To the Bench - A Story of Anorexia

Raise your hand if the song “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany makes you cry.

Anyone? Anyone at all?

Yeah, I figured as much. Don’t mind me in the corner, tears streaming down my face, because all over again a 9-year-old, overweight hot mess.

You see we listened to that song – every single day – on the playground in 1988. The first 6 girls who could get to “the bench” got up there to dance their way through recess. In hindsight, it might have been practice for dancing on a bar, but at that moment, it was the height of cool.

I never got to dance on “the bench”. I was too slow and couldn’t make the top 6…instead, I got looks of pity and snickers (that did not satisfy!)

Being an overweight child in the ’80s wasn’t common. I stuck out in photos. I was always the biggest kid in my Girl Scout troop, my class, and on my softball team.

Body positivity was not yet a movement, what I had was an overweight mom telling me that if I kept eating, I would have to shop in the “fat girl section”.

The actions at home didn’t back up the hollow threats. I wasn’t allowed Frosted Flakes, but I could dump all the sugar on my Grape Nuts. I was required to eat salad at dinner, but it was unrecognizable through the obscene amount of ranch dressing I slathered on.

These habits would come to haunt me.

The End of The World

When I was 11 my parents moved us to another state. New friends, new school. I was devastated.

What made it bearable was instantly meeting a friend who also battled her weight. Between 6-9th grades we were inseparable. Tragically, I lost my friend in a private plane accident just after our Freshman year.

Feeling lonely and lost, I ate – a lot.

As my weight ballooned throughout high school, I met more overweight young women. They were confident and sassy and amazing! I had two paths– learn to love myself OR try to achieve a “thigh gap”.

I went with “thigh gap”.

It was around this time I started walking into rooms and ranking people from skinniest to fattest, then figuring out where I fell into that equation. It was the race to “the bench”, only this time it played out in my head.

The Freshman 15–err Freshman 30

I got to college and TORE IT UP. Never a drinker in high school, I made up for that, quickly.

So. Much. Beer.

I had fun…parties, movie marathons, fro-yo runs (don’t judge, it was the late 90’s), and more parties. My weight constantly embarrassed me, but my habits never changed.

Then I made a new friend – Metabolife - swallow a pill, drink water, adios appetite. Effortless! I liked the changes in my body, so I ignored the side effects and anonymous notes from friends worried about my health.

Meeting ED

Following graduation, I moved to Washington D.C. The culture there was like college all over again and meeting people was easy. I fell in with two women who were fun, personable, and (as I later realized) anorexic.

What I have come to understand is I met ED (i.e. eating disorder) while I watched the skinny girls dance on “the bench. In Washington, ED and I would take our relationship to the next level.

When you roll with people who eat side salads and drink vodka tonics for dinner, you’re not exactly rushing to order a steak. So, I adopted the same habits. I was eating somewhere between 500-750 calories a day and working out at least 2 hours 5-6 times a week. I was passing out at work, got cold when it was 90 degrees, had digestive issues, and my hair was falling out.

My body was shutting down and at one point I resembled a bobblehead.

I very clearly remember the night I realized ED and I had to break up. One Friday I came home from a hard day at work and “indulged” in an Uncle Ben’s rice bowl (do they even still make those?) That bowl caused me to cross the 750-calorie threshold. I called my parents hysterical that I failed. 36 hours later my mom knocked on my door –no small thing since she lived in Nevada.

Over the next week every doctor I saw diagnosed me with anorexia and pushed me to enter therapy. Though treatment got me eating again, I still didn’t have a clue what balanced nutrition was.

In an effort to keep my body in single-digit sizes, I spiraled into Chronic Dieting Syndrome (yep, that’s a real thing).

Name a Diet, Any Diet

Let’s play a game. Name a diet, any diet…I bet I have tried it and have a story to go with it.

If you looked up Chronic Dieting Syndrome in the dictionary, you’d see my picture – ok, maybe not, but you would find it defined as:

“going on and off of calorie restricting for over two years”, as well as being “obsessed with weight and size.”

Those 20 words summed up my life perfectly. I tried them all…Keto, HCG shots, Paleo, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Whole 30, Mediterranean – you get where I’m going with this.

Each time I lost weight, felt amazing, then fell off the bandwagon. Inevitably I gained all the weight back and then some. I even pulled my husband onto the diet roller coaster.

Mother Knows Best

In 2013 I had a baby; a beautiful, perfect little girl. I decided to not breastfeed (now that, that’s a whole different ball of wax). No matter where I turned someone was telling me that I would never lose my baby weight and I had sentenced my child to an overweight life. Cannot tell you how good that felt as a new mother.

Sometime around the time she was 3 my husband and I were having “dinner” cooked by our little girl. He got steak and a potato; I got salad because, in her words, “that’s all you eat anyway Mommy”. I left the room and broke down in the bathroom.

She was 3 and already saw I was starving myself. I couldn’t let this go any further, I couldn’t let her grow up thinking it was ok to hate your body – to hate yourself.

Confronting the Demons

Following the “salad incident” (as we call it in my house) I re-entered therapy and was assigned homework…

…read “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D, F.A.D.A, C.E.D.R.D.

It was the “the bench” and Tiffany song all over again. I was a hot mess. Terrified, I dove into the program. This time it wasn’t just for me. It was for my little girl and I had no choice.

Almost 4 years later I’m still following the principles of Intuitive Eating. Have I gained weight – yes. Has this caused anxiety – yes. Have I gotten to go shopping – hell yes!

Let’s be clear, this hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. I took down my childhood. I said things out loud that I have never said to another human. I had to admit that those early eating habits had haunted my entire life.

My fight will never end. I catch myself playing “the bench” mind game now and then. I will probably always envy super slim women (especially the moms). And, if I’m being entirely honest, I have invested in liposuction – twice.

I’m not losing all the battles. My wins have been significant:

· My thought process is clearer; I perform better at work.

· I’m not driving away my friends by constantly talking about diets and food.

· My hair isn’t falling out and grows quickly- no more extensions!!

· I do not feel guilty for eating anything, at any point.

And my daughter? She is pint-sized and full of sass. No food is off-limits in our house. We constantly talk about everything in moderation and she knows how to naturally stop eating when she’s full. Take that breastfeeding militants!

Becoming a mom changes anyone’s life, but I genuinely believe it saved mine. That little girl innocently taught me that my worth – as a mom, a wife, a friend, an employee, and a woman – is not tied to my weight. I am so much more than the number on the scale.

That number will never again define me.

So, suck it Tiffany. Your song wasn’t that good anyway.

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