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Overcoming Anorexia—My Personal Story

Michelle Schoffro Cook with her apple tree The Alchemist

I didn’t always have a passion for food and its ability to prevent or heal disease. When I was 13 I began suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by low body weight, a distorted body image, and an intense fear of gaining weight. Food, or the lack of it, was not the problem but a symptom of a much bigger issue: my almost non-existent self-worth.

While I was a straight-A student, good at sports, and heavily involved in extracurricular activities, no one saw the tortured person inside: the girl who struggled with becoming a woman, the person who could not achieve enough or meet the expectations of others around her, and the individual who hated her reflection in the mirror. 

At that time, I believed I was in love with a boy who sometimes seemed to feel the same way as I did and at other times couldn’t give me the time of day. I thought that if I just looked prettier, perhaps he would give me the love I longed for. And, I seemed to be receiving all the messages the fashion and women’s magazines, television ads, and others were sending: that prettier meant thinner. And so, at 95 pounds and absolutely hating myself and the body in which I inhabited I began my war on me. Food was the weapon I chose. I began starving myself.

I told my parents that I ate dinner at my friend Susanna’s house and I told Susanna’s family who regularly invited me to dinner that I had already eaten at home. I became a master of disguises, sporting baggy clothes, not so people wouldn’t see how thin I was becoming but because I didn’t want them to see how fat I looked. I simply could not see that I had gone beyond skinny; to me, I was fat. Periodically I assessed my reflection in the mirror and smiled when I noticed increasing evidence that my ribs were protruding. The last time I weighed myself I was 58 pounds at 5’2”. I pulled further away from my parents, my family, my friends, and my world.  I even knew that if I continued on this path, I would die but I couldn’t seem to stop.

At the same time the opportunity arose for me to take a three-week trip across Western Canada with friends of my parents. My parents thought I needed to get away from the boy whose attention I desperately sought, and considering that he lived next door that was hard to do. I instinctively knew that I needed to get some distance from him and the other people and circumstances in my life at that time so I agreed to join them.

That trip saved my life. There were no scales anywhere so I could no longer live my life by what the numbers indicated to me. I could no longer lie to people that I had eaten since I spent almost every waking moment with them. Their son, a hilarious kid, was like a little brother to me. He had me in stitches every day laughing at his endless jokes. I saw the Rocky Mountains that literally moved me to tears and helped me to see that I was a part of something much greater than myself. The stunning natural beauty of British Columbia made me realize the perfection of nature and that I was part of it so there must be something beautiful about me.

While this trip was right for me, I don’t advocate running away from eating disorders and instead recommend professional help for anyone who suspects she or he is dealing with such a severe life-threatening illness. But, for me, this trip helped me to gain perspective on my body, my life, and the world, in general. It truly initiated the healing process that saved my life. 

Of course, there was a lot of emotional and physical work to do to heal from this difficult disease that nearly took my life, but over many years I started to have a healthier relationship with my body and with food. I learned that I didn’t have to subject myself to ads, articles, or people who perpetuated the false notion that only skinny women are beautiful. I learned that beauty isn’t the size of a body, but the goodness in a person’s heart and soul. I slowly realized that I deserved to enjoy food, to like my body and myself, to heal, and to live. I learned that I could live without the attention or love I longed for from another person. I learned that I deserved to be happy but that I would have to be the person who made that happen. 

I also began to learn how food literally becomes the cells with which our bodies are made and that I needed to make wise choices in this regard. I discovered that, while eating disorders are mental illnesses, there are often many underlying nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed. Along the way, I discovered that healthy food supported my energy and boosted my mood and helped me to see myself in a healthier way. I developed a passion for healing through a healthy relationship with high quality food that led to my becoming a nutritionist, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author.

I even grow a large percentage of my own fruits and vegetables in my garden, which helps me to view the miracle of life through nourishment. I went from using food as a weapon against myself to using it to help myself and others heal. I discovered a passion and a purpose on my path to heal from anorexia. I discovered myself.

[Note: Please don't believe the lies that fashion magazines, movies, and social media, among others, perpetuate: that only thin women are beautiful. Equally important, please don't perpetuate these potentially life-destroying myths and images through your social media and other places in society. They do far more harm than most people realize.]

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