EDUCATION

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: An Oxford Stories reporter shares her personal story

Abby Vance
Oxford Stories
arvance@go.olemiss.edu

In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I have decided to share my story and my experience with exercise bulimia. I don’t want to dwell solely on the time I spent bound so tightly by the chains of my disorder because life is so much brighter and enjoyable “on the other side.”

abbyHowever, I do want to be real and raw with you in this post, because let’s face it – problems are real.  Eating disorders are real. But most of all, God is real.

Five hundred and eighty days.

That’s one year, seven months, and two days that I have been truly living.

It’s hard to imagine that I had been on this Earth for 19 years without actually living.

On July 30, 2015, I was diagnosed with exercise bulimia. For four years of my life, I was a slave to my disorder.  It controlled every little thing I did – and didn’t do.

Growing up, I had always been extremely active. I played softball, basketball, tennis, soccer and ran track. I had always been able to eat whatever I wanted – even leftover pizza for breakfast. I hung out with friends, ate out, laughed, and was always known as “the goofy one.” I was always bursting with personality and a huge grin on my face.

Most of all, I lived.

At age 14, I never put much stock into what the number on the scale read.

Fast forward to my sophomore year in high school. When I decided to do the beauty pageant, I thought it would be a good idea to try and “slim up” a little, you know, so I could look the way the judges wanted. So, I did what any normal person would do in order to lose a few pounds – work out a little more and eat healthier. But somewhere along the way, I crossed the line from healthy to unhealthy.

I went from jogging three miles a day to working out for nearly four – yes, you read that right – four hours a day. I wouldn’t eat unless I knew those calories had been burned. In fact, I barely ate 1,000 calories a day, which is nothing to sustain my long, 5’9 frame.

The only foods I ate were foods I considered “clean” – egg whites, grilled chicken, oatmeal, protein bars, protein shakes and rice cakes. No longwe could I go out to eat with my friends unless I knew that I had “earned” that meal by working my tail off – literally – at the gym. My best friends were slowly becoming distant strangers. In fact, they eventually stopped asking me to hang out with them because I was a completely different person.

My weight continued to drop, but I always saw something that needed altering.  That’s what is so trapping about eating disorders and addictions. All you see are your imperfections. You don’t see the “fearfully and wonderfully made” creation our Heavenly Father crafted. I was trying to recreate what God had already deemed beautiful.

Over the course of those four years, I completely lost who I was. My personality faded, and my smile was forced and stretched across my thin, emaciated face. My hair was falling out, and I was cold. All. The. Time. I was 52 shades of exhausted and had mood swings worse than a pregnant woman.

Day after day, I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t. Every time I would think about asking for help, the enemy told me I was weak and worthless. I continued to fight a battle I could not win with strength I did not have. I couldn’t let go of the obsessive control I had manifested and let God take His rightful place. I thought that if I asked for help I would be seen of as lesser.

Why? Because I was sick. I was malnourished. I was physically hungry and spiritually starving – needing Christ more than the day that once happy and full-of-life little third grade girl asked Him to come into her heart.

All I wanted was control, but I found out that being in control made my life spiral out of control. The control I thought I wanted was far more suffocating that I had ever imagined. 

You ever heard the saying, “You don’t know you’ve hit rock bottom until you’ve hit rock bottom?” Well, let me tell you – it’s not a fun place. My parents had become so concerned, they secretly scheduled a doctor’s appointment during our beach trip. And if you knew me at that time, you would know that this little “detour” made me LIVID.

My own parents.  Why would they do this to me? I thought they loved me?

The day I went to “The Lady Doctor” was probably the scariest day of my life. I was scared of the truth that I actually did have a problem. When I got on the scale and saw how much -or little, rather- I weighed, that’s when it hit me.

That’s when I hit rock bottom. I saw the tears in my sweet mother’s eyes. The woman who tried for six long years to bring me into this world was watching her daughter slowly fade away.

The next six words out of my doctor’s mouth changed my life forever: “Abby, you have an eating disorder.”

When I was first diagnosed, I was angry. Not with the doctor, but God. All my life, I tried to do everything right. I hung out with the right friends. I made good grades. I never partied. I went to church. I read my Bible. I was a counselor at a kid’s camp every summer.

 Why would God allow this to happen to me? I thought He was supposed to protect me?

As children of God, we often think we are exempt from trials. However, as Christians, we are called to suffer. My suffering took place because I wasn’t letting God control my life. I was trying to do everything in my own strength.

