For Krystle Ripple
Something has been nagging at me for a while now, and it became apparent during class one night that I need to get it out. I have been meaning to write about this for quite some time now, maybe for about a year or so. It’s about something hard. Raw. And near and dear to my heart, and who I am. I advise you to grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, maybe a piece of good chocolate and sit back. This is going to a long post.
The world we live in, though beautiful, is a mean and cruel place. For young girls, and especially for women who struggle day in and day out with their bodies and with food. The normal size is smaller than anything I have ever been. Everything being advertised anymore seems to have a sex appeal. What women are “supposed” to look like is everywhere, all around us, for every young girl and woman to see, and the pressure to look that way just keeps increasing.
It’s funny the things we remember. First day of school, first home run, first kiss, first love. All normal, important things for someone to remember. I remember the first time someone called me fat (I remember every time I was called fat, but the first time always stings the most). I was 13 years old, and my grandpa said I needed to stop eating because I was getting too fat. Ouch. I was so embarrassed because he said it in front of a lot of people. I was a chubby kid. I was. My favorite thing to do was watch Saved By The Bell while eating my after school snack of chips and dip, and a can of pop. I looked forward to it everyday. I didn’t play outside as much I hope my kids will. My parents both worked to make ends meet and put food on the table. My mom strived to make meals healthy, but didn’t have all day to cook our meals, so a lot of the food we ate was out of a box and filled with ingredients that weren’t all that good for an inactive child. Weight was talked about by everyone in my family and extended family for as long as I can remember. It still is. My mom was always unhappy with who she was and what she looked like. My aunt would talk about her jean size and I would watch how she counted carbs and picked at her food. I found her to be so disciplined with how she ate. She could take one bite of a burrito and be done. It would just sit in front of her. My uncle would constantly tell us to “eat less and exercise more”, while pointing out how amazingly thin my cousin was, and still is. A lot of people think that what is said and acted around young kids doesn’t have an impact….but it does. I began to notice everything and everyone. I noticed how other girls looked, their flat stomachs and toned legs. I noticed how I looked in comparison to them, and looked for any similarity I had to someone thin. I noticed what the boys I thought were cute, liked in girls, or better yet, who they liked. And it wasn’t me. I noticed girls laughing at me and giving me looks for looking at them. But all I wanted was to look like them. I really thought that if I could look like a thin girl, it would be me bragged about in my family about how beautiful I looked, instead of how I needed to stop eating. Words hurt. But to a young girl, they also can inspire.
I remember the first time I learned about eating disorders, and how to engage in them. I was a freshman in high school, taking the required sex education class. We watched a movie about a teenager who had anorexia. She died in the movie, of a heart attack. Now, I am sure this movie was shown to us to scare us and show us how awful that disease truly was. But to me, it was fascinating. I looked at how the girl ate in the movie, the salads and rice she would limit her self to. How much she ran, and how she was able to hide what she was doing. And all the while I thought to myself, “I can do that. That’s what I need to do”. My brain had been trained from the years of watching and listening to everyone around me talk about weight and the importance they put on being thin, not healthy, but thin, and I looked at this disease of anorexia, as something missing in my life. Something I needed. Now, by this time in my life, I was playing volleyball for my high school team and wasn’t chubby anymore. I was at a normal, healthy weight for my age. I was active. I was an athlete. To anyone who looked at me, I didn’t need to lose weight. But my mind was telling me that I did. I still wasn’t as thin as my cousin, or my other team mates. And the boy I liked (who had also called me fat) still just wanted to be my friend. My obsession with how everyone else looked just kept increasing and I couldn’t stop noticing what others had that I didn’t.
It started after volleyball season had ended, and I was trying to stay in shape for track in the spring. My mom didn’t really notice when I didn’t eat breakfast and no one seemed to care when I didn’t eat lunch. And dinner, I kept my meals small because we would still eat as a family, and like the girl in the video, my parents didn’t suspect anything as long as I ate something. I slowly asked my mom to change my meals for me into smaller healthier options. She didn’t mind doing that. Some people did begin to notice a change in me. My uncle told me to keep up whatever I was doing because he liked the anorexic look. Those were motivation words! Finally my family noticed me in a positive way.
