By nature I am a very private person. And as humans, especially this day in age, I feel like people are programmed to keep secrets and hide things about themselves to “protect” themselves. But the truth is hiding only keeps you in bondage. Everything done in the darkness will come to light (Luke 12:3), and the longer you stay in the darkness the more it eats at your soul. So I’ve decided to start this blog to share some things that I’ve been going through, in the hopes that I can help others and also keep myself accountable as I make changes in my life.
Writing a blog scares me. That’s why it’s taken me so long to start even though it’s something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. I always wanted to talk about struggling with an eating disorder, learning to eat healthy, healing, and growing, but I had this image in my mind that I would be sharing all of this from the other side of the struggle. But the truth of the matter is, I’m still healing from the stress I put my body through and learning what I need to be healthy, confident, and happy. Restoring one’s health is a never ending journey in which there is always room for improvement. So all that to say, I’m starting where I am, flaws and all, and I hope someone learns and grows from reading about my journey.
For as long as I can remember, I have never been comfortable in my skin. I’ve always been unsatisfied with the way that I look physically, and I was afraid to just be myself. I guess I felt like people wouldn’t accept who I was. I never thought I was hideous or anything, but I grew up literally hating my body. Growing up in a society where people emphasize that a woman’s worth is equated to the way she looks, her hip to waist ratio, and the size of her breasts, it was hard to feel adequate. My parents have always told me how beautiful I am and encouraged me to be myself, but I’ve always compared myself to the girls I went to school with, the actresses I saw on television and the girls that my male friends fawned over.
I was not those girls. I was always chubby. I dreaded costume fittings for shows and dance recitals or being told to wear specific things. My wardrobe always consisted of hiding my body, because I didn’t like what was there. But as much as I hated my body, I loved food 10 times more. So I stayed the same shape I always was. My logic was I would never have an eating disorder, because I loved to eat and I hated throwing up. But that didn’t stop me from crash dieting occasionally to shed some extra pounds for special events. Then I would go right back to my regular routine.
My junior year of college I decided that it was time to make a change. I was always active with dance, basketball and even going to the gym with my father, but I was never consistent with a workout and meal plan. So junior year I decided to cut out the snacks, sweets, dairy and eating after 9pm, and I aimed to make it to the gym every day so I would at least make it 4 times a week. However, I really didn’t know much about fitness. My workouts consisted of 45 minutes of cardio, abs and push-ups. Even with this basic plan, I shrunk about 3 to 4 sizes, it seemed like overnight. I was finally happy with the way clothes fit. My skin was glowing, and I had more energy than ever. I began to feel confident in the way I looked, and it was reflected in the way I carried myself and dressed. I wasn’t hiding anymore, but celebrating who I was.
A few months later it got harder and harder to get to the gym consistently. Suddenly I was craving foods I had cut out of my diet and I was eating later and later. I began this cycle of binge eating crap foods, then going overboard with strict diets and consequently making myself feel deprived. It got to the point where I had insatiable cravings and I would just eat and eat searching for something to satisfy me. Afraid I would gain everything back, I began forcing myself to throw up when I overate. It was never after every meal, but there were periods when I did it more frequently and weeks or months when I didn’t do it at all.
The binging and purging just continued to get worse and worse to the point where I was spending my last dimes on donuts and ice cream and binging on whole boxes of cookies, and then some, trying to satisfy myself. But I was never satisfied. By senior year I was literally depressed. I would get home from class, lay (lie? I always get those confused) on my bed in the darkness and do absolutely nothing, just waiting to have the house to myself so that I could binge again.
Food had taken over my life. I was always contemplating what I was going to eat, if I had enough money to buy something to binge on and then go back and buy something else. I would calculate whether or not I would have time to eat and purge before someone else got home.
This on again off again habit carried over into the next year of my life and my eating habits began to show on my skin. Suddenly eczema began breaking out in places it never had before. I was getting light patches all over my face and people were asking me if I was okay. My doctor even asked if vitiligo ran in my family.
