Complimenting someone’s eating disorder is not the way to help them
My best friend told me the truth and I was able to recover
I’ve always thought of myself as a practical person. I was top of my class when I graduated from high school, I’m self-motivated, and I push myself to always do more and work as hard as I can. Despite this, my entire life I have had extremely low self-esteem.
As a child I usually handled this by over compensating and acting extremely confident all the time. When I reached high school, I turned completely inward. I became shy and was constantly uncomfortable in my own skin. I knew I was often irrational in my self-hatred, but nothing could change my mind. Towards the end of my senior year, it had become my primary focus. I was blaming all of my problems on my appearance.
I started to diet at the end of my senior year. At first it was no gluten and I continued this into my freshman year of college. But when I didn’t think that I was seeing enough of a result after almost a year of eating gluten-free (even though I was definitely slimming out a bit) I decided to change it up. It was time for the Paleo diet. And this time I was determined to see the results I wanted.
But I wasn’t just sticking to the Paleo diet, I was cutting back more and more calories every day, challenging myself to eat less than the day before. After about a month, I was consuming less than 1,000 calories a day. In addition, I was working out two to three hours every afternoon.
I began to have a numb feeling in my legs that I noticed when I shaved. I would stand in front of the mirror in my underwear and yell at myself for being a failure, hitting myself repeatedly if I had eaten a second apple. I was watching cooking shows constantly and wishing I could be eating all the food. It was bad.
Naturally, I started dropping weight fast – and I loved it. People were telling me they could see a difference, which only made me push harder to lose more weight. There were definitely people who were concerned – my parents, a few friends, etc. – but they wouldn’t really say much about it. If I would turn down food that was offered people would saying things like, “you need some more meat on those bones” or “trust me, you can risk an extra few calories.” But comments like these only made me perpetuate my unhealthy habits because they felt more like compliments, and I wanted to keep hearing people say them.
About four months into this lifestyle, I got a text from my best friend, who attended the same university as me, asking me to join her at the dining hall for dinner. But I had just gone to the dining hall for lunch, and I never ate more than one whole meal a day at this point. I informed her that I had already eaten lunch and really couldn’t justify going to another meal. She didn’t respond.
Later that evening, she told me that I needed to come over to her dorm so we could talk. I didn’t like where this was going, but I agreed. When I got there she sat me down and cried.
She told me that she loved me and that I was smarter than this. She told me that the other people on her floor had started commenting to her about me. They had noticed that I was suddenly much thinner, my legs were whittling away quickly, and they were worried. And these people barely knew me or saw me. She told me that it was scaring her, that I was going to hurt myself and that if I didn’t start changing my eating habits soon she was going to call my mom and tell her what was going on.
Soon we were both crying, but she didn’t let up and I left that night realizing how much I had gone off track that semester. I thought about how none of my clothes fit anymore, yet I had still denied that I was even losing any weight at all. My legs didn’t touch when I sat down anymore, but I had still thought they were too large.
Victoria had done what no one else had done: she told it to me straight. She didn’t beat around the bush. She didn’t even say anything remotely like a compliment to reassure me that I was looking great, because that would have only made it seem like what I was doing was helping me. It wasn’t. It was hurting me and hurting me badly. I’m surprised, looking back that I didn’t pass out more often – though I did often have moments where I would stand up and have everything go black for several seconds.
Victoria made sure I knew that this diet, this self-hatred, and this starvation was not good in any way. In fact, she said that I was too skinny and that I wasn’t meant to be that size.
It took another month or so to really be OK with food again and to start eating what I was meant to. I stopped dieting, and I continued to work out, but at a much more normal rate. And, slowly I healed.
Afterwards, when I gained back the weight, people had told me that they were worried, that they knew I was too thin and that I got there too fast, but none of them had told me that while I was starving myself. They just complimented me, told me I was looking great and, therefore, perpetuated my misconstrued thinking. What I needed was a heavy dose of reality and from someone I respected and loved.