I will never forget the final time I took Ephedra (via Xenadrine). I was in my parents’ house. I woke up from a dream that my heart was coming out of my chest and when I woke, it was beating so hard, it felt like I could hear it and my chest hurt. I thought I might be having a heart attack. I ran downstairs and flushed the rest of the bottle down the toilet.
When the drug was banned a year later because of how dangerous it was and how many died from it, I wasn’t surprised. Though I was still entrenched in my eating disorder, deep down I knew the weight loss I had experienced from it was not natural. I knew it wasn’t normal to hurt sitting down because I didn’t have enough fat. I knew that a daily regimen of only caffeine, a Slim Fast bar, a tuna fish sandwich, Xenandrine, and a 10 mile run was dangerous (for any body) and unsatisfying. I knew that eating until I was uncomfortably full and then making my body expel it was not normal or *healthy.*
I knew the speed with which my body yo-yoed down, then up super fast was not natural. I knew that the alcohol poisoning, the frequent blackouts, the having my parents hold my hands in the ER while getting sedated was not natural.
I knew that the compliments I received regularly on how thin I was were conditional and wouldn’t last and I was right—they morphed into disgusted looks (or lack of eye contact) when my body rebounded, my face and belly puffy from rapid gain, my face blotched, pimply, and hairy (Thank you body, thank you body, thank you body for rebounding and saving my life). I knew all this and yet, shrinking myself still felt the most important. Still felt the most compelling.
I think back to that time with such curiosity and complexity of emotions. So many stories I still have to scribe. To share. To give. Knowing what I know now as an ED specialist, I think, why did no one ever say
“Maria, you need help.
Maria, you have an eating disorder.
Maria, let’s find a therapist.
Maria, it’s okay to eat.
Maria, you don't have to shrink or control your body."
I’ve said this before. I blame no one for my eating disorder. AND, I blame us all. We are all to blame. And we are are all responsible for preventing more bodies from experiencing restriction. For fixing a broken system of how bodies are valued, policed, & discarded. Of how thin bodies are praised. Of how fat bodies are encouraged to be sliced up, belted, restricted, held up as stories of “success” amidst incredible UNhealth and deprivation, and discarded once they rebound to their former size.
When I post pictures of my body, my body hair, or share tidbits of my story, I inevitably get a lot of “Wow, you’re so strong. How is it so easy to share? I wish I was that confident.”
Apart from the fact that my body is still smaller than the average size body, that I still experience a ton more body privilege and access than most bodies, I want you to know, it is not confidence that drives me; it is fear. Fear of knowing where I’ve been, fear of knowing where my daughters could go, and a deep fear that my body survived for a reason but isn’t going to survive forever. Fear that I’ve wasted enough of my life attempting to be small and avoiding the reality of my body. I don’t want to waste any more time. I don’t want to be afraid of my body. Or ashamed of it.
I’m glad I can’t forget that final time I took the Ephedra or how bad it felt that my parents never disciplined me for ending up in the ER with alcohol poisoning. Remembering helps me keep things in perspective. When I feel pulled into body shame. When I feel the seduction of restriction or purging. When I feel the pressure of thinness. I know where I’ve been and it was a lot worse than posting a photo of my body rolls or facial hair on the Internet.
Maria Paredes (She/Her) is the owner and Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor at Three Birds Counseling in Greensboro, NC. Maria provides services from a trauma-informed, fat-positive, sex-positive, LGBTQIA affirming, faith-affirming, and social justice-affirming lens. She believes ALL bodies have worth and that ALL individuals deserve to enjoy food, move in ways that feel joyful, treat their bodies with kindness and gentleness, and experience authentic connection with themselves and others. Maria recognizes that this healing must occur within the individual therapeutic relationship as well as within the larger, cultural environment, and thus embraces the role of advocacy and activism. She also works with individuals experiencing anxiety, trauma, infertility/pregnancy loss, and PCOS. Maria teaches courses in UNC-G’s Counseling department and provides clinical supervision and training to new professionals working toward their licensure as therapists or dietitians. She offers Virtual HAES Clinical Supervision Groups for dietitians and therapists, with Anna Lutz, MPH, RD/LDN, CEDRD-S. Maria is Mom to 3 young girls and hopes that they will grow up to experience the wonder and power of all their bodies have to offer, without believing they must shrink themselves.