One night last week I laid in bed wide awake at 1 a.m. I had gone to bed nearly two hours before, yet I was not any more closer to falling asleep than I had been when I turned off the lights and slipped under the covers. But I knew what was keeping me awake.
My insides were yelling at me. My stomach felt empty and hallow. Despite eating dinner just a few hours prior to bed, I knew I wasn’t satisfied when my stomach continued to growl post-meal. Even so, I didn’t want to eat anything more, thinking I was tired enough that I could just fall asleep and wake up the next morning to refuel with breakfast. I was wrong.
There was more to that emptiness that bothered me than just being hungry. That yearning for something more to eat brought me back to high school when that feeling was constant. Nearly every night I played the game of me versus my stomach, wondering how little I could fuel it and still manage to function. Unlike last week when I struggled to fall asleep, I don’t remember having any sleep problems during those times, most likely because it was such a regular occurrence that sleep was the one thing my body recognized it was getting regularly.
When I feel hungry now, I almost feel haunted. It’s a trigger feeling that harkens me back to those days when I struggled physically and mentally to be comfortable in my skin. I can’t pinpoint a specific time or event that sparked a change in my thinking and launched my recovery period, but many of my personal health choices today can be credited to the lessons I learned during those difficult years in high school.
My vegetarian and running lifestyle are two results of re-evaluating what I put into and how I treat my body. Rather than simply eating for the sake of eating, I’ve come to appreciate what I eat on a daily basis, no longer isolating foods as “bad” or “off limits.” Instead, I consciously chose to stop eating meat because it never really gave me any pleasure, and my switch to vegetarianism has been one of the easiest, best choices I have made.
The same can be said for my decision to start running. When I initially started, I signed up for a half marathon as a way to motivate and give myself an escape from the demands of my second semester of senior year in college. Unlike in high school, when I crammed workouts into the one hour of free time I had between school and extracurriculars or employment, my running was not about losing weight or burning calories; it was as much a mental, endurance challenge as it was a physical. The training tested my commitment and propelled my perseverance to continue to run, even in spite of the cold, increased speeds, and greater mileage. The goal of the exercise had nothing to do with a number on the scale or what I saw in the mirror; it had everything to do with with how I felt from doing it.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I wrote this piece as my way of promoting the message of the week and encouraging others to learn more about how to help those living with EDs. Sometimes even those who are struggling have no idea, or maybe they don’t think their behavior or actions warrant a label like “eating disorder.” I didn’t know about this week until college, but the dialogue that it sparks is worth everyone’s engagement.
Feeling comfortable with and loving oneself is not compatible simply with what we eat or how exercise. It’s more about how we choose to treat our bodies and how we allow others to treat us. If we can’t project happiness for ourselves, how then can we expect others to do the same towards us? NEDA Week may only officially last from February 22-28, but its message and promotion are worth spreading every day, all year long.