NEDA Week: I Was Starving and Didn't Even Know It
It's National Eating Disorders Awareness week, and I wanted to share my story.
(TW: Disordered eating)
After 14 years of disordered eating, I am finally recovering.
I started counting calories to lose weight when I was 13, and it spiralled from there.
A few years ago, I stopped counting calories. Because of this, I considered myself recovered. Instead, I decided I would simply eat "mindfully" while taking up intermittent fasting and cutting out certain macros.
Left: 2018, Middle: 2020, Right: 2021
Around 2016, I lost my period. I also started experiencing many other strange symptoms. Feeling cold all the time. Flattened emotions. No libido. Inexplicable depression. Having to pee all the time. Social withdrawal. Social apathy. General apathy. Loss of interest in hobbies. Decreased cognition. Irritability. Rigidity and obsessiveness. Food obsession.
I became a shell of a person. It felt like I had died. I was simply existing in a haze, never experiencing joy except when food was involved. Eating food was the only thing that felt good, and I didn't understand why. Conversations revolved around food, and I became very interested in cooking.
I knew something was very wrong with me. At one point, the doctors and I considered the possibility of a pituitary tumour. I got an MRI and the results were negative. After further extensive hormone testing, the endocrinologist mentioned that I likely had hypothalamic amenorrhea.
After some research, all the pieces started to fall into place.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is when menstruation ceases due to a suppressed hypothalamus which results in the insufficient production of necessary hormones. It is often caused by the body being under stress (commonly, insufficient calories).
I needed to eat more food. I needed to eat more fat. I needed to eat more frequently.
For a long time, I was in denial that my eating habits had anything to do with my symptoms. I considered myself to be a "very healthy" eater. Importantly, my BMI was "normal". I thought only people who were clearly underweight could lose their period.
In November 2020, I decided I would go all in to try to get my period. So I ate. A LOT. I faced my fear foods. I ate a lot of take out, pastries, and other foods I deemed to be unhealthy. I went up about 6 pants sizes within a matter of weeks.
On January 30, 2021, I got my first period after more than 4 years of not having one. My other symptoms also began improving. I'm not cold all the time. I'm starting to feel positive emotions again. My food obsession "magically" began disappearing.
The scary thing about eating disorders is that they can take over your life without you even realizing it. I genuinely believed that the way I ate was very "healthy". I was *unhealthily* terrified of processed and fatty foods, and I was very good at hiding this. I followed body positive accounts and made it a point to not engage in diet talk. Deep down, I knew I had a terrible relationship with food, but I did my best to hide this in fear of potentially triggering others.
A starved body thinks and feels differently. I have read about the Minnesota starvation experiment, and my symptoms were strikingly similar to the people that were starved. The depression, feeling cold, food obsession, social withdrawal, apathy, etc.
The thing is, I never looked "starved", so I never got any help for it. The doctors never looked into the potential of my having an eating disorder. My BMI was "normal", though I now realize it was too low for *me*.
Eating disorders don't have a "look". You can struggle with an eating disorder at any size. You can be starving without knowing that you're starving. You can be starving without looking skeletal.
If my experience resonates with you, and you are struggling, please seek help. Things CAN get better.
Read more about my hypothalamic amenorrhea journey here.