I started getting paranoid, too. I felt like people knew what was going on with me and I was embarrassed, so I would isolate myself so I didn’t have to deal with anyone. I didn’t want people to see me like that and I didn’t want to lie about why I was being weird, why I didn’t want to leave the house, and why I had no energy. I would eat so healthy in front of others, and then as soon as the doors were closed I would eat anything in sight. I felt guilty when people called me healthy.
I was in a vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to break. Every time I came from the kitchen I found myself going back, searching for something, anything, to make me feel better. But I always ended up feeling worse and worse. There were times when I would not leave the house because of the way I felt and looked, so I would just stay home and binge. I would procrastinate and not take care of my responsibilities, because I was too worried about what I could eat to satiate by cravings or I was too full and sick to be productive.
By this time, none of the clothes from when I lost weight fit anymore. I was back into the practice of hiding. Not only my body, but myself. I was ashamed of everything I had become. I hated having to dress up, because I hated the way I looked, but I refused to buy clothes for the size that I was, because I wanted to lose weight. I thought this would be motivation, but I was setting myself up for failure. I barely had any clothes to wear, so I never felt confident, which hindered me from emotional healing, which caused me to eat. I was purging less, because I was afraid to hurt myself, but I continued to binge. The times that I did purge, I would eat vegetables afterwards, because in my twisted logic that meant I was getting nutrients after harming myself. My weight fluctuated up and down constantly.
I even looked up the harmful side effects of bulimia so I would know how I was harming myself and hopefully stop. I researched nutrition and different causes of the cycle I had begun, trying to find any way to make myself stop. I knew I was hurting myself, but I couldn’t gain control. I was addicted to food. I would throw things away after knowing that I shouldn’t have even bought them, and then I would dig them out of the trash again. I had to empty food out of the packaging into the trash to ensure that I wouldn’t go searching for it later. It was almost second nature to binge. I didn’t even think about it. If I wanted something I would go searching high and low to satisfy myself. And if I didn’t have it, I would improvise by mixing flour, sugar and oil, or whatever was in my fridge, to create some sort of makeshift dessert. I wasn’t even eating for the taste anymore. It was eating for the sake of eating.
I always thought that eating disorders were a choice, which is why I never reached out for help. I figured that if I was able to eat right and exercise in the past I could do it again. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like there was an on and off switch I could use to suddenly be healed. I wasn’t just overeating. I was using food to make me feel better. I used it to hide my insecurities. I used it as a comfort. I used it as a release. It made me feel better for a moment, but then I felt horrible afterwards.
This was reflected in other areas of my life as well. I started drinking alcohol more, not only when I went out but in the house by myself. I felt lonely. I went out to clubs and bars by myself a few times. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons. There were times that I couldn’t stand to be alone, so I thought going out was the solution. And when I couldn’t find anyone to go out with I thought there was something wrong with me. Not only was I harming myself physically, but I was mentally and emotionally hurting myself. I was negative in every sense of the word; to myself, about myself, my situations, my abilities, and my purpose. I doubted myself constantly and I felt inadequate in everything I did. I was rehearsing for shows and constantly thinking everyone hated me, I wasn’t talented enough, I didn’t deserve the jobs that I was getting and everyone else was more talented, prettier and better than me. If I wasn’t getting confirmation from others that I was doing well then I played these mind games with myself. And even when I did get praises and confirmation I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe it if people told me I was beautiful, talented and smart. I was psychologically breaking myself down every day.
Through the midst of all this I pinpointed dairy as the main cause of my breakouts and attempted to cut it out of my diet. This was extremely challenging. Dairy is in everything. I often unknowingly ate things with dairy in the ingredients or sometimes just caved in, because I was a sucker for free food and desserts. And dairy is in just about every dessert.
After about a year, I finally cut all dairy out of my diet and realized how awful processed foods had been to me. I started reading up on vegan living and the harmful effects of enriched flours, processed sugars, and essentially “fake” food. I started eating a mostly vegan diet, although I'm not vegan anymore. I cut out meat, but still ate seafood, and came to the conclusion that if I didn’t know the ingredients I wouldn’t risk it. I was tired of the constant breakouts and itching and burning of my skin. My living is literally to be in front of people, so I didn’t want to do it feeling self-conscious another day. My skin started to clear up, and I started to understand what different foods did to my body.
