In which I’m open and honest about my eating disorder

“People with eating disorders are so strong” – actual words that came out of an actual person’s mouth.

Wait, what? It’s 2015, and we still have to talk about this? Being me, I couldn’t keep quiet:

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I love food way too much to not eat.”

“I do, too. But that didn’t stop me.”

She had nothing to say after that.

But I did.  I do. I have so many things to say. And I don’t really know how to start, so I guess I’ll just tell you my story. I’ll be open and honest because even though I’ve talked about it, I’ve never really talked about it.

And now is as good a time as ever, perhaps the best: I’ve heard young people close to me make comments that I cannot ignore. It’s time to tell you my story, tell you about my fight against Anorexia, and maybe, in the process, I’ll help destigmatize eating disorders. We, as a society, don’t do a good job talking to our children about eating disorders, but that’s beginning to change.

It’s time to put a personal face on Anorexia.

My name is Kaleigh Distaffen. I’m 20 years old, and this is my story.

I like to think my eating disorder started after my sexual assault. It’s easier that way. It’s easier to blame the root of all your problems on a single event. However, looking back, my sexual assault made my eating disorder worse; it didn’t start my fight with Anorexia.

Puberty did.

It started in 6th grade, Middle School, the nightmarish years of every child. It started when I noticed the changes occurring with my body didn’t match what society was telling me was beautiful. And I just couldn’t accept that.

I thought being beautiful was the most important thing, and I would do anything to achieve the standards of beauty society put before me.

It started with skipping a meal or two here or there. Putting less food on my plate and eating a smaller amount was easy when I ate “barely enough to keep a bird alive” to being with.

All through Middle School I did this: buying school lunches and then not eating them; throwing away money like I threw away calories, not caring about the consequences, not caring about the effects on other people.

And then, at the end of 8th grade, I was sexually assaulted. And everything changed. No longer was not eating connected with being beautiful, not eating was connected with being somebody else. If I could be somebody, anybody else, I wouldn’t have to remember what happened.

They say muscles have memory. You can ride a bike after years of not riding one because your muscles remember how to do it. You can type without looking at the keyboard because your fingers remember the placement of each key.

I tried to starve my muscles away hoping they’d forget the feeling of unwanted touch on my skin. It didn’t work.

It started with skipping a meal here and there, picking and nibbling at smaller and smaller amounts of food. It escalated to not eating anything but a few crackers for weeks at a time.

Ninth grade is a terrible year for everyone, but it was especially terrible for me. After having the summer away from my assaulters, I was thrust back into an environment where I encountered them every day. And, on top of all that, I started to get hips (Gasp)! And breasts (double gasp). That was the moment I knew I’d never be the tall, skinny super model society wanted me to be.

And everywhere I looked I was reminded of what happened. I couldn’t look in the mirror without hating what I saw. So, I skipped meals like an atheist skips church: trying to starve away the memories.

Things food wise started to get better in tenth and eleventh grade: I started taking AP classes, which means I was never in the same class with any of the guys I avoided at all costs. It wasn’t perfect. I never ate three meals a day; I tried to kill myself (which is a totally different, but not unrelated story, but which can be read about in so many posts on this blog).

I wasn’t eating three meals a day, but I was eating all the food I took, which wasn’t much, but it was a start.

During my Senior Year of High School is when my eating disorder became just that: a disorder that caused order to become chaos. I’ve never dealt well with chaos. My life felt like it was spinning out of control, so I tried to control what I could. I could control the amount of food going into my mouth, and so I did. I meticulously counted calories. I started eating less and less and less. My schedule was perfect: I woke up too late to grab breakfast, so breakfast was usually a granola bar grabbed from the kitchen. I was taking too many classes to have a scheduled lunch, so I grabbed lunch (either snack bars from my locker or something from the cafeteria). The food I bought (which wasn’t much) was thrown away. The food I grabbed from my locker went back.

My locker became a storage facility for all the calories I didn’t feel worthy enough of eating; I gave it away to my friends who needed it more than me.

I swore when I went to college that I’d do better. I’d eat. I’d have a clean slate. I would not worry about others judging when I ate. I would forget the fact that with every bite I put in my mouth, I’d feel less and less secure and more and more judged by those around me.

But it didn’t happen. I walked into my campus dining hall on the first day of classes my freshman year, and then I immediately walked out.

There were so many pretty faces, and I wasn’t one of them.

I can’t tell you when things began to change, but I first noticed a change about two years ago. I was exhausted all the time: physically and mentally. Between the not being and the not eating, I was having a hard time. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start eating. And I don’t know why I had the sudden change of mind. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was worth enough to eat. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was beautiful. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide my life was back in control, because it’s not. I don’t have my life controlled. At all.

Every day is still a battle: a battle to get out of bed, a battle to put food in my mouth, a battle to not hole myself up somewhere. But I try my best to do what I can to live. Life is not about surviving; it’s about thriving. I was barely surviving for so long, I want to thrive.

I’m trying to do just that. I still compare myself to others, but I have to not let it affect me: if I start to get anxious about the way I look, I’ll worry about eating. Skipping even one meal is super dangerous for people like me: Recovering Anorexics with a love-hate relationship with food.

I’m not sure how to end this story because it’s not quite over yet. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve come farther than I ever thought I could. And that’s something to celebrate.

I never thought Anorexia would happen to me. Italians are genetically bred to love food, and I am no exception. However, my love of food was not strong enough to overcome my hatred for myself.

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The picture on the left is from the end of my freshman year of high school (age 14) when my eating disorder was at (one of) its worst. The picture on the right is from last year, end of junior year of college (age 19).

I may not be society’s idea of beautiful, but that’s not stopping my beauty from existing.

I’m definitely 5000x happier in the second picture than I am in the first picture. I choose happiness over being Anorexic.

There’s nothing strong about having an eating disorder. True strength is found in overcoming it.

(if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, get help.)

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