (When is a diet gimmick really disordered eating?)
What I know for sure is that I couldn't have rebuilt my relationship with food, and my body, and couldn't have recovered to the extent that I have, without help. And I know the resistance to seeking help all too well: "It's just food, I should be able to figure it out!" "I'm embarrassed, I'm so weird about food; people will think I'm a freak." "I'm fine, I just have a little willpower issue."
Listen-it's not about any of that.
Eventually I came to terms with the fact that the way I ate (or didn't) was a behavior I'd developed, a pattern, a habit, like the way I brush my teeth. Only food's effect on my body-an effect I don't think is dissimilar to drugs-would make this habit a difficult one to break. (Too much food, or not enough, can give us a high, where we feel insulated from our feelings. And it's that factor that pulls us back into self-destruction time and time again.) By the time I gave in to the concept of getting better, I was very sick and pretty desperate-and I was prepared to do anything. I sought help through therapy and outpatient rehab. And I also went somewhere most people wouldn't expect to see me, a model: Overeaters Anonymous (OA). That OA is only for the morbidly obese or overeaters is a misconception. There were people of all ages and sizes in those meetings, men and women, teenagers, high-powered lawyers, glamorous fashionistas, stay-at-home moms. It became clear to me that those of us who have issues with food run the gamut of society. And it wasn't until I started going to these (free) meetings that I really realized our real relationships with food actually have nothing to do with what we look like or how successful we are.
I know that I needed all three support systems (specialized therapy, outpatient rehab and OA) to get me where I am today, but it was the support of my peers in those 12-step meetings that really changed my views and became the turning point where I no longer wanted to allow food to make me feel so secretly unhappy and isolated. And if I have learned anything over my decade-plus of self-inflicted food/body misery, it is that it doesn't just go away. It isn't just a case of "doing better tomorrow," or that extra hour in the gym. I know it can be so terrifying to admit you need help, but for me, I reached the point where the only thing more terrifying was living with food abuse for the rest of my life, or, worse, not living the rest of my life. I knew I'd never allow another person to treat me the way I was treating myself-and no longer, I decided, would Jessica Clark treat me that way either.
Have any of you battled an eating disorder? If you've sought help-and I can't tell you how deeply I hope that you have-what worked for you?
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