This post is from contributing writer, Danielle Eaton Hart
As a kid, food was fun. Important to life, nourishing, sure – my mom always cooked healthy food from scratch for us even before it was trendy.
But it wasn’t stressful until life threw me some curveballs.
I’m all about celebrating anniversaries with delicious treats and new ideas. It brings awareness. This Thanksgiving, I hosted a feast to celebrate 11 years since I nearly stopped eating altogether.
Some of you may have experienced being too tired to eat due to something like the flu or even depression. But for most of us, thankfully, we get over it. 3 months into college I almost didn’t.
Finding Myself by Losing My Voice
When it came time for my first collegiate choir auditions, I was understandably nervous. I was not feeling my best but decided I would try my best nonetheless. At callbacks when Dr. Brower greeted me with a sincere “How are you feeling?” I forced a smile and replied, “Alto/tenor.”
I was embarrassingly aware that my usually impressive range had shrunk by 92% in the course of just a few hours!
Within a week the diagnosis came back that painful, inconvenient vocal nodules had shrunk my voice to a mere five notes. It hurt not in a strep throat kind of way. More like I’m-in-so-much-pain-it-isn’t-physically-possible-to-talk kind of way. Using my voice was like trying to clap your hands while your pointer fingers are poking your palms so your hands can’t actually come together.
If you haven’t tried not making any noise with your voice for a whole day, you’re probably not aware of just how much you use it. To avoid surgery, I spent the first 3 months of my freshman year as an almost mute: No humming, no singing, and very little talking. All while still taking classes as a music major.
You know when your English teacher talks about “finding your voice”? Suddenly, without my physical voice, I had to focus on who I was and find that inner voice.
Know Yourself – Even When You’re Weak
The first step to “finding yourself” is to know yourself. I had no idea how much this awareness exercise would make me a better singer and a better person.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t do much good to ask “Why me?”
So instead I angrily prayed: “All right God, what am I supposed to get out of this?! Hurry up and teach me so I can get this over with.” This emptiness grew until it filled my stomach and I lost my appetite for life.
Goal oriented thinking like this is dangerous because we get so anxious about arriving at our final destination, we don’t realize that how we get there affects where we end up. I think it has to do with the difference between doing and being. I can go through the motions to be happy or eat healthy, or I can feel balanced and therefore make healthy choices.
If we’re just going through the motions to achieve the desired result we may miss the point. I think that’s part of what blindsided me.
Because college is a place to learn time management skills, study hard, and figure out who you are, I was doing all of that. The problem was, I was doing all of that with my key identifying characteristics stripped away. It was exhausting physically and emotionally.
I fell into the habit of falling asleep instead of cooking and eating between classes. I was moody and withdrawn and felt like I couldn’t connect to people because I couldn’t talk with them. Thankfully, my roommates were aware of my struggles more than I was. They asked my boyfriend to talk to me and together got a huge prayer group going: “Danielle is going through a hard time right now and could really use our prayers.”
If you’re struggling to know where to begin “finding yourself,” make a list of your greatest strengths and weaknesses then ask someone you trust to do the same. This helps us avoid the denial that often comes with challenging detours.
Denial Blocks Awareness in Eating Disorders
A large part of most eating disorders is denial. I didn’t realize it was a problem and once I finally did, it took forever to realize that it was serious. I think in many ways my parents were also in denial.
This phenomenon is not only limited to “eating right.” I think all of us could discover and solve problems within ourselves with a healthy dose of self-awareness.
I remember once talking to my mom about how I was more at risk because I was an academically driven, petite young girl with a Type A personality. I was the kind of girl expected to develop an eating disorder. But I swore to my friends and my mom that would never be me. Not eating is painful and I hate pain. Besides, I have a strong testimony that I am a daughter of God.
I had always prided myself on my relationship with God and never thought that I would develop an eating disorder. Because I viewed my body as a gift from Him and my parents, I generally treated it that way. Until I didn’t.
I took it for granted that I was healthy but stopped going through the motions that were keeping me healthy. The worst part wasn’t the loss of self-love it was that I was too numb to notice.
Relapses and Deja Vu – Eating Disorders Take TIME to Heal
I have a friend who not only went through rehabilitation for her eating disorder but now she works at that same center as a therapist! She told me what one of her doctors once told her: it can take 7 years of recovery to be “cured” of an eating disorder!
Becoming aware of the problematic thinking that led to the scary symptom of not eating is necessary for recovery, but it takes time to develop.
I vowed to be aware of the ups and downs of my recovery so I could make the most of it.
Fast forward to 4 months after my diagnosis of food allergies. I was once again struggling to eat. My voice teacher pulled me aside because he knew I would be going home for my birthday soon. He asked how I was doing and I told him honestly. He told me that I had a tough assignment that weekend. In addition to improving my practicing habits, he committed me to telling my parents that I wasn’t eating like I should: “Please don’t make me tell them, Danielle.”
It was the reality check I needed to get back on track. I remember sitting in my Dad’s office (he taught at the university I was attending) and telling him that I was struggling to balance eating enough with eating the “right things.”
He drew a vertical line on the paper between us then asked me to draw where I thought I was. Then he asked me what the worst thing was that could happen.
“I could end up dropping out of school to go to that rehab place in UT,” I begrudgingly admitted my biggest fear.
“No Danielle,” my Dad firmly corrected. “You could end up dead.”
Control Issues are a Root of an Eating Disorder
There are some things that I hold onto in life so tightly, as though I could guarantee certain outcomes. Even if I have other reasons, I usually do whatever it takes to get what I want from life. I see it a lot in my diet, in the way I parent, and even when I sing. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But is that so bad?
Like I said earlier, thinking like this is dangerous because I get so anxious about arriving at my final destination, I don’t realize that I’m taking unwanted detours by forgetting to travel well. One of the keys to making positive changes is to enjoy the process. Otherwise, the changes won’t stick.
- I could make my child eat her vegetables. Or I could invite her to try a vegetable every day at least once until she finds something she’s willing to eat more often.
- I might be able to make myself exercise. But if I find a way to enjoy moving and strengthening my body, I’ll probably do it more often. And more willingly.
- I could try to “control” what I eat. But once you have an eating disorder, what you eat (or don’t eat) will control you. So shift your focus, please.
Ready to Find Yourself?
You’re right here! In order to find yourself, you must first ACCEPT YOURSELF! Be aware of who and where you are before you focus on where you want to go.
For example, the first step to healthy eating is knowing what you already eat. Keep a food diary and learn what foods your body needs more or less of. Awareness is the first step to making lasting changes!
I am so grateful to simply be aware of my blessings! I am thankful to have a healthy appetite, to have a voice, and to have friends who encourage me on my journey. I am also grateful to have these lessons from my past since only a few days after Thanksgiving I mysteriously lost 80% of my voice.
But because I am aware I don’t have to be blindsided. I can make the adaptations necessary to stay healthy and happy!