I thought I knew what it looked like. I had seen the Lifetime movies and heard the rumors about my high school classmates who had spent time at an inpatient facility for their struggles. It seemed easy to recognize and it felt like a far cry from anything I would ever experience.
Then at twenty-one years old, I was that girl who had an eating disorder—only it didn't look like I expected. I lost a noticeable amount of weight rapidly, but I wasn't underweight according to the chart at the doctor's office. My hair was falling out, but I still had my period. I never went an entire day without eating, although my meals had been whittled down so that what once was considered a snack now paraded as my dinner. I never made myself get sick, but I exercised excessively.
While serving in my student ministry job, I was overwhelmingly exhausted from malnourishment, increased anxiety, and culminating depression. My brain was fuzzy and my thinking was consumed with numbers—the number of calories I had consumed over the past 48 hours, the minutes until I would eat again, the level of exercise that I would require of myself in order to "undo" my lunch, and then there was the number of ever-growing items on the list of my forbidden foods.
In the beginning of my disorder, friends told me I looked great, and they were in awe of my weight loss. Their praises soon diminished, though, and they were replaced with sincere concern. My hope that someone might comment on my slim figure was exchanged with a fear that someone might point out how pale and emaciated I had become.
But on paper, I never fully met the criteria for Anorexia and I knew I wasn't Bulimic. I was left somewhere in-between and eventually given the diagnosis of an "eating disorder not otherwise specified."
In a culture that criticizes women for being too thin while simultaneously bashing others for gaining weight, and with every new diet or food plan representing "the best" model to follow, it's easy to feel as though there exists a delicate point of perfection on which we should land. It's a lie that suggests health and beauty are found through a narrow gate with little flexibility; and while we set out with good intentions, we find ourselves exhausted and condemned by the extreme lack of grace this definition of "health" has to offer.
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