118.

That was the number on the scale just before I realized I needed help.

118 pounds.

It’s really not that small of a number, especially when you stand at only five foot four. In fact, 118 pounds put me very solidly in the normal section of the BMI (body mass index) scale. I looked very healthy on the outside, but on the inside, I was sick. I was far from normal.

My eating habits were not normal. My exercise routine was not normal. My relationship with my body was not normal. I was alternatively binging and starving myself, working out excessively, and just generally hating myself. But no one saw any of that. They saw what I wanted them to see. I was 24, had a steady job, and was in a brand-new relationship.

My life probably looked very normal. Good, even. But it wasn’t.

I assumed that 24 was just too old to suffer from an eating disorder. I thought that eating disorders and body dysmorphia were things teenagers struggled with, problems you recovered from with the wisdom you gained in your 20s. So why hadn’t it gone away on its own? As it turns out, I was wrong to assume that age would bring instant healing, as if the moment that I turned twenty, all of my struggles would just disappear.

RELATED: My Eating Disorder Consumed Me

There’s no such thing as being too old to suffer from an eating disorder. Barring a miracle healing, many women struggle with eating disorders for life. It is a disease that comes and goes, that has periods of remission and occasional (or frequent) flare-ups. Like alcoholics and addicts, you are always in a state of recovery.

My disorder was not going to just go away on its own. Ignoring a problem will rarely solve it. Most eating disorders will be managed with the help of specialists, nutritionists, and therapists. At the very least, it will take familial support, good habits, and perseverance. Overcoming an eating disorder takes strength. It takes virtue.

And in my case, it took pregnancy. 

My baby helped me heal from my eating disorder before he was even born. Pregnancy is the kind of radical experience that changes every facet of your life. And in my case, it changed my life in ways I never would have imagined possible. It gave me the willpower and strength to overcome my eating disorder.

For the first time in my life, my eating and exercise habits weren’t just affecting me. They were affecting the sweet, little life inside me. I couldn’t punish my body without punishing my baby. I couldn’t starve myself without starving my baby. I couldn’t lose control and binge without hurting my baby. Any of those actions would harm my baby, and for the first time in my life, I really accepted that those actions were harming me too. Because if they could hurt my baby, they certainly were hurting me too.

RELATED: Defeating My Eating Disorder Through Motherhood One Day At A Time

So I found myself changing the way I ate, the way I exercised. I wanted to make good choices for my baby boy. I wanted to be healthy for him because I wanted him to be healthy. When another person depends so fully on you for his life and nourishment, you can’t help but make decisions with him in mind. He’s just impossible to forget.

So I started making good choices, and over the course of nine months, those good choices became good habits.

And while it might be easy to make one bad choice (or a series of them), it’s very difficult to break a habit after months and months of repeatedly making good choices. And you know what? By the end of my pregnancy, I didn’t want to make bad choices anymore.

What began as choices made for the sake of my child eventually became choices made for me. I wanted to be healthier because I liked the way I felt. I wasn’t at war with my body anymore. I didn’t always love it, but I didn’t hate it anymore, and that was a huge step for me. In fact, I was actually proud of my body, impressed by its ability to carry and give life to a child. If my body, the body I had hated for so long, was capable of such an incredible miracle, how could I not be amazed by it? And how could I not treat it well?

RELATED: The Body I’ve Always Wanted – Size Mom

Pregnancy completely changed the way I thought about my body. My baby boy, before he was even born, changed the way I thought about my body. Without really looking for healing, I found it. And once I found it, I clung to it.

Pregnancy revealed the truth about my body. It’s incredible, and it has held the miraculous within it.

My body has been the home of two of the greatest gifts I have ever been given—my children. My body is not just my own but has been shared and given to my children. And it never really was my own to begin with because it has always been a gift from God, given to me to treasure and protect.

So in gratitude for this body, this great gift I have been given, I choose to love it. I choose to treasure it. I choose to take care of it properly. Because at the end of my life, I want to be able to present this body back to God and proudly show Him the wonderful things I have done with it.

Shannon Whitmore

Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing on topics such as marriage, family life, faith, and health. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.