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Courtney Crowder is a columnist in Des Moines, Iowa, who recently married her partner of 10 years, Scott Graca. She had anorexia in high school and has been in recovery since then. She shared her experience wedding dress shopping and the memories it brought up of having an eating disorder with TODAY.
As I slipped the wedding dress over my head and it slid down my body, I looked at myself in the mirror and panicked. This dress, which I had loved, wasn’t right. It spread across my hips and midsection so tightly my belly button poked out visibly. This was my personal fashion nightmare.
As the seamstress bustled around, she started explaining how the fabric of my dream dress was pretty much the worst at hiding anything. But then she offered a suggestion.
“Well you know you have two months to …"
She didn’t finish the sentence but I knew what she meant: I had two months to lose weight.
It felt like the world stopped. Everything moved in slow motion like I was underwater. Somehow, I did not cry. Somehow, I did not lecture her about what she should have said.
She couldn’t possibly know was how harmful it was to say that to me. During high school, I had anorexia. I had been through treatment and considered myself in recovery, but recovery is something I work hard at constantly — and what she said triggered me. After the appointment, I slumped over in my car and cried.
I had transitioned from excited to heartbroken to forlorn about my wedding dress. Suddenly I was skipping meals and exercising a lot more. When I’d eat, I’d tear my food apart absentmindedly. All the things I did when I was anorexic. But this time I knew what was happening: I was reverting to disordered eating habits.
As a child, I was heavier than my classmates. My parents, who were healthy and in shape, worried. The pediatrician warned them about my weight, but they weren’t sure how to help. They’d urge me to exercise and swapped unhealthy snacks for rice cakes and low-fat treats.
But when I started high school, I hit a growth spurt and shed weight naturally. People noticed me. They weren’t obsessed with what I ate, but instead focused on how I looked. I wondered what would happen if I actually tried losing weight. I started working out every day and restricting calories. I hid food, threw it away and ripped into tiny pieces. When I weighed less than 100 pounds at 5 feet 7 inches tall, I thought I was so close to being a success.
But I wasn’t anything close to happy or successful. I was lying constantly. I was wearing baggy clothes to hide myself. I yelled at my family and told them I hated them. They couldn't take it any longer and got me help.
The last half of my junior year, I left school and went to an intensive outpatient program from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, for four months. I hated this too. I yelled at the staff. I resented every moment of it. Until one day I realized that I had lost everything I ever cared about because of anorexia. If I continued like I was, I would die. Slowly, I started thinking of food as nutrition and that eating meals were part of health.
Since then I have worked hard to see food in a healthy way. I’m always afraid I’ll slip. When the seamstress mentioned losing weight, I thought that I could lose 20 pounds in two months and it was no big deal. I could starve myself. But the internal battle began and the healthy mechanisms I developed kicked in and won.
Instead, I thought about what made my dress perfect. My butt looked amazing. I love the lace on the train. Soon, I didn’t see the imperfections.
When I got married on December 29, the wedding was wonderful. I loved how the dress looked and I loved being surrounded by so many friends and family. But my favorite moment from the wedding was the first dance I shared with my husband, Scott Graca. For three minutes, it was just the two of us, celebrating our love for each other. But the dance also included my feelings toward me — in this moment I loved myself more than I had in a long time.
If you think you have an eating disorder or are worried someone close to you does, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline at (800) 931-2237, visit TODAY.com/healthy for more information or connect with at trained NEDA helpline volunteer through click-to-chat at nationaleatingdisorders.org.