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You –the girl who is starving herself to fit into a bikini – I was you.

Oh honey, I was you –even though I was homeschooled and raised in a wholesome home (I was a preacher’s kid!). I stopped eating when I was nine so I could look good in a bathing suit.

Slowly, you know. I just quit eating desserts at first, and then the peanut butter and the jam and then the butter, and finally, the bread itself. I got down to a few pickles for lunch, a spoonful of corn for supper, and my bathing suit, it sagged because I had no bum.

I was starving to death, but, hey – I was skinny. And for some reason that was really important to me. So important it was worth going hungry for four years.

And then doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to have children. They said I shouldn’t be alive, and all my hair was falling out and my nails cracking and my knees made noises when I walked. I sounded like an old person, I felt like I was ninety, and the bathing suit wasn’t worth it anymore.

It starts small. It starts with listening to the voice that says you aren’t good enough.

That you aren’t pretty enough. That you’d be better and look better if you lost a couple of pounds.

Nothing wrong with losing a couple of pounds, except it’s never just a couple of pounds. Because once you lose those, you think, “Well, I’d better just lose a couple more just to be safe –just in case, you know, so I have a bit of wiggle room, but there’s never any wiggle room.

And soon you’re so addicted to losing weight that it defines who you are,and at first you get lots of compliments because no one knows how hungry you are.

And then you’re wearing your bikini, but you’re not getting the reaction you expected. Your friends are telling you that you don’t look good anymore, that they can see all of your bones, and it’s disgusting. Part of you feels ashamed and part of you feels happy.

And then you’re admitted into the hospital because your skin is purple from hypothermia, and you’re told you’re dying.

Is being thin in a bikini worth it? Is it worth dying for?

Does it fill those places, the starving for love places, the wanting to be beautiful places, the crying out to be unique and special and seen places?

No, it just puts you in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV because suddenly eating is very, very hard.

I wish I could take those years back. I was skinny, yes, but all I remember is being hungry.

It’s okay to want to be beautiful. But instead of going on an extreme diet, friend, go to God and ask him to give you the eyes he has for you: eyes which say, “You’re stunning. You’re my amazing work of art. And I love you.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please don’t be afraid to contact me. I would be happy to help you find the resources you need. In the meantime, please check out my books: Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a loved one battling an eating disorder (by subscribing to this blog you’ll receive the first half of this book FREE), and Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life after Pregnancy.

Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

What do you tell the woman in the mirror in her swimming suit? What can you say that is kinder?