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May 14, 2014

The Skinny On Being Thin: 10 Lessons From An Eating Disorder.

Anorexia

Health is about balance, not extremes.

So before jumping on the next juice cleanse, here’s some food for thought for those of us seeking to lose more weight than we need to.

While battling an eating disorder five years ago, my weight plummeted to a morbid 67 pounds. During that time of turmoil, which lasted approximately two years, my weight hovered in the 70s range.

I felt stuck and unable to take care of myself appropriately, despite my intellectual knowledge and understanding of the severe health implications of this issue. Not only are the obvious potential health repercussions reason enough that being this thin is not in the least bit fun and exciting, but my experience opened my eyes to many unforeseen frustrations in my day to day life. Here are some:

10. Clothes will not fit.

I remember trying on the smallest pair of jeans (size 24), and they fell right off me. This is actually not cool at all. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed, I would shop in the childrens’ section of department stores for jeans and pretend I was shopping for my niece. I would sneak into the fitting room to quickly try them on so no salesperson would see me.

Since that was super stressful, I resorted to wearing baggy clothes the majority of the time. I also convinced myself that our society’s version of ‘ideal body weight’ was too high, and in other countries (usually third-world countries in particular) people were thinner and that was healthier.

9. People Will Be Judgmental

Let’s face it. People judge. Everyone judges. I judge. It’s sunny outside = good. It’s raining outside = bad. I can’t tell you how many times I would be walking down the street and hear, “Eat a hamburger!” or “Anorexic bitch!”. It almost became expected background noise as I faced nearly any public situation. I always used to wonder what it would be like if every time an obese person walked by, someone would shout at them, “Hey fatty!”.

It seemed to me that being thin received much more negative judgment than being overweight, at least from my perspective. It was hurtful, and it fueled my inner struggle. When I felt stressed or upset, I restricted my diet even more. It’s the opposite of a binge-eater (which I inevitably became afterwards). When binge-eaters feel emotional distress, they eat.

8. Sexual Health Suffers

Having no curves and not fitting into womens-sized clothing led me to care less and less about my own sexuality. Not only that, being too thin eventually caused amenorrhea (absence of menstrual flow). It tends to happen to high-endurance athletes who have a very low percentage body fat.

I didn’t have a sex drive or any desire to express myself in that way. I called it celibacy, and that made me feel better about it, especially since I’m a yogi. But deep down, I was hiding the fact that I was scared and ashamed. I felt like a child. Sexual health is an incredibly crucial part of overall wellness, and if that’s not “flowing,” life doesn’t flow as smoothly as it can.

7. Heightened Sensitivity To Stimulation

I actually had to move out of NYC when my weight got to its lowest point. I moved back in with my parents in New Jersey and then eventually went to Costa Rica, which was a slower, more supportive environment.

The smaller you are, the more burdensome external stimulation becomes. I remember literally feeling a subtle vibration when I would try to fall asleep in NYC. It was very difficult to sleep. Bright lights deeply affected me. So did large crowds of people, chemical smells, loud noises, and the like.

Of course, many people can experience high levels of sensitivity without being thin. This was pronounced for me, and it subsided when I gained weight. When I got heavier, I felt more grounded and able to handle the world.

6. Exhaustion

This relates to the sensitivity to stimulation. Living in a world filled with cars, people, things, electronics, radioactive waves, hustle and bustle requires a level of personal stability. I felt chronic exhaustion from simply being alive. The tasks of a day seemed daunting, and I felt incapable of handling many things.

At the time, I didn’t attribute my symptoms to my weight on the conscious level. I would always make excuses that the world was simply too much and I was destined to live in the jungle or somewhere more peaceful. Of course, as I gained weight, life became much easier.

5. Hair Will Grow In Random Places

I remember looking in the mirror one day (which rarely happened during that shameful time period), and I noticed that I was growing blond hairs on the sides of my face and neck. I noticed it especially that time, because I was cold and the hair was long and prominent and sticking out. What I eventually discovered through research is that if you get to a very low weight, your body actually produces more hair to keep you warm.

It saddens me to write this now and think of how I abused my body. It also connects me directly with gratitude for my body and its ability to heal, despite my negligence and manipulation.

4. Thinning of Hair and Nails

If our bodies aren’t receiving enough nutrients, our hair and nails will become more brittle. Let me be clear about this. I was eating a very healthy diet at the time. Orthorexia is an obsession with health and purity. The foods I was eating were high in nutrients, but I wasn’t eating enough of them. Our bodies need a certain amount of whole foods nutrition in order to function optimally.

I ended up getting hair extensions when my weight was very low to hide the fact that my hair started falling out. No one knew. Everyone always complimented me on how beautiful my hair was. Well, it wasn’t mine! I was covering up a serious issue.

3. Feeling Cold Often

Without having a certain amount of fat on our bones, we will likely feel cold more often than not. I’m sure many people often feel cold regardless of their weight. In my case, I would freeze unless I was in Costa Rica, where it was 95 degrees and incredibly humid.

I chose to change my environment in order to support my low weight. And what do you know? When I gained weight, I was able to handle different climates with more comfort. I also started to feel that Costa Rica was too hot—never thought that would happen. Fat insulates us, in addition to many other life-sustaining functions. Without it, you are utterly exposed.

2. Poor Sleep

This may fluctuate depending on the person. I can only speak from my own experience. When I was very thin, it would be tremendously difficult to fall asleep. After researching this issue, I realized that our bodies actually need a certain amount of calories to fall asleep.

Sleep is the ultimate foundation of health. No food can give us the energy and balance that sleep does. While sleeping, our bodies are going through some pretty serious processes, and if we don’t have the energy for it, our bodies’ intelligence will make sleep very difficult. I secretly resorted to taking sleeping pills, despite the fact that I was as holistic as it could get. I wouldn’t even take an Advil or eat a piece of bread, but there I was popping sleeping pills to hide the fact that my body was speaking to me… loudly.

1. Feelings of Sadness

It’s difficult to maintain a positive attitude when all of the above issues are circulating in the day-to-day experience. I read more self-help books during this time than I can count on two hands. They would inspire me to live a happier life, but when it came down to it, my disease was taking over, and I felt helpless. My body ached, and when my body was frail, my mind also felt frail.

Would I use the tools that yoga, nutrition studies, and all of these self-help books were giving me? Or would I wallow in the self-defeating belief that I wasn’t able to handle the world? It surely felt oddly comfortable to re-play that story. I wasn’t scared of gaining weight. I was scared of becoming myself. I was scared of my own power, my own light.

What I’ve learned is that I always have a choice, even in the depths of misery, anxiety and fear. I have a choice to live or to die. Each moment.

I chose to live.

In choosing life, life chose me back, and our relationship is nourishing and sweet. We have to trust our inner wisdom; the voice that doesn’t always get the most attention. At this very moment, we embody everything we need to live a life of balance and harmony, inside and out.

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Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Pixoto

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