A couple months of my new way of life went by, when a friend of mine noticed what I was doing. She tried taking me to the health teacher (who played the video for me months before) to try and reason with me and tell me how much I was hurting myself. In my head all I thought was someone is finally worried about me and people are beginning to notice me and the emptiness I feel inside gives me a greater high than volleyball…why would I stop? The emptiness you do have inside of you when you can stop eating is a great high, but it’s false. All you feel is achievement that you can be in control of what you put in your mouth, when in reality you are completely out of control. You’re slowly killing yourself. Anorexia puts so much strain on your body because it has to work so much harder to keep your organs working. That’s where the high comes in. The constant feeling of adrenaline from your body working so hard. I used my eating disorder to hide behind things I had no control over in my life, as I get in more detail about later. It wasn’t until a friend of mine called my mom and told her about my eating habits that I stopped. And I was able to get out of it pretty easily. This time.
I was able to control my thoughts and my behaviors and enjoyed high school and volleyball. I even made a few good friends. I was actually happy with who I was. But, summer of my junior year, my parents separated and by Christmas time that same year, my Dad had moved out. 20 years they had been married, before he left. To this day, my mom is still not over it. But the turmoil it caused my mom, and seeing her almost end her life a number of times, my mind couldn’t take it. I couldn’t eat or engage in activities that used to make me happy. I went into a serious depression. By my senior year of high school, I had lost too much weight I couldn’t play volleyball, and that part of my life ended. I graduated high school a semester early just to separate myself from a world I didn’t feel I belonged in anymore. I met my husband when I was 18 and was married after I turned 20. That was 12 years ago. Life started to turn around a little bit for me after that, as I met the man of my dreams and we were starting our life together. Then the thoughts came back, as well as my depression.
I remember my husband and I standing in the kitchen of our condo, me in tears and him saying we needed to get help. Our marriage was in trouble. There were many reasons that led to us standing there, but for the sake of this blog, let’s concentrate on one thing. The early months of 2007 I began to slowly get sick. My stomach hurt all of the time and every time I would eat, I would cramp up and eventually get sick. I went to my family doctor and they ran tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with me. A few more months go by and I’m getting worse. I went back to the doctor and they ran a few more tests and still came up with nothing. At this point, it’s late summer and I’m losing weight because it had gotten to the point where anything I ate irritated my stomach. I kept a food journal, logging what I would eat and how it made me feel. Vitamin water was the only thing I could eat or drink. My anxiety around food and eating had gotten worse. I was so nervous to eat in public or social situations because I didn’t want to get sick in front of everyone. So I didn’t eat. And I lost a lot of weight. And my eating disorder quietly crept in as I latched on to the idea that what I was eating was making me sick. I was literally scared of food. Any kind of food.
When I finally went to see a gastroenterologist, he ordered a colonoscopy and endoscopy right away. First visit. He wasn’t messing around. He also saved my life. For months, I was living with a bacteria infection in my stomach. I had c-difficle. At the time, the doctor told me that I either got it from something I ate, or taking antibiotics. Either way, I never wanted to feel that way again. I lived my life that year constantly scared I was going to be sick after I ate, so I just wouldn’t eat. Food literally scared me. Especially if I got that bacteria from food, I didn’t want to eat anything that could possibly house it. I was told by the doctor to eat a raw, unprocessed diet. No meat, no dairy, no processed foods. I lived on vitamin water. Not quite sure how I did it to be honest with you. I took anxiety medication so I could ride public transportation and be around people without a fear of getting sick. And in the midst of all of this, my marriage was sinking. Levi and I were seeing a therapist and I confided in her everything I was feeling and what I needed to make it through a day. She recommended I check myself in to an eating disorder program. One thing I forgot to mention was after the tummy doctor helped rid my body of the c-diff, physically I started to feel a little bit better. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep losing weight. I wanted to still have that control over my body and over my life, my life that was falling apart. So I took laxatives, sometimes 30 a day to keep me feeling sick and keep me from gaining weight again. I wasn’t in control of my life at all. I was hurting myself and I was hurting my husband. In the fall of 2008, I agreed to go into a program, and was partially hospitalized for an eating disorder at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver. I basically had to learn how to eat again, and learn how to be ok with where my body was going to be when I could eat normal again. I had to somehow learn that food was ok to eat, that ANY kind of food was ok to eat. It was a very long process for me, but I did get through it. I remember being in treatment and staring down at a hamburger that was sitting in front of me that was made for me for dinner. I sat there crying my eyes out, not knowing how I was going to eat it. The people sitting with me sympathized with me but also encouraged me to beat the disease that I was battling. It was me vs ED. For the better part of my life, it has been me vs ED. Sometimes I won. And sometimes it won. Even to this day, 32 years old, 3 kids, and I enjoy a good burger every now and then, it’s still me vs ED. Most days I do very well controlling my thoughts and behaviors. But I still struggle…a lot. Levi and I also made it through this very tough time in our marriage. I graduated college and we decided to start our family.
