When I was 11 years old I flirted pretty heavily with an eating disorder. It didn’t happen all at once, it wasn’t just one clear reason, and it wasn’t something I gave up cold turkey either. This is how I stumbled into a difficult relationship with food:
I am one half of a pair of twins. We were born entirely too early and I came into this world weighing a whopping 4 ½ lbs. My twin, she came in just a little smaller at 3 ½ lbs. Now while I must say I was an adorable baby, my parents thought it would be a cute idea to give me a nickname. They chose Gorda. For those of you that don’t speak Spanish my parents chose a nickname that literally means “Fat girl”. My sister was only ever called, Monica. Now, I think that nickname started to lose its charm by the time I could talk but my parents persisted. By the time I got a little older, all my brain heard when my parents called me Gorda, was not the cutesy nickname they chose for me when I was born. My brain heard my parents call me fat over and over and over again. My objective half knew that I was overreacting and that my parents didn’t mean anything by it. My emotional half, however, became instantly aware that my physical appearance was something that was vulnerable for judgment at any time and that was terrifying.
Another obstacle I faced when it came to my fluctuating relationship with food is that I come from a large Puerto Rican family. My mom only knew how to cook enough food for a small army. She’d pile my plate high with food and I wasn’t allowed to leave any behind. I was eating way past being full because that was all I knew. Overeating and a sharp cutting nickname made me feel like I was trapped in a cycle of resentment.
My relationship with food turned pretty serious when my family and I took a trip to Puerto Rico and my mom saw me in a new swimsuit. I couldn’t tell you her exact words but whatever they were they triggered a part of my brain where every time I looked in the mirror I felt ugly. I was convinced my parents thought I was ugly. I was already starting to feel like they didn’t like me much anyway, so it wasn’t that far a leap. My solution to that problem was to get as thin as possible and then my parents would find me beautiful and maybe then I could be the best version of myself.
I looked in that vacation mirror and made a pact with myself to only eat when absolutely necessary. I even justified it all by convincing myself it was so that I could be healthy, I was eating too much anyway. I wanted the nickname to go away.
I started by doing away with breakfast. If I was at school I ate a few bites of lunch, then threw the rest away. On the weekends, I wouldn’t have anything until dinner. Having dinner wasn’t much of an improvement, because I served myself dinner in tiny bowls as opposed to my mom’s choice in large dinner plates.
The sick thing is I was so happy about it too, like “look at me, learning self-control.” I was feeling more beautiful. My parents thought I was beautiful. I was receiving more compliments from them anyway. Because I was keeping a low profile about my food, my parents never raised any concerns. They didn’t find anything amiss for a while. That was until we were spending the day at Islands of Adventure and we went down to have the buffet breakfast. All I chose to eat that day was half of a croissant. They found it odd that I was able to spend the day in the hot sun, belly practically empty, without voicing one complaint. They started watching me after that.
They weren’t pushy or hostile, but they did say their peace, in their own way. I remember my dad went to hug me and he was able to wrap his whole hand across my back and deep across my shoulder. He pulled back and just said, ” you’re wasting away baby.” That didn’t stop me though. I thought he was just being dramatic.
It got worse when I started missing periods, my hair was falling out in bigger and bigger chunks, and my vision would go spotty a few times a day. But it didn’t matter because I was learning self-control and I was feeling beautiful. My parents stopped calling me Gorda.
But there is always that saying “whatever goes up, must come down. What were once minor (to me anyway) symptoms became much more severe. I was having trouble focusing and to even walk felt like a strain on my body.
I went home that night and had a very real “come to Jesus moment.” I looked down at my plate (I made my mom serve me) and I had to convince my mind and body that this food would help me. So, I ate it. I had to force myself to get past the first few bites. By the end of the meal, I felt strange. I felt disappointment and happiness in equal measure. Whatever guiding force it was that got me to finish that meal I am grateful for. I promised myself I would never be so harsh on my body again.
I had to teach myself to find a happy medium between the discipline I put on myself to not eat anything and the lack of discipline I had when it came to keeping myself from cleaning my plate. Now I look forward to my time in the kitchen. Because I will have made the food I place a positive value on it. I earn it, by putting the work in to make it.
I still catch myself having a negative reaction to food here and there, but they are few and far between. I just know I never want to go back to that version of me. I have learned to love this version way more.
Until next time readers…