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Going Hungry Episode 1: Changes

Hi, all. I’d like to tell you a story.

It’s a long story, so I’m going to tell it in parts.

So far on the blog, I’ve mostly talked about where I am now. And although where I am now is a complicated place, it’s also a pretty happy place, a place where I take care of myself, where I have a sense of purpose beyond food, exercise, and weight, where I can eat without obsessing and be obsessed about things besides eating, where I have hard days and unhealthy thoughts but I’ve learned how to make the right decisions even when I’m feeling low.

But I didn’t just magically arrive here. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and sometimes it took me a long time to learn from them. But learn from them I did.

I’d like to tell the story of my journey with anorexia not because I think it’s anything out of the ordinary, not because I want to throw a pity party for myself, but because I want to understand what happened in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. Because I want to call out all the bullshit I’d been taught and offer a plea for the things I wish I had been taught. And if someone else could learn from my mistakes rather than having to learn the hard way herself, that’d be awesome, too.

It started with a scale.

One spring day my freshman year of college, I made the decision to weigh myself. Danger.

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When I scanned my senior picture a number of years ago, the photo got folded. Hence the “scar” across the middle of the image.

In high school, I had never weighed myself, but rather had always been weighed by a nurse or the gym teacher. And though I didn’t think so much about my weight or size, per se, I did (in the way of teenagers) think a lot about how other people my own age saw me. I figured they saw me as pretty damn weird: vocal and precocious in class but extremely uncomfortable in the presence of human males; I didn’t cuss; I knew little to nothing about popular music, television, or fashion; I wore long floral skirts and later, men’s jeans; and yeah, I was a bit pudgy.

Probably every teenager feels like they don’t fit in, but I’ve noticed they tend to respond in different ways. I responded by deciding that if I was going to be weird, damn it, I’d be weird. I pierced one ear, memorized “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and did my best to act like this was all an intentional act on my part.

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Graduating high school

But it was a pretty exhausting act, and it’s no surprise to me in retrospect that when I moved about five blocks up the hill from my high school to the University of Kansas, I began to let my guard down. I bought women’s jeans and t-shirts, real sneakers (my undergraduate shoes had been Velcro), started watching Glee (of all “popular” media!). I still had my quirks (because, I learned, everyone has their quirks), but I stopped so much trying to aggressively “be unique” in opposition to a world I felt I didn’t fit into and instead focused on making new friends, taking new classes and adjusting to the world of college life.

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Going with some scholarship hall women to the 80s dance our freshman year.

One of the hardest challenges of which was cooking. I was very excited about moving into a scholarship hall: one of the two oldest scholarship halls in the country, in fact. It was kind of like a sorority meets a co-op: very inexpensive to live there, we cleaned the house ourselves and shared a small kitchen with six or seven other women. Some of our meals were shared with our kitchenmates; many were on our own.

The on-our-own meals totally freaked me out at first. I had never had to think before about where my food was coming from; food had always been purchased and cooked by someone else, available when I needed it, and abundant! I was accustomed to going back for seconds on every meal. The biggest worry of my food life was whether or not a meal contained one of the foods I didn’t like, especially beans or grapes.

I’m trying to remember what I ate as a college freshman, and I honestly don’t remember a lot of specifics, except that I ate generally less than I had as a high school senior. A lot less. I remember some microwave packaged oatmeal, plenty of Chex cereal and raisin bran, eggs cooked in store-bought salsa, tuna sandwiches, and lots and lots of single-serve microwave meals.

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One dietary habit that hasn’t changed since I was 18 is cereal and bananas for breakfast.

Final change in my habits freshman year of college: I started going to the gym. At first just yoga, and then step aerobics. I think I may wrap it up for this post and save the story of my relationship with exercise for the next installment, but suffice it to say that I was motivated, at the time, the health benefits of exercise. (Of which there are many!)

So my life changed, my circumstances changed, I was eating a lot less and exercising a fair amount more, and one day–I don’t remember why–I decided to step on the scale at the gym. I shouldn’t have been a surprise that my weight had dropped significantly, but I was.

Pleasantly surprised. A possibility opened up to me: the possibility that I could be a slender young woman. Not only slender, but a lot of other things I had never thought possible: that I didn’t have to use my body as a way of defying the world, but that I could instead fit in, be “normal,” maybe even a bit attractive. That was a fascinating possibility; I had always been so sure I was very unattractive. I remember I got in the sauna and smiled and smiled, so pleased with what this unexpected weight loss could mean, a new future opening up.Bohling head shotDid I suddenly have an eating disorder, starting that moment? No, of course not: it would take me years to reach the point of clinical anorexia. But it was a shift, a moment at which a thought introduced itself to me that, though thrilling at the time, did tremendous damage in the long run: that I could be skinny.

Thanks to Amanda for the Thinking Out Loud linkup!

 

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15 comments

  1. Emily says:

    It’s amazing how that shift comes (unconsciously) at first in our mindset, and by God’s grace, I am so thankful that He is changing my thinking everyday and focusing me on Him and not on my body. <3 I am so grateful that you are healing Joyce.

  2. Cora says:

    I think its really important – for everyone – to write their story. To help others, of course, but also to help ourselves. We deserve to give our stories the attention and detail and compassion they deserve. So I’m really glad you are choosing to share yours with us. And like I’ve said before.. your writing is so wonderful. I’m looking forward to continue on this journey of your story with you.

    1. Joyce says:

      You always have the kindest word of encouragement. Thank you, Cora!

  3. Loved reading your story. I agree- that slight shift in thinking can be so dangerous. I think that’s why it’s so important to teach girls positive body image and how to value themselves for more than their appearance at a young age.

  4. Ellie says:

    Thank you for opening up about such an emotional time in your life. The fact that you can talk about it is really admirable <3333

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for the words of support!

  5. kate says:

    I believed I was “pudgy” prior to my eating disorder also. I never believed being thin was actually attainable. I wish that I’d had the kind of assistance to start a fitness journey with a greater goal than being thin at the time. I am excited to read as you continue your story. I remember a quote I learned in eighth grade- “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That kind of works for eating disorder hell too, I’d say.

    1. Joyce says:

      So true–There were so many decisions that seem harmless at the time. Glad that you’re in a better place now.

  6. This is an interesting story, and you are a great writer! I will be following along and waiting for more posts!
    Happy to see that you are in a better place now, it is so crazy to me that the smallest things can trigger eating disorders like this.

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for the encouraging words! It is crazy how easy it is that eating disorders can start with such a small shift in thinking.

  7. Psychic Nest says:

    Hi Joyce,

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is such so inspirational for all those who are struggling with weight. As teenagers, we all have weight issues because of hormones. Keep smiling that you are doing so much better! Heads up!

    Zaria

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