I am a 20 year old female, and I have had disordered eating since I was 14. It started out as restricting my intake to a very small number of calories a day and going to the gym twice a day for ridiculously long periods. To begin with I was overweight (I was quite short), but then I lost a lot of weight in a quick period of time. I loved the comments I got, and it really fueled the fire. Then I was intervened and had to get better. I guess I recovered quite well for a time. Then when I was 17, I got really sick with an illness semi-related to my weight gain. I was put on diuretics and had surgery and lost a good bit of weight, putting me back at a healthy weight. Then freshman year came, and I put back on half of the weight that I had lost; I felt so low, and I honestly have never felt so terrible about myself. So over the summer I started restricting and exercising and was doing it really healthy, until I started purging again. And then I cut out bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, cakes, and biscuits, and I haven’t touched them since. I have lost a lot of weight, and I’ve been eating a very small number of calories each day. I feel weak and tired and snap at the smallest things. I am considered underweight for my height, but I would love to weigh a lot less, and frankly that scares me. I hate that I have let this get to me so much; I just don’t know what to do. I’m living abroad and don’t have any of my friends or family, which is making it so much easier to never eat. I hate what I’ve become. I spend about 60 percent of my day planning what I can and can’t eat and how much weight I will put on. I had some chocolate yesterday and cried so much after I had to vomit. I look in the mirror and am disgusted. I don’t want to go home because I don’t want to look like this. I want to be skinny and feel good about myself. I honestly just don’t know what to do anymore.
Thanks for writing and asking for help. Seeking help is going to be one of the keys to you getting better.
There are so many questions I would like to ask you. What started the extreme restricting and exercising at age 14? What was it like to suddenly receive so much positive attention for the weight loss? Was that positive attention the first time you received affirmation? Had you been teased about your weight before that?
I would ask these questions because our behavior is impacted by our experiences and beliefs. Somewhere along the way you came to believe that your happiness was dependent upon being skinny. How did that happen? What are those core beliefs for you?
You ended your question by saying, “I just want to be skinny and feel good about myself,” but your core belief might be better stated, “I can only feel good about myself if I am skinny.” As people, we generally place all of our efforts into whatever it is we believe will make us whole or powerful or satisfied. In a sense we make something other than God into our “god.”
This reminds me of a story in the first Harry Potter book. While exploring Hogwarts castle young Harry stumbles upon the Mirror of Erised. Erised is “desire” spelled backwards. The Mirror shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts.” When Harry looks into the mirror he sees himself standing with his parents who have died. However, Harry’s mentor, Albus Dumbledore, gives him a warning: “Men have spent so much time looking in the mirror, they became mad, that they have forgotten to live.” In other words, when we latch all of our desires and fulfillment onto something that ultimately will not fulfill us, it will lead us into deception and enslavement.
When you look into your mirror of Erised you see a skinny girl smiling. There’s a part of you that deeply believes that being skinny will make you happy. It won’t. Continuing to believe that is like you getting stuck in front of the Mirror of Erised forever and will result in you literally wasting away.
It seems your “deepest and most desperate desire of your heart” is to be skinny. But you were made for so much more than that. You were made for creativity, for laughter, for relationship, for purpose. To settle for being skinny is to settle for too little. Give up that dream, and make room for something more in your heart.
You said that you don’t know what to do. You need to walk away from the mirror as quickly as possible. You need to ask God to begin to change your core beliefs. You need to get help from those who can get you medically stabilized and emotionally healed and who can help you discover that there is more to you than your weight.
Jesus understood the concept of the mirror. He told the Woman at the Well in John 4 that the only thing worth pursuing was a relationship with him. All other things would leave her unsatisfied and thirsty. By seeing ourselves next to him in the mirror, we will be freed to live all of life, and rather than being enslaved, we will be able to make choices and love fully. Don’t wait. Start asking for help today from a professional counselor, dietitian and physician. See “Finding Treatment” for more information.
Travis Stewart, LPC