Oftentimes, I forget I had an eating disorder. In the winter, it’s very easy to do. Tights shape my thighs and coats can prevent me from obsessing over my frame, especially since I’m a few years into recovery. But then spring rolls around, the weather begins to heat up, and I regretfully shelve my layers in exchange for shorts and small shirts. My upper arms are exposed, my thighs, the curve of my stomach – everything which I could ignore for the past several months is suddenly apparent. I could try to continue to cover up, but I’ve never lived in an area where I could afford to wear heavy clothes without putting myself in danger of heat related illness during the summer. Usually I suck it up (and suck it in) and wear weather appropriate clothing. I take some measures to encourage my own self-image while I do so (last summer, I discovered that high-waist shorts flattened my stomach and that ¾ and ¼ sleeves covered up my upper arms), but I still can’t do it without pinching at my stomach, glaring at my thighs, and curling my lip at my upper arms.
This past summer I was reminded of my issues with self-image while trying on clothes for warmer weather. With me I had a couple of loose fitting shirts (airy enough for summer, loose enough to hide my stomach without swallowing my frame), a summer dress, and a crop top. I tried on the crop top last, and immediately regretted even bringing it in. I liked the color and the cut, but suddenly my stomach seemed engorged. My bare arms were splotchy and large. I sucked in, felt better, and then breathed and felt worse. My roommate poked her head in at my insistence, commented that it looked fine and would look better with more appropriate jeans or shorts than those I was wearing, and then left me alone to remember the sickly but thinner build I boasted a few years earlier.
Back then I wouldn’t eat for days at a time, and then binge eat. I counted calories obsessively, with my daily goal at 800 or below. Some days I would go to the gym and run on the treadmill until the machine promised that I had burned more than I had eaten that day. I weighed myself at least four times a day, and prided myself on staying below a weight ceiling that bordered on underweight for my frame. I thrived on the compliments, and ignored what little concern was offered. Although I was never hospitalized (nor did I even realize I had an eating disorder until years later), I was often weak, light headed, fatigued, depressed, and filled with self loathing. I was sick.
I’m much better now. I don’t own a scale, I rarely work out (which isn’t a good thing, but it’s better than what I was doing), and my diet is much more balanced. Occasionally I’ll glance at calories, but I don’t count them and then punish myself for eating over 1,000 (which I do, often). Pasta is no longer my enemy, and raw vegetables are snacks and not meals. Food isn’t scary anymore.
But even though I’m far from where I’ve been, there are reminders. When I have to step on a scale at the doctor’s office, or when I get a glance at my figure in the mirror after I’ve eaten a big meal or stepped out of the shower. Recovery isn’t linear, and recovery doesn’t erase the memories or the hurt. Sometimes it takes being uncomfortable, and sometimes it takes waiting until you are comfortable. I bought the crop top, and I’ve already worn it once. As my day went on, my hypersensitivity dulled long enough for me to enjoy myself and forget what I was wearing. Occasionally it would rear its ugly head, but I was able to get through that too. I look forward to wearing it again. Recovery isn’t linear, but it is possible.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support: The National Eating Disorders Association Hotline is 1-800-931-2237.