I can feel my heart beating a bit faster and my armpits are starting to sweat. Two sure-fire signs that things are about to get real up in here. I’m Katie, a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, and I have an eating disorder. The official diagnosis being anorexia nervosa.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) explains anorexia nervosa as “an eating disorder characterized by weight loss, difficulty maintaining appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature and often distorted body image. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. Some people with the disorder also exercise compulsively, purge via vomiting or laxatives, and/or binge eat.”
My first memory of going on a diet was in grade 3. I remember being compared to a person who had a larger body type and my mind automatically thought “that means you’re fat Katie.” There’s an old journal entry I found not too long ago that stated I would only allow myself to eat fruits and vegetables until I lost 10 pounds. I was 9 years old when I wrote that. How my heart aches for that little girl.
I grew up with the women figures in my life (and know that I dearly love them and now recognize their own wounding surrounding body image and self-worth) always being on some kind of diet. Restricting was a norm and I can vividly recall being praised for losing weight even if it was because of a flu bug. I say this not to shame people but to bring awareness to our actions and words. And to show how an eating disorder doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a slow progression. A little becomes a lot. Even how a “good” thing (read: living a healthy active lifestyle) can become a “god” thing.
But to make a very long story, kinda short ? Let’s fast-forward a few decades: I was 29, mom of three little girls (4, 3, and 1-year-old.) A typical day was waking up before the sun to have an intense workout, eat as little as possible to avoid passing out, workout again as my children napped in the afternoon, and some kind of cardio in the evening. If I did eat something that I deemed “unhealthy” I would purge until I felt like I had ridden myself of every calorie. Rinse and repeat. Day in. Day out.
I look back now and I don’t know how I did it. How did I manage to survive so long like that? How did I not crumble sooner? And then one day…I did crumble. It was just over 3 years ago and I was picking my oldest daughter up from preschool. I stood looking across the snow-covered parking lot, baby on my hip, 2 toddlers in hand, and I remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” My heart was pounding hard and my body was weak with exhaustion. And I was scared. These 3 little girls all depending on me and I wasn’t sure if I could walk us to the van.
I managed to get us home safely, fed the littles lunch, and tucked them all in for their afternoon nap. As usual, I went downstairs but instead of working out I sat in my mother’s hand-me-down cozy armchair and cried. I knew I couldn’t continue this life. Something had to change. A google search and phone call later I had booked myself an assessment appointment with the local eating disorder clinic.
The next year and a half were filled with doctor checkups, nutritionist appointments, and therapy. Lots and lots of therapy. And it was hard. It was a day-by-day (sometimes minute-by-minute) battle against the lies in my head. “You’re fat Katie.” “You’re a horrible mom.” “You’re worthless.” My heart knew I had to recover but my head was full of lies. There were countless days I missed my old life. I missed my eating disorder and the security/control it gave me.
But eventually, I found joy again. Joy in spontaneous dates with my husband. Eating a popsicle on the back deck with my kids in the summer. Energy to run and play and not fear my heart-stopping. And don’t even get me started on bread. Oh, sweet glorious freshly baked homemade bread. Be still my heart! And all those lies, they’re still there, I just choose not to listen to them anymore.
So here I am today, over 3 years since my diagnosis and beginning treatment. Am I cured? No. Much like an addiction or mental health diagnosis, I will forever have an eating disorder. Each and every day I choose recovery. Some days that choice is easier than others. But I know, despite however hard recovery is, it’s a better, healthier, and happier me.
And that’s what I want for myself and my daughters to see. A mommy who accepts herself the way she was made. Not the mommy who exists only to be smaller and smaller. A mommy who can run and play and laugh and love to the fullest. So some days that means eating a salad for lunch and cake for dinner. And truth be told…life is truly sweeter when there’s cake in it.
**I do feel like I need to state that if in any way this has made your heart race and/or perhaps you are struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder please reach out for help. I’m not a doctor, a specialist, a nutritionist, or an expert, but I want to help direct you to appropriate resources. Here are a few:
National Eating Disorder Association (American)
National Eating Disorder Information Center (Canadian)
I highly encourage you to speak up and ask for help. Talk to a family member, a friend, a doctor, someone, anyone. Don’t do this alone because that’s what your eating disorder wants you to believe, that you’re alone. You’re not. You’re never alone and you deserve a happy healthy you. Don’t believe those lies in your head.