My Story: How I Faced My Eating Disorder and Recovery
My story is one that I debated sharing for months and months now. My story, like most is lengthy, non-linear and is totally unique to me. I debated sharing it simply because I didn’t want my story to be a trigger for anyone who suffers from disordered eating, or to take away from the ultimate message from my page…which is total mind-body health and wellness. So if you do suffer from an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, please note that this post may be triggering.
I’m actually not going to give the full version of my story because some of it is too personal to share. I have dealt with a number of mental illnesses, which have shaped me into the person I have become, but some of them I still keep pretty private. I hope that is understandable. However, what I do want to share is my experience with an illness that I think far too many women suffer from (diagnosed or not). That illness was anorexia.
I want to say, I will never share how much I weighed at my lowest, nor will I ever share my current weight. I’m not worried about it being “rude” to ask someone his or her weight. I simply won’t share due to the fact that when I was going through my eating struggles, I constantly tried to figure out what someone weighed to try and determine how much weight I needed to lose to look like them. I have always been around the same weight as I am now, excluding the time when I lost weight due to my illness, and then when I regained some weight during my recovery.
Ok, so here we are. Please understand that this is an extremely personal post. As I’m writing this I’m still not sure I’ll post it…but I guess if you’re reading this then I did decide to publish it. I wanted to share my story in the hopes that it could help someone facing similar issues to mine. Everyone is different, and I am by no means a medical professional, but I hope my story shows the light at the end of a tunnel for anyone dealing with anorexia. I want to emphasize that you are stronger than your illness, and you can and will overcome it. I am living my dream life now, despite having been scared of food in my past.
As many of you know, I have dealt with anxiety my ENTIRE life. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been faced with anxiety in some capacity. Thankfully, through therapy and personal growth, I have learned to manage my anxiety pretty well (you can find posts about that here). Most of my anxiety stems from a lack of control of a situation, which is exactly where my eating disorder began as well.
I distinctly remember the shift in my mindset that spurred what would ultimately develop into anorexia. It was the summer before my senior year of high school (August 2010), and I read a book that basically promoted a vegan diet for ultimate health. I have ALWAYS been into self-help books, healthy lifestyle books, etc., but I wouldn’t have recommended this particular book (which was essentially a diet book) to a 17-year-old. I was too highly influenced by others opinions, and read this book thinking it was the end-all-be-all. I was not emotionally or mentally ready for books of this nature (I will not be sharing the name of the book, but it was a research-backed book promoting a no animal product lifestyle). I have yet to re-read the book, simply because I have so many poor memories associated with it, but I think many people have enjoyed and found the book to be very useful. Nothing against the book or veganism, but it was absolutely not right for me at the time (clearly…).
I read this book and thought; “I NEED to cut out meat. Meat causes cancer and all sorts of other illnesses.” While some of that research was based in fact, I took the advice of the book too literally and cut out meat and all animal products immediately. To this day, I still only eat poultry, some seafood, eggs and dairy occasionally, which I did ultimately bring back into my diet. I also remembered reading that gluten should also be the enemy. So I quickly cut gluten out as well. I was fine saying goodbye to foods that did not serve me, and would “hinder” my ability to achieve optimal health.
You’re probably noticing a theme here. I’d hear something bad about one particular food or food group, and I cut it out. After a few months of these practices, I was left with fruits and vegetables, some cereals, nuts, dried cranberries and raisins, oatmeal, some granola bars, soy yogurt (at the time we didn’t have nearly the selection of vegan yogurts that we do today), green tea and water.
Another item to note was the time in which I started to restrict my diet. I was a senior in high school, trying to figure out where I was going to college, studying for SATs, all while balancing my schoolwork, friendships and relationship. While many facets of life felt out of my control, I knew I could control one thing: food.
By October/November 2010, I started to wonder if I had a problem. I was losing weight, and loving the way I looked, but that came with an overwhelming fear of food and a disturbing amount of time spent thinking about food and my next meal. I distinctly remember speaking to Yale (who I was dating at the time) about the fact that I was so hyper-focused on food. It took over every part of my day. There wouldn’t be a time when I wasn’t thinking about food. It was weird. I wasn’t worried about my weight, because at that time I had only lost a few pounds, and like I said, I loved the way I looked. I later learned in psychology class that this focus on food was connected to a theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I was unable to focus on anything other than my biological and physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) since I simply wasn’t giving my body what it needed for survival. This is probably one of the few things that stuck with me from that class.
It was a really sad game I developed with myself. I would think; “Ok today I weigh this much, lets see if by next week I can be 5 pounds lighter.” Unfortunately, I was successful every time. I knew I was good at controlling this part of my life. The “evidence” was on the scale. I regained the control I thought I lost.
Anyway, fast forward to February 2011. I had lost a significant amount of weight, and people had started to notice. The only person besides Yale I had confided in at this time was my friend Sally, who thankfully gave me the strength to tell my mom something was wrong. I was reluctant to do so at first, because telling my mom felt like admitting defeat. I let this THING get to me, and get out of my control. Food used to be the only thing I could control, and here I was with it controlling me.
My mom had known something was up (as mothers always do), and decided to get me in to see an Eating Disorder therapist. Of course, I hated this idea because seeing a therapist meant changing my eating habits, which I had no interest in at the time. I loved being skinny, and I had shifted my focus onto losing more and more weight to hit certain milestones.
I must say, seeing my eating disorder therapist was probably the worst decision I made in my entire recovery process. Not because eating disorder therapists are bad, but because we really did not get along, and she gave me an initial diagnosis of Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). Which basically meant, I couldn’t be given the diagnosis of “anorexic” since I still got my period. Well, I was still getting my period because I had been on birth control since the age of 13. My body was getting a period even when it shouldn’t have because of the synthetic hormones I was giving it everyday. Not having an “actual title” meant I had nothing wrong with me in my eyes, so I kept restricting. At this point, I wanted the diagnosis of anorexia (sounds strange, I know), because it meant something WAS wrong, and I had a reason to work on my recovery. EDNOS didn’t seem official enough for me I guess.
This lack of a diagnosis only caused me to restrict more and more. I was eating maybe 1 meal a day, but was mostly surviving off of tea and little nibbles of food here and there. I was getting light-headed every time I stood up off the couch. My friends' mom told me to my face that I looked “awful”, and everyone was asking Yale if I was ok. I was not ok, and that came realization hit me smack in the face when I collapsed in my bedroom after hardly eating all day.
I called out to my parents who found me in a ball on the floor, soaked in my own tears. I remember hearing my mom say to my dad; “you can feel every bone in her body”, as they were rubbing my back trying to console me. My dad’s friend was battling cancer, two of my best friends’ dads had died, and here I was, slowly killing myself by choice. This was my wakeup call. I had lost over 25 pounds (which was a lot on my already slim, tall frame), my hair was falling out, my skin was dry and brittle and my waistline was miniscule. Was I ready for the long road of recovery? No. But it was time.
I believe it was spring of my senior year when I started seeing my dietitian. She immediately gave me an anorexia diagnosis and new food plan. My controlled life as I knew it was about to change. Since I chose to do outpatient treatment overseen by my parents, I spent most of my meals supervised. I owe my life to my dietitian, because if it weren’t for her and her no-bullshit approach to recovery, I’m not sure I’d be here today.
The first few months were rough. I was forced to drink Ensure Plus shakes to put fast calories back into my body. Naturally, I hated them and hated that I had to drink them. My mom would sit and watch me eat breakfast and dinner, and she had to trust I’d eat my lunch (which often times I wouldn’t). I became so sneaky with my food to avoid consuming things I thought were “unnecessary” (i.e. sandwiches, bread, sweets). I hated the fact that my life was micromanaged by my mom and my dietitian. Nevertheless, I wrote down EVERYTHING I ate, and had to share that notebook with my dietitian when we met twice a week. Meeting with her forced me to stare at my problem. She would weigh me at the start of every meeting, read my food log and then we'd have a therapy session followed my a plan for the next week.
Come April 2011 I had been accepted to my dream college, but was faced with another challenge: the fact that I still wasn’t gaining as much weight as I needed. My parents sat me down and told me that if I didn’t gain the 30+ pounds back, I wouldn’t be headed to college in the fall. This was gut wrenching, and I didn’t want to let my eating disorder hold me back any further.
With the help of my mom, dietitian and Yale (bless him), I was able to gain the weight I needed to head to school in August. It was such a difficult road, but I was so proud of myself for doing it. I am going to end my “story” here, simply because the road to recovery isn’t one that ends the minute you gain the appropriate weight. I still battle my eating disorder in my head. While I had a successful journey of gaining the weight back physically, I was never really “cured” mentally. It has been a process that I’ve worked on with myself and with Yale’s help for the past 8 years. But I also want to give myself some credit. My dietitian helped me gain the weight back physically, but through YEARS (and I still hear the ED voice in the back of my head even today) of self-help and coaching was I able to see myself in a more positive light. I think recovering from an eating disorder mentally is an on-going battle, and is definitely the hardest part of recovery. However, there are ways to change your negative opinion of yourself, it just takes time and practice. I see myself now as someone who can provide a shelter and protection for another human being. My legs are strong and help me take my walks everyday. My stomach looks a certain way because it’s protecting my organs and what will eventually be the home of a baby. I try not to hyper-focus on small insignificant things like looking “fat” at the end of the day. I didn’t want that eating disorder to run my entire life forever.
I wanted to share a few of my tips if either you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder. Keep in mind, EVERYONE is different, and everyone’s recovery process is unique to them. Do not take my advice as a “one size fits all” approach. This is just what I found helpful during my process.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP: I cannot stress this enough. Seeing a dietitian was the biggest game changer in my recovery. I owe so much to my dietitian and am so thankful she was in my life.
Shop and eat real, clean foods: For WHATEVER reason (well maybe the reason was good marketing), during my recovery I mainly preferred shopping at Whole Foods and other natural grocery stores. Clearly not much has changed, except my mindset. I would shop at Whole Foods because I figured every product they sold there was “healthy” and would be “ok” for me to eat. Obviously, you can still buy “unhealthy” (putting all of these in quotes because I think everyone’s opinions of food and health vary) foods at Whole Foods, but knowing it came from a natural grocery store made me feel ok. Whatever works I guess.
Get rid of clothes that don’t fit you: Don’t hold onto clothes thinking you’ll fit into them again one day. It doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t. Donate them to someone who will appreciate them. Move forward from the past.
Ask a friend for help/ask what you can do for a friend: If you are struggling with an eating disorder, turn to your friends for support. If they’re your true friends they should want to do whatever they can to help you! If you think your friend may be going through an eating disorder, approach the situation gently. Don’t approach it like something is wrong with them or by attacking them. That won’t help. Ask what you can do to help your friend feel their best.
Get rid of your scale: JUST GET RID OF IT.
I love you all. If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I really hope this post gets a positive response because I’ve been SO nervous to share it. As I mentioned above, this is MY story. It is completely unique to me. But I wanted to share it because it makes up who I am. I started my first health food Instagram a few years ago with a friend as a way of holding myself accountable in college. My page and my brand as a whole is obviously more about balance now, but I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned about myself through tools like social media. It’s so easy to compare yourself to others while scrolling through your feed. Try not to let that deter you from achieving what you want in life. We are all going through our own stuff, so just keep on doing you! You can’t win someone else’s race; you can only win your own!
(This post also probably includes a number of grammatical errors. I just can't keep reading and re-reading it anymore. Please forgive me for grammatical errors!!)