A Battle Conquered

*FYI: This is quite a long post. It's also much more personal then I tend to be on this blog. But I think it's an important story to tell. So, here I go...

I've hesitated to write this post. It's not easy to write about and I wouldn't do it if I didn't think that my words could possibly make a difference for somebody out there who is struggling.

I love food. I love making it. I love giving it to people. I love eating it.

It wasn't always that way. I actually grew up as a very picky eater. I enjoyed about 10 things and suffered through anything else I was forced to eat. I hated meat. I wasn't huge on vegetables. I loved grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets in the shape of stars and dinosaurs, alphabet oven fries, and pudding pops. I also loved Ritz crackers.

I didn't like to cook or even be in the kitchen when someone else was cooking. One time my Mom tried to get me to peel shrimp and I started to cry while I was doing it. They were so cold and slimy. I started gagging. Another time I tried making chicken and was so overwhelmed with how gross it was, I put plastic bags on my hands in order to touch it.

My weirdness about food wasn't just that it smelled and tasted and felt strange. My biggest issue was that...it was food.

When I was in sixth grade I suddenly became aware that my body wasn't the same as the girl who sat next to me. She was small framed and tiny. I wasn't fat, but I wasn't skinny. I started to feel "big" when I compared myself to others. The thought started following me everywhere I went. I would walk by windows and catch my reflection. "Why are you so big?" I would ask myself.

I started to cut back. At first, it was a good thing. Maybe a bowl of ice cream after dinner each night is not always the best idea. I was making healthy choices. I lost some weight and people responded.

"Look at you!" they'd say. "You are growing up to be such a pretty young lady". "You are growing so tall and thin...you look great!" There was nothing wrong with these compliments...but I interpreted them as: The smaller you get, the better you look.

I started cutting back more. And then I would cut back a little bit more. Pretty soon, I was watching every bite that went into my mouth. Food was bad.

As I began high school, it became a bit more intense. People around me were noticing that I was funny about eating and I started to feel defensive. I was paranoid that someone was going to make me stop dieting. My family started asking questions and I finally decided to re-work my game plan. That's when I started throwing up. It was perfect. I could eat whatever I wanted and then get rid of it. Everyone saw me eat, I got to enjoy junk foods, and my body didn't have to digest them.

I used to visualize the food going to different parts of my body. I became obsessed with getting rid of it before it reached my thighs, and stomach, and hips.

The secrecy and control were really addicting. It appealed to my ambitious personality. I'm very goal oriented and love working toward the completion of tasks. This fit me perfectly. I could set weight goals or track my calorie intake. Once I reached the goal, I would set a new one. I was never satisfied.

In the spring time of my freshman year in high school, I broke. I was getting overwhelmed by it all. I felt weak and faint all the time. My stomach hurt. I had terrible heartburn. I decided it was time to come clean. I told my parents that I needed help and I began an outpatient program at an eating disorder facility in Philadelphia.

My dear father drove me all the way into the city every morning and then turned around and went to work. Even though I was the one who told them I needed to go somewhere, I started resenting them. I wouldn't speak to him the entire way and would often barely mutter a goodbye before getting out of the car. I had all these emotions, and I couldn't sort them out.

When I got there, I had to take off all my clothes to get weighed so that I couldn't trick them by putting rocks in my pockets. We had to eat a certain number of calories each day or they made us drink protein drinks. If you refused to drink a protein drink, you would get a feeding tube. I drank the drinks.

If bread and butter were part of your meal, you had to use all the butter. That means if you didn't use the whole slab on your bread...you had to eat it. They let you have some control over what you ate because you could pick from a list. Each week, they upped your calories. Whenever I went to the bathroom, someone had to watch me.

Most of the people there were inpatient. I was lucky to be outpatient because most of them seemed miserable. There was a young girl named Emma. She was about 13 years old. She was very sick. She cut her arms and always found ways to trick them and get away with eating less. There was a pregnant women who was skin and bones. Her husband had her court ordered to be in the program. She was so sick that she couldn't see how much danger her baby was in because she refused to eat. There was an older woman who had abused laxatives for 20 years. She had to get multiple surgeries in an effort to help her regain the ability to go to the bathroom. There was a woman there who overate. She couldn't control her eating and weighed several hundred pounds.

