February 11, 2021

All the Things an Eating Disorder Steals from Us.

To gain, we must first lose.

At age 15, I lost all joy in eating.

At age 16, I lost my period and all of my friends.

At age 17, I lost my social life and confidence. I lost my freedom to choose and my sense of adventure.

My eating disorder took a lot from me.

The first things my eating disorder took were my ability to focus, my drive to study, and my passion for learning. My mind was so focused on counting every calorie that I no longer prioritized what was once important to me.

Without all of this loss, I wouldn’t be able to understand my body as well as I do now. If I hadn’t had experiences that shook me up and left me feeling raw and lost, I wouldn’t have found myself within the darkness. The extreme pain, sadness, and hurt have led me to find more balance over the years—led me to find myself.

If I hadn’t lost the things I loved and wanted so badly, I wouldn’t have woken up to the reality of the life I had been living.

I distinctly remember the day I found out I didn’t get into Texas A&M University—the thing that I wanted the most as a high schooler. I was sitting in my computer class wasting time, going back and forth debating whether I should eat another red-and-white Starlight mint or not—that’s how much thought I put into what I ate.

I had just gotten word that A&M had sent out their next round of acceptance and rejection letters, but even before I logged into my student portal, I had a gut feeling the news wouldn’t be good. I could feel my stomach churning and my heart sinking deeper and deeper into my chest.

A&M had already sent out thousands of acceptance letters a month or two before, and I hadn’t received one. There was a part of me that knew the answer—my gut feeling knew. My brain, though, was holding onto every last bit of hope that I would get into the school of my dreams.

I went through all the reasons in my head as to why my letter hadn’t come in yet: They had a lot of applicants this year. If I wouldn’t have made it, they would have told me sooner.

I sat there wondering if I should sign in or wait until I was home alone with no one else around. I got nauseous and felt a rush of anxiety move through my bones. I had to know, and I had to know now.

As I started typing in my username and password, I prayed.

I took a deep breath and signed in. The screen blinked, and there it was staring right at me.

I didn’t get in.

Tears flooded my eyes—the answer was no.

My heart sank right into my stiff chest; I wish I had known then that every rejection is simply a redirection, but in that moment, no ounce of positivity or forward thinking would have made a difference.

Looking back, this was one of the most transformational moments of my life. This was my redirection, God guiding me back to my path.

I was paralyzed. I didn’t know if I should allow the tears to flow down my face, say something to the girl sitting next to me (who had, in fact, been accepted), or run right out the door. Within the next 20 seconds, I did all of that, racing to the nearest bathroom.

As soon as I made it to the bathroom, dense warm tears started rolling down my face. It was the kind of crying that left my face red, my eyes puffy, and my skin itchy and damp. All I wanted to do was cry, to shrink so small into my own self that nothing could harm me.

My heart was slowly tearing open inside of me. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I wished I could be teleported out of the cold, dirty bathroom stall to a comfortable place, into my cozy, warm bed.

I heard the loud ringing of the bell and instantly felt some relief; everyone would be rushing to lunch, and the hallways would clear. That was my chance to escape unseen. I waited for the hallways to clear and rushed back to my desk where I had left all my belongings. I grabbed my light-pink Jansport backpack and textbooks and headed home.

I wasn’t the kind of person to ever skip class, but in that moment, nothing phased me.

The minute I walked out of the large, loud side doors of my high school, a layer of shame started peeling off of my body. Thank God it was Friday, and I would have a few days without facing anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know. How would I face my friends on Monday? 

You want to know the real reason why I didn’t get into A&M on my first try? It wasn’t because I wasn’t capable or smart enough; it was because my focus had been on shrinking my body instead of growing my potential.

My eating disorder had taken over my focus. I spent all of my time counting calories so that I would stay small. I hadn’t realized that in doing so I was giving up a life I wanted.

That’s really all diets and eating disorders do for you—they make you small. They rob you of your ability to thrive and change the world, leaving you with a false sense of control that temporarily satisfies an undernourished body.

When we physically shrink ourselves, we shrink our lives. 

Little did I know that binges were my body’s way of responding to restriction—psychologically and physically. Each time I was lacking nourishment, my body would try to fill me up. My body was doing everything it could to keep me alive and safe. I didn’t realize it then, but each of those moments were red flags waving in the wind, begging for my attention: Lucia, there is something wrong. We can’t keep doing this.

Our body always knows exactly how to bring us back into balance, even when it feels like it’s totally out of control and nothing makes sense. It’s not our job to understand and make sense of every little thing our body is doing, but it is our responsibility to be aware, slow down, and listen to our body’s nudges—our intuition.

Sometimes to gain trust in ourselves again, we must first experience losing it.

The moments that change our life may be our hardest moments, but they are there to guide us. Each time we feel lost or out of control in our body or life, it is simply an opportunity to ask what we will do next, a crossroad in our experience.

These are our big, pivotal moments—the ones that help us find ourselves again.


* Lucia Harmeling’s book will be available for preorder within the next few weeks. Stay in the know by joining her newsletter.

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