I had a point to all this exposing myself to the blogger world. As I have mentioned, I am taking a CNA class 3 nights a week. And in this class, we have to practice life skills with a partner, a fellow student. Most of the skills that we’ve learned so far are checking vitals, ambulate a patient, hand hygiene and so on. Well the skills that we are working on next are bathing and weight measurements. I have to come to class not in my scrubs, but in jogging shorts and a tank top, and I have to let someone I don’t know, bathe me. Why does this make me nervous? It just reminds me how much I still struggle with my body. It brings this hesitation in me, and brings thoughts and insecurities to the front of my mind. My arms and legs are going to be out there for everyone to see, and someone is going to know how much I weigh. What are people going to think of me after they see me in this vulnerable, exposed state? Will they be disgusted or will they not even care what I look like because we are there to learn? ED isn’t gone, it’s just been dormant, but it still rears its ugly head every once and a while. But the bigger question is….who is going to win this time? Me or ED? Will I over come this huge, very real insecurity? Or will I let if affect me to the point of engaging in bad behaviors? One big motivation for me to continue to punch ED in the face, right or wrong, are my husband and kids. There were a few moms in treatment with me, one of which I became very close with and we still talk today. I was the maid of honor in her wedding! But listening to her talk about being a mom with an eating disorder, I never want to put my kids through that. I never want my kids to see that. I put Levi through pain, depression, anger and sadness for the better part of two years. I will not do that again. But I would be lying if at times I am tempted to turn that way. Eating disorders, for me at least, are like having a security blanket. It’s comforting in its own twisted way, something you know will always be there and never let you down. But it’s also one of the most destructive things one can ever be engaged in. And I really truly know that.
I’m at an impasse with my kids, I don’t want them to have an obsession with food and what to eat and what not to eat. Food should be this wonderful thing that brings families and friends together. But today, food has become this controversial issue. There are so many rules now revolving around food, and what’s good for us and not so good for us, it can be very exhausting making sure I follow those rules. Food either brings people together, or tears them apart. My family is still as obsessed with weight as ever and I argue with my mom sometimes about not using the “F”word around my kids (F-A-T). My kids hear everything! Now add in new people in to my life that offer so much good information about food, it’s hard to not feed my obsession. It’s hard to not be sucked in to all the new food crazes and health news. Some days I find myself so angry because I just want to be normal and I want those around me to support that. But most of the time I don’t feel that way, supported. Most of the time I feel like if I don’t eat one way I fail. If I fix a meal for people who come over to my house and it’s not food they like to or will eat because of what’s in it, I feel like I fail. The Bible tells us we need to be good stewards of our bodies; this is the only one we get and it’s our job to take care of it. And I really believe that looks different for everyone.
I don’t want my kids’ identity to be about food. And what they learn about food will come from me so I need to be so very careful how much emphasis I put on it. Do I want my kids to be healthy? Of course I do! And with my love for cooking and trying new recipes (something I wouldn’t have done 8 years ago), I hope my kids taste a variety of foods through out their lives and don’t limit their foods to only certain things. I worry about my daughter as well. And my boys, as eating disorders can happen to men, there were 2 in the program with me. If you take away anything from this blog please take away this : be careful about how much importance you put on food and health when it comes to your kids. They pick up and hear EVERYTHING. And yes, most kids who grow up with an emphasis on health and food, become adults who make very wise choices and are very well rounded when it comes to what they eat. But some kids don’t. And those kids need their minds and spirit fed and nurtured as much as their physical bodies. Eating disorders are real diseases and they can overtake even the strongest person. I’m 32 years old, and I still want to look like the thin girl, still longing to fit in somewhere. The so called clicks that existed growing up are not truly gone, they just exist in different forms now. Vegans, vegetarians, plant based eaters, people who eat meat and dairy and processed foods. Low carbs and high protein eaters, the list goes on and on. And whatever label you give yourself defines you to the rest of the world, and you may be judged accordingly.
I remember I was 8 months pregnant with my first baby when I learned someone I was in treatment with had died from a heart attack. I had just spoken with her a few months prior. She was young, and lost the final battle with ED. Death from this disease was no longer in a video, it was real. And I think for the very first time in my life, since having engaged in my first ED behavior, I realized how serious this disease was. This disease takes lives. And if I only do one thing right as a mom, I hope it’s that I teach my kids their worth. No, better yet, I hope I SHOW them their worth, and that they feel every day that who they are is enough for me, for their family and friends and most importantly, they are enough for God. Food doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t . What we look like, here on this earth, it doesn’t matter. And it has taken me 19 years to really begin to understand that.
I am going to let you go with no regrets and move on with full confidence.
Have a fabulous day!