The facility wasn't a bad place. It sounds scary, but they were trying to help me. Sometimes breaking the habits of an eating disorder can be kind of like detoxing. I had to re-learn how to eat and digest. I would feel bloated and sick after eating because I couldn't throw up. When I couldn't finish my meals, I would cry the entire time I swallowed down the protein drinks.

During the day I would go to individual therapy sessions, group therapy discussions, and various activities. We did art, music, and drama therapy. We had to meet with the dietitian. At the end of the program we had to design a healthy meal and cook it ourselves. We made tacos. I remember it vividly. When I was released from the program, they gave me this piece of paper with a big flower on it. The women in the program all wrote words of congratulations and encouragement on the petals.

I went back to high school and faced my peers. They knew where I had been and I was embarrassed. I began acting out my frustrations by drinking and smoking. I was soon found out by my parents and they intervened. I met with a counselor and began to make progress.

Throughout the next 7 years, I relapsed 3 times. The last time was in my sophomore year of college when I dropped over 20 pounds in 4 weeks.

I can't really remember when I decided that enough was enough. I wish I could remember if there was a moment that I just decided to stop. What I do remember is the moment I decided not to start again.

Two years ago I took a medication that ended up causing some weight gain. I was becoming more and more unhappy with my body and started feeling those old temptations rise up within me. And then I remember thinking to myself...no. No more. I had a husband and family who loved me just as I was. I had a classroom full of little girls who looked up to me as their teacher...their role model. I realized that God loved me and didn't want me to do this to myself.

I made an appointment and went to the doctor. I asked him to guide me in how to lose my unwanted pounds in a healthy way. And then I began to eat healthier. I watched my portions. I lost a few pounds here...and few pounds there. Over time, I gradually shed my unwanted weight.

In the meanwhile, I learned to cook. I discovered new foods and new ways to eat them. I took cooking classes and found out that making food was something I was good at. The girl who used to hate food loved to cook! My family still marvels at the irony of it all. They would never have guessed it would turn out this way. My parents come over for dinner and I'm slapping all sorts of slimy things around my kitchen in an attempt to make a delicious meal. No more baggies on the hands...no more crying...and no more gagging!

I don't just love to cook...I have a true passion for it. Making and eating delicious foods is one of the biggest pleasures in my life. It's the way I unwind after a long day. It allows me to have time that is all my own. I don't have to talk to anyone and nobody is talking to me. I can just be quiet with my thoughts and use my creativity to create something to be enjoyed. Cooking is the way that I show my love for people.

I named this post "A Battle Conquered" because I truly feel that this battle has been won. I have no desire to treat my body that way ever again. I want to honor and protect the body God has given me. I want to be healthy and happy. I want to have healthy and happy children someday.

Just because I have conquered this battle, doesn't mean that the journey is over. I am forever on a quest to take care of myself and make good choices...sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't.

The difference is...when I catch a glimpse of my reflection I think, "You're not perfect...you never will be. But you are worthy of being loved and accepted...just as you are."

*If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder...please reach out for help. It's not hopeless. Talk to someone you trust or email me at cookingwithaplan@gmail.com


  1. Ali - I'm so glad you shared this. I know so many people who struggle with eating, some even going to the same facility you described. Some need to be diagnosed. I've noticed (especially having been a Young Life leader to HS girls) that women in general struggle with their bodies - does any woman truly embrace who God made them to be, loving every part? Sometimes I wonder if all women struggle, to some depth - no matter how minute - with self-image. I'd imagine every woman has experienced manipulating their eating at some point in their lives in an effort to be beautiful.

    But you are right - we are beautiful. We are beautiful creations in Christ, made beautiful creations by God the Father and led to be more beautiful in the Holy Spirit.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is courageous to be so open and honest. I trust God will use your humility to help others with your story. :)

  2. ali, you are so brave for writing this.

  3. Ali - I just read this with tears in my eyes, for I only knew just a sliver of your battle that you so bravely fight. Thank you for sharing your heart and encouraging journey with us. You are a true "Daugther of Promise" and are an inspiration to me. How exciting to see God's perfect creation full of the joy of life and of cooking! ~Jen