Eating Disorders Don't Need a Diagnosis to be Real
I remember the day that I realized I had an eating disorder. I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, and I had just hit the button on my alarm clock and rolled out of my dorm-room bed. While my roommates were sleeping, I quietly undressed and stepped on my scale, as I did every morning. I waited for the blinking numbers to settle and either fully wreck or encourage my emotions. My weight was my magic 8 ball; it told me if I needed to work out harder or not, if I was allowed dessert or not, and if I had permission be happy...or not.
But that day, I remember looking down and thinking, "Am I ever going to stop doing this?" For the first time, the level of control my weight held over my emotional stability shook me to my core, and I realized that the past 3 (nearly 4) years of my life had been a downward spiral that no one had caught.
I've written snippets about my body image issues over the years, but I don't believe that disordered eating is a topic that can be neatly unpacked and put away after you bring it into the light. I know this because, even after understanding the gravity of my choices and mindset, it took me years to make any real change.
The picture above was taken around the time everything began. I was a few weeks out of a bad breakup, and my stress-induced weight loss was evident. I chose this picture because I look thin in an unhealthy way that makes me terribly sad for 17 year-old Griffin. In the months to follow, I did gain back some weight, but I hovered on purpose between 115-118 during the rest of my junior and into my senior year of high school. (To give you context, I probably weigh between 130-135 now; I don't know for sure because the scale isn't welcome in my presence anymore.) In most other high school pictures, I look thin, but not necessarily sickly. It was easily disguised, what I was doing, and as a competitive dancer, no one asked questions.
I never skipped meals, and I had a newfound interest in "nutrition" and "fitness", which basically translates into anything I could control to keep me at my goal weight. When you're eating for your looks, it doesn't just damage your physical health, but your emotional health, as well. Because I wasn't throwing up or starving myself, I truly believed that I wasn't doing anything wrong. It's not that I was lying to myself about having an eating disorder; I didn't even think about it because I didn't fit the criteria for diagnosis.
Our society tells us that we have to label things to make them real. We have to act a certain way to be in pain or look a certain way to be sick, but that's a lie. In our hesitation to name things that we don't understand, we rob ourselves and others of the ability to be honest and to heal.
This post has been on my heart for years, but I have hesitated to write it because of the lie that, because it wasn't diagnosable, it wasn't real. I've told myself, "Yeah, your eating was messed up, but it's not like you were in a rehab facility. Are you really the right person to preach this to the world?" I've wrestled with that even in talking to some of my closest friends about it because there were times in later years when I looked perfectly healthy, and my mind was incredibly sick. I tortured myself over how I looked, what I ate, and the level of control that I either succeeded or failed to exert. Speaking my struggles out loud made me feel like everything I did would be scrutinized, and I had enough of that going on in my own head. I didn't need an audience.
Because I never sought help or admitted how bad it was, I subjected myself to roughly 5 years of this, with lingering effects into adulthood. I could tell you that I'm mostly over it, so it's no longer important, but the level of control my eating disorder held over my life is worth far more attention than I've given it.
You see, people with a diagnosis know they're sick. But the ones who are afraid to speak up because they're not too skinny or too big or too restrictive or too obsessive, they are the ones my heart aches for because I was that girl for too long. Hear me when I say that you don't need to be too anything to realize that the life you're living is not the one you were designed for. You don't have to wait for someone else to pronounce you sick in order to fight for your health.
The sooner we give others permission to admit their pain, the sooner the healing can begin, and I believe that sharing your story is one of the best ways to facilitate vulnerability. Maybe my story isn't yours, but I know without a doubt that there are other women rationalizing and forsaking "healthy" on the alter of unreachable standards. This is why my passion to teach people about attainable and sustainable health is so big. I know what the absence of it feels like, and I know how easy it is to fall into that trap.
If I could tell 17 year-old Griffin anything, it would be that change is possible. I would tell her that she'll be drinking cocktails and eating donuts at her best friend's wedding without a care in the world, because one meal and one vacation doesn't ruin everything. Someday, I'd say, you'll be able to take a picture in a bathing suit without stressing about having the perfect abs. You'll realize that there's no size requirement that prevents you from wearing a crop top to a hot yoga class, and you'll rock it because 100 degrees makes you do things like that, and you can. You'll learn that photoshoots, even for fitness things, can be strong and empowering, even if you haven't pushed yourself to be at a certain size before you do them. I would tell her that she doesn't have to hide in that mindset forever. So throw away the old clothes that don't fit, stop listing your meals in your head, and realize that you actually love food and healthy living, when you stop letting it be the focal point of your life.
If this post resonates with you, please talk to someone. You are worth so, so much more than the lies you tell yourself.