And oh, what a journey it has been! Not a fun one. Not an easy one. But definitely one that has made me a stronger and wiser person in the end.
Food hasn’t always been a passion in my life. It wasn’t something that we praised and celebrated. Cooking and baking wasn’t something that was taught to me at a young age. Growing up, food was quite the opposite. It was the enemy. Sometimes it was locked up. Some things we just didn’t buy or eat because they were bad foods. Whatever it was, it was never implanted into my soul that food was this marvelous thing for our tastebuds and souls! But I just went through my childhood being a kid and not thinking all that much of it.
Then around the age of fifteen, something flipped a switch inside of me. I realized I could use food to get attention. Yes, I was that kind of teenager. I didn’t use it against my family, but the boy I was dating apparently wasn’t giving me enough attention or at least the attention I was looking for. So I thought if I told him I wasn’t eating, he would show me love and attention. I put him to the test, and let’s just say, the test was not a failure. No eating = attention. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I needed so much attention, but apparently I was lacking somewhere. Call it middle child syndrome – I’m just not sure. Regardless, that was the beginning of a 13 year battle with food and body image issues.
The situation wasn’t all that bad until I moved away from home a couple months after high school graduation. Sure, I had bouts of just not feeling like eating in order to drop a few pounds, but nothing that would alert anyone. College was a completely different story though. I had gained the promised “Freshman Fifteen”, but I didn’t realize until I was visiting my grandma one day. I happened to step on her scale, and holy moly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! How could I have gained twenty pounds in just a matter of a couple of months! I had never really had to worry about dieting or exercising. But it was at this moment that I knew I had to do something. It had to be extreme, and it had to be now.
I think it was that evening that I bought a scale and stopped eating. A salad here and there, but for the most part, I just didn’t eat anything. My roomates started to notice that something was wrong. I stopped coming home for dinners. I kept making excuses. I actually even dropped out of college because I just couldn’t handle it. I was a mess. For some reason, getting my weight back down was the most important thing in my life. It wasn’t an attention issue anymore. It was control. I felt like I had complete control of the situation, when in all actuality, it was the eating disorder that had control over me and my thoughts. And then one day, one of my roomates confessed to me that she had read my journal and that she was going to talk to a church member about my problem so they could get me help. Yeah, you can say that I didn’t live there much longer than a week or so after that.
Over the course of the next 4 years or so, I was up and down, and all over the place. I went for days of not eating, only to cave in and eat as much as I could, and then just go right back to starving. It was this up and down battle with myself. I was always testing myself to see how long I could go without eating. As long as I could find a way to be in control of my body and my weight, I thought I would be happy. But I never seemed to get there. Even at my lowest weight. Happiness never came like the eating disordered thoughts told me it would. I just continued to get sicker and deeper into the downward spiral. I can’t tell you how many relationships I ruined because I just wouldn’t let other people get in the way of my eating disorder. If they couldn’t handle it, they had to go. And as you can imagine, not many people want to stick around too long for that!
At one point, I did actually think I had kicked this control addiction. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I knew I had to stop starving myself. If for nothing else, I had to do this for my son. So yes, for about ten months, I was eating well for both of us. But as soon as I was done providing my body to him, the thoughts had come back.
This is when things started to get really bad. So I came to the realization that I am gay around the age of twenty-five. Yes, you can say I was a late bloomer. But with that realization came a lot of out-of-control feelings. I was unsure where my life was going to take me. I was scared of how my family would react. I just didn’t know what would come of this. But one thing I knew I could control… my food. So it started up again. And worse than ever before. We’re talking about 10 cups of coffee and one bagel… for the whole day. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t all that healthy. I dropped weight fast, and I was feeling really good about that aspect of things, but again, the happiness wasn’t there. I was using food to mask the whirlwind all around me.
I ended up in a pretty bad relationship with the first girl I dated. Lots of partying and drinking on the weekends. Lots of not caring about responsibility. Lots of her having control over me. That, in turn, made me hold on tighter to the eating disorder, because I needed to keep control of something, and that was the easiest way for me. Probably a lot of the starving at this point went back to the days when I was fifteen and looking for attention. Luckily, I got out of that situation.
Falling in Love
In 2009, I fell in love with Tiffani, my wife now. Everything was fairy-tale fantastic. I couldn’t have been happier. I was still sick though. I thought that maybe once I had found complete happiness in my life, it would just go away. Or maybe I thought once I found someone worth being healthy for, I would get help. Little did I know that the choice was inside me all along.
After dating for a year, I proposed to Tiffani and we started planning our wedding. But between the stresses of daily life and the craziness that wedding planning brings, I was getting worse, not better. It effected every day. I never felt good. I never had the energy to do anything. I just wasn’t all there. And my soon-to-be wife was having to take the brunt of it. We argued day after day about my eating habits. My control issues weren’t there anymore, it was actually turning into more of a habit. A habit and addiction that I didn’t know how to let go of. I didn’t know if I ever would be able to.
The Power to Change!
I did start going to therapy, and although we didn’t get too far into the eating disorder issues, my therapist did help me to see that power that I have as an individual. I realized that any changes I wanted in my life had to come from within myself. I had the power to change things!
It was one Monday in March 2011 (exactly one year ago from the day I’m writing this!). Tiffani and I had been arguing the night before about my issues and how they were affecting our lives and our relationship negatively. She didn’t know how much more she could take. And in all honesty, I didn’t know if I could take any more either. My body was breaking down. I was so sick of being sick all the time. So I texted her and told her we were getting gym memberships that night. I didn’t know how long this would last and maybe it was just a temporary solution, but maybe if we started going to the gym, that would give me an outlet for my stress and the ability to feel better about eating the foods I had always wanted to be okay with eating.
That day was the most monumental day of my life! We signed up for the gym, and even though I didn’t workout that day, I did do something I hadn’t done in a long time. I set myself a place at the dinner table. I even remember my son asking me why there were three plates rather than the normal two. Poor guy was already getting used to his mama not eating like everyone else! I am so incredibly happy that I have not continued to teach him those poor habits.
Since that day, I have worked out consistently a few times a week, and I eat whatever I want. Sure, I gained some weight right off the bat. But it honestly wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Although I was gaining a bit of weight, the exercise I was incorporating into my life was combating the bad feelings I was having because of it. And yes, there were times when I would eat way too many cookies, but you know, that’s what I was craving, and I wasn’t about to deprive myself. There had been years and years of depriving myself, and I just wasn’t having it anymore. Not long after I began listening to my cravings and my body’s hunger signals, I actually stopped craving sugary treats and really just started craving the foods that were good for my body.
It was at this point that my weight and body started to even out. For the first time in my life, I have been able to maintain my weight, only fluctuating about 3 pounds, and I don’t ever feel guilty about the things I eat. Sometimes I eat cupcakes. Sometimes I eat veggies. But in all I do, I do it in moderation. That truly is the key. And if I felt like maybe I had a few too many potato chips, I just spend a little extra time at the gym.
There’s nothing more empowering than being able to wake up one day, decide that I just couldn’t handle life the way it was, and change it! If I had known the power I had within me to achieve such happiness and contentment in my life, I would have done this years ago. I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made to be happy and healthy, and although there are still days that are a challenge, it is all worth it.
What’s something you want to change in your life? Take one step today toward a change! A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.