Latter-day Saint Life

How Motherhood and the Atonement Helped Me Overcome Anorexia

How Motherhood & the Atonement Helped Me Overcome Anorexia

Growing up, I was never what you would call petite. I was usually taller than everyone, including the boys, and my early puberty helped to fill me out during the “awkward years.”

Along with my many happy memories of childhood are those not-so-happy memories that have never completely left me; being bullied in elementary school because I looked pregnant, being reminded to “suck in my gut,” or shopping with friends and being embarrassed that I needed larger sizes. These memories and the constant stimuli I received about dieting and body image were just the beginning of a quick downward spiral to an eating disorder.

Losing Weight and Control

Things really started when I began college. At this time in my life, I started to get into running and more vigorous exercising. I started to lose weight, get more attention from the boys, and actually get asked out on dates!

At one point, I wanted to eat a little healthier. But over the course of a few years and after picking up random diet “fads” here and there, I got into the mindset that counting calories, eliminating as much fat as possible, and not eating any carbs was what would make me healthy and help me continue to lose weight. I actually enjoyed it when I would add up the calories I burned in a morning workout and try to eat less than that amount in calories for breakfast and lunch. I began to not only count my calories and limit myself from things I loved, but I also began to compare what I ate to what others ate. In my mind, to stay skinnier than others, I needed to eat less than them.

How Motherhood & the Atonement Helped Me Overcome Anorexia

When I got married, I also moved to a different state, away from all of my family, and started a new job that was less than ideal. I was constantly being torn down at work and I had the “be ye therefore perfect” syndrome, where I felt that to be a good wife, I literally had to be perfect. I had to have the house spotless, extravagant dinners every night, go above and beyond in my hosting, and always have cookie dough on hand for fresh–baked, homemade cookies.

With the chaos of my job and pressures to be flawless, food became the one thing in my life that I felt I could control. I continued to increase my exercising while decreasing what I ate. When I would be so hungry at night, I sometimes would binge on those things that I wouldn’t let myself have during the day. I would make myself so sick that I would feel the need to punish myself the next day for what I had done. It became a vicious cycle of starving, binging, and then starving myself all over again.

 I was exhausted emotionally and physically, and, at the time, I didn’t realize fully how my food obsession was affecting my relationship with my husband.  I was becoming a slave to my thoughts of food and exercise. My obsession over being “healthy” led me to become dangerously underweight and completely unhealthy.

Even when I changed jobs and was in a much happier and loving environment, I was trapped in my harmful mindset and couldn’t completely get over my obsession.  I knew I couldn’t keep living like this and that I needed to regain control and become truly happy again.

Trying to Change

When I was in my hard work situation, I remember driving home one day and seeing hundreds of yellow daffodils in the division of the highway.  It was a little sign to me to keep pushing through the trial of my work experience. That small miracle came again to me later on in my life, when I needed it most.

When things were so dark and lonely as I lost control in my eating disorder, I remember pleading with my Heavenly Father night and day for help.  For a time, I began to think that He was not listening to me and that I was even more alone than I thought.  One day, I took a run along one of my favorite trails and prayed again to my Father in Heaven and asked if He even cared about me.  As I finished my prayer and looked up from the trail, I saw a patch of yellow daffodils.  Those flowers were the answer to my prayers.  It was a simple way Heavenly Father told me that He loved me and that He was answering my prayers.

How Motherhood & the Atonement Helped Me Overcome Anorexia

As I came to know, understand, and gain a testimony that the Atonement is not only for those who have sinned but for any who are heartbroken and struggling, I decided to give my burden to Christ and to let Him help me. Through many more pleading prayers, talking to a counselor, and the support of others, I slowly made progress.

Gradually, painfully, I began gaining weight. It was hard, but I had my husband telling me all the time that I looked so good and he loved my body more. Everyone around me told me how much healthier and happier I looked.

Though my body and overall health were changing, and my testimony was growing stronger because of the Atonement, I still found it hard to change my perspective. I came across a storythat helped me realize I was wasting precious moments and years stressing over something that really does not matter. And that’s when I made a promise to myself that I would not waste any more time on such inconsequential things.

To help me face the truth that I knew deep down inside, I wrote myself this letter:

Break the Habit and be Healthier and Happier!
You truly are a beautiful and amazing woman and a daughter of God who is capable of so many wonderful things! You have seen how you are an example to the students you have taught, your sisters, the girls whom you love so much in your ward, and so many others that you may not know yet or that will soon come. Think about your future daughters and the example you can show them. Remember running with your sister and crying because you never wanted anyone to feel the way that you did? Well here is your chance to be strong and to be happy!
Food is not the enemy! Food has always been one of your very best friends. Yes, enjoy cereal, blizzards, ice cream, and desserts! Don’t deprive yourself of what you love and then let it come back to haunt you with a vengeance that leads you to feeling sick, down on yourself, less confident, and not beautiful. That is not the you I know!
The you I know is self-disciplined, healthy, confident in herself, genuinely concerned about others, organized, dedicated, and truly beautiful inside and out. Remember when your husband looked at you like he has never loved anyone more in the whole world and thought you were so beautiful that he couldn’t hide it in his eyes or in the look and smile he gave you? Was that ever when he was looking at your body or when you thought and felt like your abs were flat? NO!! It was after he saw you serving others and being involved with individuals. It was when you stopped caring and worrying about yourself and you thought of others and let yourself be truly happy!
With this new year, I know that you need to make changes. We need to break this emotional binge eating habit so that we can just enjoy life and the opportunities it brings and truly be happy! Let’s start right here and right now on our path to breaking this!
You know that you love yourself and are grateful for the body you have been given and the wonderful support you have from friends and family all around you. In five years, is anyone you meet going to remember your size or your weight? Will you? What do you really want to be remembered for and what do you want to remember and enjoy?
Do not wait until you are ready to die to truly learn to live!

Finding Perspective

After I wrote myself that letter, I got a final “wake-up call” when my husband and I started talking more seriously about having children. I realized that what I was doing to my body wasn't just affecting me; it was hurting and hindering my chance to possibly have a baby.

 I immediately changed my focus from myself and what I ate to doing all I could to be healthy and help my future kids be healthy and happy too. I cut back on exercise; I ate more and gave my body what it needed to grow strong. Through it all, I found that I didn’t become “fat” like I had always feared. I became so much happier, so much more confident in my body, and so much closer to the person my Heavenly Father and Savior always knew I could be.

After several months of worry over whether or not I could have a baby, I found out that I was pregnant! My heart was already filled with so much love for this tiny human being inside of me. 

A year ago from that moment, if you had told me that I would have to gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy and weigh more than my husband, I would have had a meltdown.  It was a miracle in my life to know that my own value and that of the life I held meant so much more than a number on a scale.  My baby has been more of a blessing in my life than I ever realized!

When I truly understood that what I was doing to my body did not just affect me, it changed EVERYTHING! Just remember, you can’t control what others around you do and think, but you can try hard to be the very best and happiest self you can be. That you have control over.

Reaching Outward and Upward

During this time, I read a talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland entitled “To Young Women” that helped to solidify my determination to love myself and to help others not go through the same thing I did. In the talk, Elder Holland says,

“I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not!

…In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children.  . . .One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us.”

 Truly understanding and knowing that I am a daughter of God with a divine potential for motherhood helped me to conquer my eating disorder, through the power of the Atonement and my Savior’s love for me. Because of Them and all I’ve experienced, I know I have the power to overcome any obstacle—even those that lie within.

Lead image from iStock

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