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'I used weight loss as a way of distracting myself from my emotions'

When I was fifteen, I decided the best way of dealing with my fear and sadness was restriction. Life felt out of control and that was something I had complete autonomy over. I couldn’t fix my parents’ unhappy marriage. I couldn’t do anything about my shyness or low self-image. I couldn’t make the boy I liked like me back. But I could give up meat. I could give up lunch.

My fallback became eating disorders. Whenever life felt hard, I restricted. I used weight loss and food control as a way of distracting myself from having to deal with my emotions.

From the time I found myself pregnant with my first (now fourteen) to the moment my fourth (now three) was born, I embraced orthorexia. It seemed less dangerous to my developing babies than anorexia, but still offered the veneer of control.

After I had my last baby, however, I found myself constantly nauseated. And that triggered a full-blown relapse. For a year and a half I obsessed over what I ate. I counted calories, making sure to stay beneath an arbitrary number. I starved and shrank and suffered.

And at first, people commended me. You look incredible! What’s your secret? Great job on losing all that baby weight so fast.

Then they decided I’d crossed a line. They never asked meif I was okay. They asked my husband, my sister, my friends. Is she sick? What’s wrong with her?

My road to healing started with a broken tooth. I’ve always been a little proud of my teeth—no braces, perfectly straight—and when I stuck a piece of gum in my mouth, I didn’t expect to crack one of those perfect teeth in half.

Then I developed a cold…which turned into pneumonia. I was constantly sick. My body was so focused on keeping my organs working, it had nothing left to offer my immune system.

Then my husband told me he was scared for me.

I glanced in the mirror and saw, in a rare flash of clarity, my body. Emaciated and almost child-sized. No curves that spoke testament to the birth of four children. No strength that demonstrated a genetic propensity toward heavy muscles. No fullness that shouted my love of cooking.

That moment saved me. I’ve gained nearly fifty pounds since then. I’ve taken up weight lifting because after feeling weak for so long, I want to be strong. I love that I can do pushups and run around with my kids and walk up stairs without losing my breath.

I eat all the things—sugar, ice cream, pastries, meat, carbs, fat. I restrict nothing because I know what that leads to. I’m learning healthier ways of processing uncomfortable emotions.

No one sets out to develop an eating disorder. It starts with restricting one food group or meal. The beginning of anorexia can be a thought that tells you life would be better if you only lost ten pounds. It’s the lie that controlling your food fixes all the things out of control in your life. It’s a disorder that manipulates and steals and kills.

I’m a life-long sufferer of eating disorders and I don’t for one second believe I’m safe from relapse. It’s a heady thing—the ability to resist the temptation of food, something most humans struggle with. It makes you feel strong and in control and capable. But it’s a mirage.

My goal now is to spread awareness. To offer hope and encouragement to those struggling. There’s a way out. You can reclaim your health and life.

All it takes is a moment of truth and clarity. One moment, and you can take the first step toward freedom.

Author credit: Kimberly Duffy

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