Oh, how I always wanted to look just like the Victoria’s Secret Angels, created out of clay (and personal trainers and dieticians). How I indeed tried to adhere to a ridiculous lifestyle of not eating and an absurd exercising schedule. How I, an anorexic, was built of guilt (and how I’m now built of openness).
How it started
It started innocently, when I was twelve. Like so many other girls in high school, I became very aware of my appearance and of the fact that I could definitely shed some weight, or at least get rid of the tiny bit of fat I could feel whenever I squeezed my tummy between my fingers. I figured cutting out cookies would do the trick — and it did! While most other girls still had their baby fat or their “I’m no longer a child”-curves, my tummy got flatter. That’s when things got tricky.
Obviously, my parents noticed that I rejected every single cookie or snack they offered me. Even though I had an array of excuses ready, I sometimes had to cave in to keep them happy and off my back. You’d expect that one cookie would be okay after months of cookie-fasting, that I’d savour it as if I had been starved (for cookies). I did, in the beginning, but never without a great sense of guilt. How could I have given in, lost my strength, failed at the one thing I was good at, and better at than my peers? There was only one solution: compensating my guilt.
Supermodel work-out (every day)
Enter: the supermodel work-out. Okay, I didn’t have any personal trainers, nor did I hit the gym, but I did do jazz-ballet and ballroom dancing. I had practice for about seven hours a week. I never missed a recreational dance evening (every Saturday, so add another four hours) and I never skipped a day of stretching and working through all the routines I knew. I walked the dog as much and far as I could (he never complained), roller-skated whenever the sun was shining, and even rode my bicycle (because even though I’m Dutch and I’m supposed to like it, I hate it). But hey, anything to excel at what I was good at: being thin. And of course to dissolve my feelings of guilt.
It worked… for a short while, that is. Soon enough, skipping snacks didn’t suffice any more, and compensating after having eaten something that was not part of my diet didn’t suffice either. I felt guilty after having had any food (basically nothing was part of my diet anymore) and I felt guilty if I wasn’t exercising, regardless of what kind of exercise it was (but preferably something that made me sweat and “feel” the burning calories).
I was just not a fan of snacks
Of course, this intense lifestyle of mine didn’t go unnoticed. I beamed at every “How do you stay so thin?” and the opportunity to reply that I didn’t do anything special – because to me, it wasn’t special. It was normal to eat as little as possible and to exercise as much as I could. I took great pride in that — my endless willpower, my iron discipline — even if that meant I had to lie to all those people I love. Lying about my weight to my family, even though I never minded telling other girls how little I weighed… and I always had to add a few pounds to make my lie believable. Lying to my parents, my family, my closest friends about how well I was doing, how great I felt, that nothing was wrong with me and that I simply had no appetite that evening. And I was just not a fan of snacks (or fries, pizza, pasta, or pancakes for that matter).
I was so happy (or so I believed)
Was I happy with my body, mindset, and lifestyle? Honestly, I believed I was. I was getting rid of all the things I didn’t like about my physical appearance. I was good at it, better than my friends, who were still worrying about baby fat during P.E. My strict diet and exercise plan were effective. What more could I want?
New sense of guilt
Nowadays, ten years after all this started, I have a new sense of guilt. Just typing this felt like a great effort, and I started crying several times. I despise myself for past actions and I am ashamed that I was a person motivated by guilt, letting guilt determine what I would (not) eat, how I’d feel, how I’d spend my day, and how I’d respond to people. Four years ago I realised I didn’t want to be that person any more, because I saw the terrible thing I’d done — something I consider even worse than the eating disorder. Of all things, I feel most guilty about having been a liar, and about having hurt so many people so badly. For casting off their concerns, their help, their love.
I wanted to be honest to myself, to other people, to the world, even if the truth was brutal or painful. So was I happy with my body, mindset, and lifestyle? No, I wasn’t. I was built out of no more than bones on the outside and guilt on the inside. I was a terrible person, living a double life (who I used to be vs. me with Anorexia), driving everyone away with my lies. With that double life, I missed out on the most important thing: life itself.
But not anymore. I cook with joy everyday and just a few days ago, I said something exceptional about fries.
Me (on the phone with my boyfriend): “What do you want for dinner?”
He: “Well, I’ve got an idea, but you go first.”
Me: “Fries?” (I’m always right when guessing what he wants).
Then, me again: “I feel like having fries, too.”
That was the very first time I was honest about fries. Yes, I’m battling an eating disorder and fries still scare the shit out of me, but in spite of that and my obsession with healthy food, I still sometimes feel like having fries. And that’s okay. I shouldn’t feel guilty about it, and I certainly don’t have to lie about this, because I don’t want to be built of guilt or created out of clay. I just want to be me, and most of all, I don’t want to eat something because it either does or does not make me feel guilty. No, I want to eat it because I feel like it, and I want to exercise because it’s fun, not to shake off guilt.
Don’t beat yourself up for eating the occasional “bad” thing, for not being perfect, or because of a number on the scales. Notice how honest you are with yourself and the ones you love; do you actually enjoy what you’re eating or the exercise routine you’re following? Because you should. You should enjoy the things that give you energy and keep you healthy, and be nice (though honest) to yourself. Guilt is definitely no part of that.