Recovering from an eating disorder is not an easy task. Lee Hersh spent many years working to overcome emotional and disordered eating, including anorexia and binge eating. She can now say she has learned to love her body for its strength and purpose. Here she shares her story of courage and triumph.
I was lucky to grow up with a loving and supportive family that appreciated healthy eating. Yet, despite this, I spent several years of my young adulthood suffering from an eating disorder. Eventually, through a lot of self-reflection and work, and thanks to the support of my friends and family, I was able to change my attitude towards food and my body. Today overexercising and disordered eating are a thing of my past, and I have a healthier attitude towards food and my own body.
Counting Calories and Exercise Regimens
Eating disorders are a form of mental illness. Mine was triggered by severe depression and anxiety which led to an extremely poor relationship with food and exercise. It all began when I was in college and my feelings toward my body and my understanding of a healthy lifestyle began to change. Those feelings, combined with a family history of depression, morphed into a love/hate relationship with food.
I began to control exactly what I put in my body and how many calories I expended each day. I ate anywhere from 1,100-1,300 calories a day, while taking exercise to the extreme. (Imagine 40-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts or long runs, etc.). I was so controlling with my eating that I knew exactly how much I consumed down to the calorie, every day. High-fat foods and carbohydrates were the enemy, while fruits and vegetables were my “safe foods.” All of my energy was put towards how I looked and what others thought of me, and I thought that being skinny meant I looked good to the world. It was my only focus.
As a result of my extreme eating, I dropped 30 pounds in less than two months, and I didn’t have 30 pounds to lose. I went from a healthy size 6/8 to an unhealthy size 0, which translated to going from 150 pounds to 118 pounds on my 5-foot, 8-inch frame. My health suffered from this dramatic weight loss, and other areas of my life began to fall apart as well. My relationships dwindled, school was put on the back burner, and I was very unhappy.
Working Toward Recovery
Eventually, I realized there was no way I could continue to live eating such a restricted diet and that my relationship with food and my body wasn’t normal or healthy. I was tired of being trapped in my own mind and feeling so alone and unhappy. But trying to actually overcome my eating disorder wasn’t easy. And I didn’t get better overnight. Instead, my eating disorder changed from anorexia to orthorexia and binging. Binge eating was one of the most stressful and embarrassing parts of my eating disorder, because I felt like I couldn’t control my hunger or what I ate. Ironically, I went from being in complete control of my food, counting every little morsel that went into my mouth, to absolutely no control.
I didn’t give up. I tried changing my habits and my view about food and my body. I incorporated less vigorous workouts like yoga and walking, and worked to eat all foods in moderation instead of limiting myself to certain ones. I surrounded myself with positive people, I blogged, meditated and made regular visits to a therapist.
I decided to start feeding my body the foods that I was craving instead of denying myself. If I was craving pancakes for dinner, I would make myself pancakes for dinner. This would satisfy my craving so I didn’t feel like I needed to eat four bowls of granola late that night. I learned that if I didn’t give my body what it was craving, in moderation of course, I would fall into the binge trap and eat it, a lot of it, anyway.
Another thing that really helped me was believing in myself and staying positive. Every day is a new day. Things didn’t change overnight but I didn’t stop until I got what I wanted—normal-like intuitive eating habits. And I am grateful to my sister and my mom who were pretty much the only ones who really knew what was going on and supported me through the whole thing.
Today: Happy, Healthy and Thriving
Today, instead of feeling shame and frustration, I am proud of my body and what it does for me on a daily basis. I am happy and healthy. I live for myself and for those that I love. Yes, I still have days where I feel like I’ve eaten too much or feel down about how I look, but I’m learning to accept that these are normal feelings.
Wouldn’t it feel good to wake up every day with unconditional love for our bodies and the life that we have created for ourselves? If you are struggling, there is hope. Join me in this quest for a healthy life, well lived.
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