By: Maura Hawfield
I remember being 9 or 10, and my friend and I were about to go swimming at the neighborhood pool. We had matching swimsuits that were laid out on her bed. I remember her picking up the bottoms, and saying “Oh, these are medium and I’m not that big, mine are size small”. I was young, so I remember thinking, “huh, weird...okay well let’s go do flips in the pool and go on our merry way.” It didn’t consume me.
Fast forward a year or two, and my negative body image started to form. I was taller than most girls and all of the boys. On top of that, I developed fairly early. I realized I was a little different.
Then the teenage years came. That’s when I really started to notice how different my body was. What a sweet set up for high school, right? Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed high school and made great friends, but I had my struggles. Not only did I feel that my body was different, I was starting to notice how uncomfortable I was in my body. I looked at all the other girls I was surrounded by daily and started to compare. “Her legs are smaller than mine. I definitely don’t wear the same size dress as that girl. She has smaller arms than I do, that must be why she has a boyfriend and I don’t.” It was a tape that played in my head. I wanted to be in basically anyone else’s body but my own.
Around this time of budding teenage angst, I realized I had some “binge eating” behaviors. I was about 16 or 17, and I remember coming home feeling anxious. I reached into the pantry and before I knew it, I had eaten a whole box of Cheez Its. This didn’t happen every day, but that moment shifted the way I saw food. I started habits of hiding when I ate, so no one could see how much or what I ate. I started to eat when I felt anxious. When I was 18 and about to go to college, I knew something was a little off, but I couldn’t really figure out what it was.
College arrived in a fast and furious manner. I turned to food even more than I did in high school. I saw food as a way to heal or solve any unwanted or unsettling emotions. I saw food as an escape from my body. I also was introduced to shame. Shame went basically everywhere I went. I felt shame almost every time I got dressed in “going out” clothes, every time I ate something “unhealthy” and every time I didn’t do something perfectly right. It would constantly tell me, “you’re fat. You don’t deserve to wear shorts. You are not smart. You are not worthy.” So as you can imagine, I was constantly disappointing myself. This ever-present disappointment turned into depression. I didn’t want to get out bed. I didn’t want to be seen or go out with my friends. I made excuses for almost everything, and I missed out on a lot.
As the years went on, I continued to use food to numb the fact that I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. It got the point that I would look in the mirror and be completely dissatisfied with what I saw. Not only did I use food but sometimes alcohol too. It took a lot of trial and error to get to a healthier place with alcohol.
As these behaviors and unsettling emotions started to form, it became the perfect storm. I was using food as anything but nourishment. Honestly, anything. Anxious? Eat. Sad? Eat. Happy? Eat. Mad? Eat. I had no healthy coping skills for any of these emotions.
Food and a negative body image truly took control over my life by the time I was 21. I started to really isolate and hide myself. I missed out on so many things. I didn’t go out because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of getting dressed up, missing out on fun sorority events. I didn’t feel like I was worthy to be seen. I felt paranoid every single time I went out and someone looked at me because I though they were looking at my body in disgust. I can look back on some of my college experience with fondness, but it’s mostly consumed with shame. For those years in particular, I felt extremely disconnected. I had no true connection to myself and didn’t feel like I had a true identity. I was completely and utterly lost.
The few years after college were ‘okay’. I like to refer to them as the between years. I had a job. I went on a few diets, exercised on and off and felt fairly “happy”. But even after going on diets, losing weight, and getting compliments that I so badly craved, I realized that I still wasn’t happy. I was never satisfied with what I saw in the mirror.
So here I am, 25, trying to understand why can I not get this problem under control. Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just go on a diet? I’ll lose weight and finally be happy! Everyone seems to be so normal and I have all these problems. What am I doing wrong?
I entered treatment on June 26 of this year. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I have binge eating disorder, and even though it’s not the most well known eating disorder, it’s the most common. Binge eating disorder is frequently overeating due to distress or lack of control. It goes beyond the feeling of stuffed or eating a lot just on occasion and it’s usually followed by more distress, shame and embarrassment.
The thing that I have realized by being in treatment is how rooted in secrecy and shame eating disorders are. I’ve been pretending everything’s ok when it’s not just for the sake of others, and for the sake of not truly feeling those uncomfortable emotions. Quite honestly, I’m pretty done being secretive and harboring intense shame.
It’s so exhausting to go through life like that. I’ve done it for seven years. As I go through the recovery process, I’m realizing how important authenticity is and that I be open with my struggles. By being open, it helps people understand me more.
I hope that after reading this, people not only have a better understanding of binge eating disorder, but a better understanding of me. I know now that it’s important for you to be kind to yourself, to trust yourself, and to know that you’re worth fighting for...no matter what.
Maura Hawfield is 25 years old currently living in Houston, TX. She graduated from LSU in 2015 with a communications degree. Maura loves being on the beach, taking road trips, being with friends and family and traveling. She has a new found passion for raising awareness of body image and binge eating disorder.