At that moment, all of my walls were closing in. My stomach hit the cold, hard floor, and that’s when I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed help.

Even though I never wanted to hear her say that, those six words set me free.

On July 31, 2015, I began counseling with a woman whose name, ironically, is Hope. She diagnosed me with an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and exercise bulimia.

That day, I came face-to-face with my eating disorder and addiction.

That day, I also came face-to-face with the physical and spiritual hope I had longed for.

Because of Ms. Hope and the hope she gave me in Christ, I now have a clear picture of how we are supposed to live – in freedom. The Bible says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Thankfully, He has set me free. He has shown me that life is a beautiful thing and is so much more than a number because our Savior looks at our heart.

There is freedom in surrender, people.

When I finally surrendered the control I thought I wanted and let God have His rightful place, I’ve seen victories that can only be won by Him.

I remember one night in particular when I did as David in Psalm 18:6 -I cried out to The Lord in my time of need, and He heard me and healed me.

Of course, I still have bad days, but don’t we all?  The difference between now and four years ago is that I take my bad days to Jesus -not to the gym.

Sure, I have gained weight, but let me tell you what else I have gained – my relationship with my family and friends, a healthier relationship with exercise and food, a better ability to “Go with the flow,” a genuine smile, laughter, my bubbly and crazy personality, a new perspective on life, a closer relationship with Jesus, and most importantly, my life.

You see, we all have chains. We all have these “prisons,” if you will, that we think we can’t get out of. We all feel guilty for things we’ve done. But my friends, I am here – a living testimony – that God will break your chains. He will create beauty from our ashes. He will set you free. Just look at the cross. That’s what He did for YOU and for me to prove His love for us.

Now, I don’t ask, “Why me?” anymore, because I know why. I found my voice, my passion, my need for Jesus, and my purpose. We were created solely to bring praise and glory to our Lord and Savior – and He receives all the glory from this. You see, this life is not my own, and it’s not yours, either. That is why I choose joy every day and choose not to listen to the lies our enemy tries to embed in our brains.

So, I write all of this to say that you don’t have to be a slave to this world or an eating disorder or an addiction. You can drop those chains, and Jesus –ONLY JESUS– is capable of picking them up and carrying them for you. You are, and will forever be, a child of God.

If you read this post in its entirety – Thank You. I hope that this will resonate with you in some way. And if you are suffering from an eating disorder, please don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I was so afraid for so long – for NOTHING.

I thought people would make fun of me. But guess what?  No one has. Everyone has supported and encouraged me. And the same will be done for you. I am here for you if you need someone to talk to. Most importantly, God is here for you. He will rescue and restore you. He sees your true beauty and your worth.

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9 replies »

    • Thank you so much! Prayers are always accepted and greatly appreciated. God has proven Himself faithful time and time again.

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  1. Abby, I am so very proud of you! Your story and your faith will serve as a great example to other young people . Thank you for allowing God to use you in such a great way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much! I greatly appreciate that. It is a blessing to be able to share what good God can do when we surrender to His control. I appreciate your reading this!

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    • Thank you so very much. My prayer is that it will resonate with someone who needs to hear God’s truth. I really appreciate this!! God bless.

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  2. I am 50 years old now, but I suffered from anorexia and bulemia as a teenager for nearly 8 years. I was in an abusive relationship and wanted out. He threatened to break up if I got up to a certain weight. I made myself stop throwing up and actually allowed myself to eat. I broke up with him at 129 lbs, and at 5’9″, I looked healthy for the first time in many years. I was 92 lbs when I graduated from high school. I had no idea how worried my parents were until many years later. I should have sought help but I didn’t. I went from one extreme to the other and have spent the majority of my adult life overweight. Proud you were able to get your life back! God is good! I hope I’m successful this year in gaining mine back as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow. I am amazed by how this story has reached people like you. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I know how hard it can be to be so vulnerable, but I have learned that it is in our vulnerability to share our story that God is glorified. I am so sorry to hear about your story, but I am glad you had the strength to walk away from that. You deserve to be with someone who loves you and makes you feel cherished. Now, I pray that God will strengthen you to be an ambassador for Him. Don’t hide in the dark what God has shown in His light. I pray that your life will be restored through His goodness. Thank you again for sharing. If you need anything, please know you can reach out to me or anyone else. May “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord shine His face upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” -Numbers 6:24-26.

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