I found out this week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I guess there is no better time to share an article that has been sitting in my “drafts” for two years now. I share this not for attention or sympathy, in fact, I feel stronger than ever in my life, my skin, and my soul. But the word awareness has some meaning to me. So I hope this helps make you ”aware”.
I have written versions of this several times on this website but I have yet to come out and say it: Hi, my name is Sam, and I am in recovery from an eating disorder.
Here is why I dislike that sentence. Firstly, “an” eating disorder makes it sound so simple. That I have one certain kind of problem and now it’s tucked away in a box with a closed lid. When in reality I had all kinds of eating issues at different times in my life all with different names and different symptoms. And secondly, the term “in recovery” sounds like I am a fragile creature recently saved from a disaster who needs to be treated with extra gentle care and given sponge baths. I am not fragile (in fact I think I have never been stronger) and I am not in need of special treatment.
I hate the cliche sentence, but it’s true, I have tried basically every diet/eating plan/lifestyle you can think of. I have been perceived as the “healthy friend” before that was even a stereotype. And I probably haven’t had more than 4 days lapse between workouts in…years. I don’t know exactly where this started. I have a few memories of admiring the Slim Fast eating plan as a kid (have you ever seen it? it seems so simple! my god what a treat!)…but I also remember my mom letting us mix her French Vanilla flavor with ice cream to make milkshakes, so please know I don’t think I was every deprived of food or limited at home. In high school I learned how to skirt around excess calories but also how to binge eat and also how to weigh myself. My friends we’re all normal (it seemed to me) and we never talked about bodies that much…I guess this is all me trying to say this didn’t come from a surrounding community. I really think this was intrinsic in genetics, that I would have these issues no matter where I grew up.
In college it made sense, everyone around me was figuring out their adult-bodies and lives. So my adoption of 6am workouts were always seen as impressive. And my vegetarian/paleo/whatever day of the week it was food choices were admired. I remember times of getting drunk with my friends and coming home to eat pickles out of a jar while everyone else was eating chips. I just figured I knew better than most…which incidentally probably resulted in me being less of a friend than I could have been, and for that I will never be able to apologize enough. And by the end of college, the fact that I was moving to LA weight heavily on me (no pun intended) and shaded a lot of the choices I made.
You don’t need to hear every detail of my messy body image issues (or the things that supported them, like the time I was kick off a set for being “thick”) but I will tell you the proverbial straws that broke the camels back. 1. I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I went to bed without running though a list of everything that I had eaten that day. I just assumed everyone did it. 2. I had a full blown panic attack before trying on wedding dresses. So cliche. Ugh. But I had family in town and was busy going to work and then dinners out, and felt like my body was not my own. I broke down in tears for over an hour and my poor fiance just held me, knowing nothing he could say would make me better. This is when I realized I didn’t want this life. I didn’t want to go to bed at 65 years old (if I am so lucky to live such a full life) and count my servings of popcorn. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
BUT (don’t worry actors, here is where your part comes in) I didn’t think I was allowed to let go of my obsessive body concerns because it was so tied up in the vision of my career. Thoughts that I had, “If I stop caring and just eat whatever and move however…that will mean I will gain weight and that will mean I am not working hard enough at being a successful actor,” and “if I am not constantly losing weight or getting thinner, I must not truly want to be successful,” and “getting help and recovering is all fine and good for normal people, but this is my career we’re talking about! This is my life!”. Yes, welcome inside a very very scared and sad girls brain. Nothing scared me more than giving up my eating issues. Because to me, it meant I was giving up.
I can’t tell you what made me finally go to therapy. Between encouragement from my best friends, my fiance, and a shit ton of journal entires and google searches…it took a lot of work to just pick up the phone and call a place like Eating Disorder Therapy LA. The name alone scared the shit out of me, let alone booking a session and paying for it out of pocket. But I will shout from the rooftops that it was the best thing I have ever done for myself (ok…maybe tied with getting a dog).
I believe therapy was the number one thing that helped me, but beyond that, what really helped me was figuring out that I had to let go of what I thought success looked like. As a pretty 20-something (lol 32) actress, there is a not so discreet understanding of needing to look fit/thin/skinny/toned (what ever the fuck you want to call it, it’s all the same) on camera. And I assumed that I had to work “as hard as possible at all times” at this as well as all the other aspects of acting and that when I succeeded, it would be in a tiny body as a leading lady. Not that all of that is untrue or impossible, but a lot of it is just a vision I had clung to since 2007…when I perhaps was a young woman in a tiny body in an industry over 13 years ago. I needed to create a new vision created with hopes, dreams, and fucking reality. This too took a lot of self work…but holy shit has it been worth it.
I have since been in therapy on and off for 3 years. I have read a shit ton of books (I love the Fuck It Diet, Health At Every Size, and Intuitive Eating to name a few). And I have to actively work every single day to ignore all the food talk around me (you would not believe how often I had to leave a room in the first few months) and stay focused on MY lane. I am not fragile or sad or broken. I am building a life based on my own focus, talents, and god damn genetics. And while it is a constant work in progress and I am no one’s guru, I wish someone had written this out for me to read years ago.