I had gone months without purging, but still slipped up sometimes. There were periods of time when I would revert back into that state of depression and lock myself in my room with the lights off, not answer any calls or knocks on my door, and put off my responsibilities. Even with the new healthy eating habits, I would still binge and was stuck in the same fluctuation of weight.
I prayed about it a lot. I grew up in the church and have always had somewhat of a relationship with God, but during the worst of my depression, I didn't know how to talk to Him, what to say and how to ask for help. I just knew that I couldn't go on the way that I was any longer. Not only was food damaging my body, but going out, drinking, and looking for belonging from others was a huge source of my unhappiness. It wasn't until I started going to church again and cultivating a true relationship with God that I began to realize that I needed outside help to heal. I made great strides on my own by changing my diet and not binging and purging as much, but it was still a huge issue. I thought of food constantly. Should I eat this or that? How much should I eat? When was the last time I ate? Is it too soon to eat again? I kept hearing God say "Tell someone. Get help." But it probably took me about 6 months or more to actually do so.
I told my father. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know how to tell anyone, but I knew that he would be able to help me. I struggled behind closed doors with binging and purging for 2 to 3 years, but as soon as I reached out for help, I wasn’t carrying the burden of this big secret on my shoulders anymore. I was convinced that I put myself in the situation so I could get myself out, but I needed help. I felt ashamed and embarrassed of what I was going through.
When we isolate ourselves with our problems, that’s all we can see; everything that is wrong with us or the situation. The enemy likes to isolate us so we feel helpless and hopeless, but concealing our issues only gives them more power over us. When we finally admit that we have a problem and reach out for help, we’ll be able to start the healing process.
That’s not to say the process will be easy, but it can begin. I told my father that I struggled with an eating disorder in March 2013. It is now May 2015, and I have not made myself throw up since that day. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’ve come a long way from where I was. I don’t obsess over calories and I don’t overeat to the point where I can’t move or function. I’m not perfect, but I’ve made changes to my diet so that I’m not harming myself, but fueling and healing my body. Currently I don’t eat dairy, gluten, or sugar and I cook everything I eat due to recent food allergies that have surfaced (I’ll talk more about this in my next post). No longer do I waste away in the dark with the lights off and my door locked.
Some days are harder than others, but every day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I like what I see. Other days all I can see are my flaws and everything I need to work on in order to be better. Then I remind myself of how far I’ve come and I am thankful. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m still being healed every day that I live. But I’m learning to enjoy the journey and not focus so much on the destination.
Eating disorders are much more than a physical affliction. They stem from a psychological state that pushes you to the point of harming yourself, while at the same time tricking yourself into believing it’s for good. I was so obsessed with reaching this ideal aesthetic that I did the very thing I knew I never would. I equated reaching the perfect physical appearance with happiness and success. I thought all of my problems would be eliminated if I could just lose 20 pounds and look the way I saw myself in my mind.
Sometimes I still battle with these thoughts. I rarely ever have the urge to purge anymore, but my body image still needs work. I’m learning to love myself, because I didn’t for so long, and it’s not an overnight process. Loving yourself doesn’t stem from being a certain weight, body type, or having a low body fat percentage. If those things come from loving yourself, great! But I’m learning that loving myself is taking care of myself; being mindful of the foods that I put into my body, making an effort to exercise regularly, staying away from negative energy, challenging myself to be better every day, surrounding myself with people and things that make me happy and sharing all of these things with others. Loving yourself is knowing your worth and not compromising it. Happiness is knowing the love of God and knowing that nothing is greater than His grace and mercy. And I have been blessed by His grace and mercy abundantly, despite everything I have done to myself. This life is a crazy roller-coaster ride, and I’m excited to share it with anyone who takes the time to read this blog. Thank you for sticking with me for this looooooooooooooong explanation of my history. I truly appreciate it. Much love and until next time!
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!