The Small Side of the Numbers
Today’s post is very important and personal to me.
Last Friday, a handful of events took place in my life, all of which seemed insignificant to me at the time. But then, as I pieced together the scattered rubble of thoughts that followed, some very profound concepts and truths began to form.
I spent that day with a close friend who had just completed an intense three-month program at a renowned residential treatment center for women with eating disorders. I found myself lost in deep and poignant conversation with her as I often do.
At one point in the discussion, she mentioned that her eating disorder was something she would have to struggle with for the rest of her life. I asked her if she really believed that. She said she did. I asked her why. She said it’s what she’d been taught by the people who know. I asked her who those people were. She said her counselors. I asked her what the counselors were basing it on. She said, “They base it on fact. Studies have shown that people who have had eating disorders struggle their entire lives with them. Once you have one you’ll always have one.”
I looked at her and had to really digest that for a moment before I could respond. It didn’t sit right with me. In fact, it seemed like absolute absurdity to me. Why? Because, I don’t struggle with anorexia. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder.
But I did.
You see, there is something that before today, I have only admitted to four people on earth. I was anorexic.
It was my first semester in college, and also my first time away from home, away from the comfort of friends, and away from everything I knew. It was in Hawaii, and I remember that first week going to the beach and seeing all the skinny buff guys with girls hanging all over them. I remember watching them ride the waves. I remember how grotesquely fat I felt. I remember being desperate to be and have what they did.
So desperate, in fact, that I started exercising 3-4 hours per day, eating less than 300 calories each day, and dropping 5-10 lbs per week. When my plane first landed in Hawaii, I weighed 320 lbs. When I flew back home 14 weeks later I weighed 235 lbs. At 6’4″, I was thinner than I’d ever been, but I still felt horribly fat. I still obsessed over it. I still saw nothing beautiful or valuable in myself. As I prepared to go home and see my friends and family again, I hated myself even more because after everything I’d put myself through, I still wasn’t one of “those guys”.
That flight home marked the end of that eating disorder. The end of the anorexia. I didn’t go back to Hawaii, and for the next six years I switched to a very different eating disorder. It was called binge eating. Based in the same root emotions, anxiety, and depression that caused me to be anorexic for those few months, I stuffed my face daily and without end. It went on until the scales tipped at 350 lbs. When I finally saw that number on the scale, I could no longer pretend I didn’t have a problem. I could no longer hide behind the self-diagnoses of a “slow metabolism” or “big bones”. And, as you already know, I grew desperate and underwent gastric bypass surgery.
At the same time, I also felt a great urge to delve into the dark and secret areas of my life to try and figure out why I had struggled with eating disorders the way I had. If I was going to go to the extremes of chopping my body into pieces, I was also not going to spend the rest of my life fighting this debilitating monster.
In the five years since that surgery, I have done everything I could to fix myself, and I can very honestly say that I do not “struggle” with either of my eating disorders today. At all. I really don’t care that I’ll never be featured on the cover of Body Builder magazine. I really don’t care that I’m not one of “those guys” whom I saw at the beach every day. I am, without question, healed of it.
And so, when my friend told me that studies have shown that people who have had eating disorders will struggle their entire lives with them, it didn’t feel right to me. So I asked her, “do they base that on studies?” Yes. “And those studies show that x percent of people who have had an eating disorder will struggle their entire lives?” Yes. “And that x percent is a very high percentage?” Yes.
It was one of those conversations where I think things out as I discuss them. The kind that usually get me in trouble or leave me with a big old foot in my mouth.”
But it’s not 100%?” I asked. She paused for a moment. No. I also paused as a strong realization began to set in. “And with all of the stats and all of the data they’ve showed you over the last three months, have they ever shown you a single statistic that was 100% anything?” Another long pause.
“So why can’t you be one of the ones in that small percentage?” She didn’t have an answer. Instead, she sat in silence.