When the angry mirror reflects pale

The first line of a poem I wrote when I was fifteen. Elbow deep into an eating disorder.

When I was fourteen years old, I overhead a well meaning neighbor tell my dad that his daughters “were getting a little round around the middle” and that maybe he should have them do some outside chores. Fourteen year old girls are already self-conscious. Make that very self-conscious about their looks. That neighbor didn’t cause anything, but they did affirm what that insecure teenage girl was hoping not to be true.

She’s fat. She’s not good enough. What she sees in the magazines are not at all what she sees in the mirror. Everything is out of her control. Except what she puts in her mouth. Nobody can tell her what to put in her mouth.

I remember over the next several weeks devising a very restrictive weight loss diet for myself. I wasn’t down with a “round” middle. I think I was an aspiring dietitian from the start, before I knew anything about meal planning. Just be thankful you weren’t a client of mine when I was fourteen!

Over the next 3 months, I lost about forty pounds. Of note, I have a twin sister and we had always been a similar weight up until this point. It happened so fast my family didn’t catch on until I was fully holding myself prisoner to my thoughts. It was pretty evident to everyone at school, all of our family members, and all of our friends. Aside from the whispers I could hear, no one said a word to me. And I was okay with that. Confronting people with hard stuff is hard.

Some of you are telling yourself similar things, too.

“That food is off limits for you. Eat it and you will surely gain five pounds overnight.” You have safe foods and if you go off plan, you are going to pay in self loathing guilt trips.

“Your day is determined by the number on the scale. Lose weight, you can relax,” (at least until breakfast). “If you gain weight, you will need to punish yourself with twenty extra minutes on the treadmill.”

“Wear that outfit because it hides your body.”

For someone with an eating disorder, multiply those thoughts times 100 and circulate them 24/7. The panic that sets in when food is presented that’s off limits, the fear of being caught exercising late at night to work off those extra calories, constantly hiding the anguish under baggy clothes, and the depression are enough to make life unliveable. People with anorexia do get to a  point where they know they shouldn’t lose anymore weight, but the fear of gaining even a pound is so strong that they’d rather continue to disappear.

I’ve been asked many times in my life why I became a Dietitian. I’ve never told the truth. This is my story. In three months, I turned my teenage years upside down along with my family’s and took over three years to recover from with the help of a Dietitian, a Psychiatrist, and God whom I didn’t even know at the time.

He’s always there to help you even if you pay Him no attention. Seek Him and allow yourself to rest on His strength.

Many of you have similar struggles. You aren’t good enough, you hate your body and you punish yourself for it on a daily basis. I may not know what it’s like to be overweight, but I know this struggle. I know it well. I apologize for keeping it to myself all of these years. If I’m going to be of any help to those of you that follow me so faithfully, you need to know my heart and why I really do what I do.

I’ll leave you with my high school poem, a place I happily won’t go back to, but still understand.

 She

When the angry mirror reflected pale,

She mended my shattered heart;

Told me that if I just listened,

My disturbances would dissolve.

She didn’t tell me the payment

Would be much more than I could carry-

The heavy weight on my soul

Replaced by another, much heavier.

I thrived to her golden rules:

Hunger pains do not hurt,

Protruding bones are attractive,

Sacrifice everything to vanish.

She told me a lie:

I would be dominant when I disappeared.

I didn’t know it was

She who stretched the infuriated mirage;

She shackled me to her deceptions,

She became me.

My anorexia and myself.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD