One of my dear friends wrote this powerful piece on how it feels to live with an eating disorder. I thought I’d share this in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Please scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of resources available for those seeking help. If you are struggling, you do not have to go through this alone. Thank you “C” for being brave enough to share this, even anonymously.
I also want to be clear that this story is ONE version of an eating disorder. Many people suffer with no medical complications and many people suffer in average and above average weight bodies. No matter your size, you deserve help.
An eating disorder is feeling too depressed to want to leave your house but faking a smile and going out anyway- because you’re fine, right? It is isolating yourself from friends and family because you are afraid to be around food. It is shying away from authentic connection- both physical and emotional- out of fear of being hurt, or even worse, hurting them. It is spending day after day trying to make the “right” decision that will please that gnawing anxious voice inside of you, forgetting to check in with what it is actually in line with your values. It is losing yourself and your rational voice because it has lost its value from all times you have silenced it. An eating disorder is getting on and off the scale tens of times every day and being tortured by the number. An eating disorder is counting. Counting steps, calories, miles and hours until dawn. It is lying wide awake at 2 am because even though your body is physically tired, your mind is relentless and never ready to shut off. It is constant thoughts about food and calories, 24/7, every minute of every hour of every day, no matter how busy you make yourself. An eating disorder is rationalizing and justifying its every move and command that is screaming in your head.
An eating disorder is intense loneliness. It is a feeling of emptiness in your stomach and hollowness in your soul, that nothing can fill and a void so intense that you question every decision and thought you have ever had, literally. Sometimes it is numb. An eating disorder is feeling detached from all emotion. The pain is shut down- but so is the joy. An eating disorder is sometimes being flooded by so many emotions that you have trouble identifying and dealing with all of them. An eating disorder is the fear and anxiety that paralyzes you. It makes you physically nauseous and you get down on your knees and beg for it to stop, beg to have some peace of mind, but you never do. The medication is just a placebo that you take to appease others and at this point yourself; maybe if you pretend hard enough something will click this time, the pills will be magical and your heart won’t race. But spoiler alert, they still do nothing. An eating disorder is waking up two hours after finally falling asleep with either pangs of hunger or incredible discomfort from fullness from feeding yourself. It is nightmares of treatment, fat, food and trauma; starvation alone will not shut down your subconscious. This haunts you. An eating disorder is picking your head off of the pillow you laid down on the night before, only to find chunks of thinning hair that has fallen out; you want to cry, but you’re too numb to. You pick it up and go on.
An eating disorder is a heart rate so low your mom comes in your room to check on you ever hour on the hour to make sure the disorder hasn’t stolen her precious child just yet. It is loss of woman hood, weakening bones, fainting spells, aching joints, swollen glands, coughing up blood, brittle fingernails, a body incapable of digesting food, bruised skin, and a fine hair growing on your body in attempt to keep you warm. An eating disorder is legally forced hospitalizations and feeding tubes shoved down your nose while you are kicking and screaming. It is a judge granting your parents medical guardianship over their adult child. An eating disorder is heart attacks, ICU stays and electrolytes dripping into you like acid in your veins. An eating disorder is pulling out feeding tubes and iv drips because you’re terrified of the unmeasured calories going in you and how are you going to exercise while stuck in a hospital bed? An eating disorder is being restrained and watched in the hospital because you will not stop exercising, even in the shower. It is the ultimate fear that trumps all else- EVEN DEATH- the fear of gaining weight.
An eating disorder is abusing your body to the point where it has no choice but to break down fat, then muscle. When physique muscle is depleted then comes the good stuff, your organs. YOUR BODY IS STARVING, but you don’t feel it. Your body goes into desperation mode and holds on to anything that you put in it. Much to your dismay you will not lose weight and your actions become more desperate- cue laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, ipecac, and purging. An eating disorder is the feeling of stomach acid and bile coming up your throat and nose and burning everything in its wake. It is spending hours unable to leave the house while the laxatives take their horrific effect.
An eating disorder is a voice in your head that’s constantly yelling at you. It is feeling completely trapped, it’s becoming a shell of your former self, and yet feeling this unexplainable sense of safety and comfort. An eating disorder is a wall, slowly built over many years. It is high and strong and impenetrable. A thorny wall surrounded by a moat. And a guard tower. And a keep out sign. It is also a trap. An eating disorder is the thing that has saved your life once but is now the thing that can take your life. It is a coping skill, an addiction, a distraction- anything to avoid dealing with the searing pain of being violated. An eating disorder is a joy killer, and a hole that swallows all hope, leaving despair in its way. An eating disorder is never something you wanted but it is something that feels impossible to live without. It is an identity and you don’t know who you are in its absence. An eating disorder is something you don’t want to want but you do- and that is something that your loved ones cannot grasp. Parts of you want to give it up but you don’t know how. An eating disorder is costly. It leaves you bereft of money, time, brain space, personality and a healthy body.
An eating disorder is food hidden in your pockets, leggings and shoes- anywhere you can store it. It’s trying to get away with eating as little as possible, even if it is a sip or a calorie less. An eating disorder is layers and layers of clothing because you’re SO COLD but no matter how many layers you put on, the cold still gets to you. It is bone chilling. An eating disorder is wearing clothes that will hide your body because although you feel fat, you do anything to avoid concerned looks and questions. It is putting weights in your armpits and underwear, and gallons of water gulped to give a false higher weight at the dietitian/doctor. An eating disorder is doctors telling your heartbroken parents to prepare to bury their child, that she is a chronic, terminal case. An eating disorder is being a CASE, and not person. It is disgust, embarrassment and self loathing. An eating disorder is the shame to admit that you have An eating disorder. Just saying those words leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
An eating disorder is your running shoes. Worn down to the final treads as you continue to pound pavement. It is getting out of bed at 4 am andrunning until you physically feel like you are going to pass out, and then you run five miles more. An eating disorder is your third workout of the day and the anger + anxiety you feel when you miss a minute of your planned regiment. It is working out all day just so you can eat a meal, and then unable to be present during the meal because your body is so depleted. An eating disorder is having to pay someone to watch you eat said meal as you take small, slow and pained bites. An eating disorder is denial, guilt, shame, anger, blame, perfectionism, criticism, obsession, avoidant, ambivalent, relentle
An eating disorder is standing in front of the people you love most and slowly killing yourself as they watch on from a distance because you have pushed them there. It is giving them the front row seat to you losing everything, friends, love, life, joy, family. It is keeping them at arm’s length but making them feel as if they can still do something because you are still there right? You are in front of their eyes, how could they let you die? But they can’t help you. They’ve tried everything. You have decided a long time ago to be a slave to your eating disorder and you cannot break free from that bondage, even for your loved ones.
An eating disorder is hearing your mother cry in her room when she thinks you are asleep. It is your husband turning away from you coldly because it’s too painful to watch and he expresses that fear in angry silence. An eating disorder is being too weak to lift your children when they cry and too preoccupied to comfort and nurture them. It is leaving them for four months because you are unable to feed yourself on your own. It is leaving your children again, just months after discharge, because staying in recovery is just so damn hard when an eating disorder is all you know how to do. An eating disorder is not being the mother or wife they deserve. It is not being the person YOU deserve. An eating disorder is being physically there but emotionally and mentally absent.
An eating disorder is deteriorating first slowly, so slow you think no one notices, even you don’t notice. Hell, you are sure you are getting fatter, but then the cyclone grasps you and pulls you so far in, your decline becomes so rapid, before you know it you are half of the person you were. You do this again and again. Your family is terrified to say anything out of fear of upsetting you, or even worse, out of fear of if they say it out loud, they will actually internalize just how bad you are. You are on your death bed, but you are hooked. Nothing can break your patterns. Nothing can stop your determination and ambition. It’s euphoria. It’s a high like none you have ever felt before. You could go forever. Until you can’t.
This is an eating disorder.
Even though you truly believe you are invincible, that aren’t going to be “that person” that dies from an eating disorder you are knocking on death’s door. Each day the knock loudens, and one day you wake up and actually see the door start to creep open, and this is when it happens. This is when YOU have to wake up and make the decision to either keep knocking or to rewind and rewrite this whole path you have just spent years and years of your life hardwiring in your brain. The rules of your private, small world. Are you willing to redefine them or are you going to slam that door down and be that statistic?
As much as people like to say, “My Eating Disorder told me so”, or “My Eating Disorder is so loud”, you are your eating disorder. By no means is it ALL of you but it is a part of you, and just like you are the only one who can make yourself sick, you are the only one who can actively choose to get yourself better. You have to wake up EVERYDAY and choose recovery. No it is surely not the easy road, but it is the only choice if you want to see if there is a life outside of death by starvation. Outside of anxiety. Outside of unbearable pain. Outside of lies. Outside of hurt. Outside of an eating disorder.”
This is reality.
There is help out there if you or someone you know is struggling. Here are some resources:
- NEDA helpline: 1-800-931-2237
- Project Heal
- Alexis Conason– I work for her practice in NYC and she offers an amazIng 9 week group for people struggling with disordered eating, chronic dieting, and bingeing.
Here are a list of podcasts I highly recommend for anyone looking for information and support around eating disorders, body image, and disordered eating from a Health At Every Size and non diet framework:
- Food Psych– Christy Harrison is an RD tackling issues around intuitive eating, body image, eating disorder recovery, weight stigma, fat acceptance, nutrition, and more
- Life Unrestricted– Meret Boxler talks about eating disorder recovery and body image with some amazing guest experts as well.
- The BodyLove Project– Jessi Haggerty is a dietitian and personal trainer who covers topics with the goal of helping you get to a place where you can mend your relationship with food and your body.
- Love, Food– Julie Duffy Dillon is an RD and talks about eating disorders, dieting and more, from a non diet approach.
- Dietitians Unplugged– Aaron Flores and Glenys Oyston are two RD’s covering topics on health and wellness without a focus on the scale or counting calories.
- Body Kindness– Rebecca Scritchfield is an RD passionate about fighting diet culture.
Check out 4 eating disorder myths debunked for more on the topic.