Experts estimate that about eight million people in the U.S. are currently suffering from an eating disorder—and that’s not even to mention the long, arduous process of recovery nor the rampant misunderstanding of these issues in our culture. As a nod to Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26 to March 4), we’ll be featuring some of our most thought-provoking content on body image, diet talk, and the stigma and shame that millions of women deal with on a daily basis. Above all else, know that you’re not alone—and if you need help and don’t know where to begin, reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237.
I inspected myself in the mirror—something I’d done every day for as long as I could remember. I stared blankly at my reflection, curvy and healthy, though I’d rarely described it that way. “Cool,” I murmured and walked out my apartment door. Down the street, I realized something: The cruel dismissal of my body, along with the scrutiny I’d enforced for 11 long years, had passed.
Eating disorders are a tough and personal topic to broach. Every experience is different. For me, the murkiness stemmed less from the time at which I was going through it (high school)—though the addictive nature of going to sleep hungry was pretty dark—and more from the decade-long struggle I met afterward. I didn’t feel like me until fairly recently (I mark two years ago as my aha moment), living under a mask that hid insecurity and an unfamiliar sense of hopelessness. When I think back on it, my memories are like watercolors, melting and blending together rather than specific and concrete. It almost feels like I was in a coma, a way for my body to quietly mend itself while my mind was on hiatus. So much of me is loud, confident, and outgoing. But this made me secretive and reclusive, cloaking the darkness that permeated my body from those who loved me.
I had to take stock of my insides—what was real and what needed to be discarded along with the voices that narrated my disorder.
There are so many people—writers, researchers, and other notable humans—who are outspoken about their difficult time during the thick of it. But what happens next? Post-therapy and weight gain—how do we continue to move forward after going through what feels like war? I had to stop thinking of myself as a unique case and succumb to the idea that pressure and control, as with so many others, were the root of my intimate disease. When I was found out, I began seeing someone at the suggestion of my high school’s psychologist.
First, a man who took one look at my tank top and shook his head. “Usually,” he whispered, his words dripping with condescension, “women with eating disorders try to cover their bodies.” He went on to give cookie-cutter, cliché advice until I decided to speak up. I hadn’t uttered more than a few words the entire session. I argued it wasn’t about “control,” in my head affirming I wasn’t a case like all the others. I wasn’t “damaged” or “afflicted,” just disciplined enough to look the way I wanted. Turns out that’s exactly what struggling for control looks like. That’s what I learned after finding someone who I felt was a better fit and completing treatment. What I believed set me apart was what kept me shackled to those long-established statistics. That realization has been helpful to this day, understanding my tendency toward “otherness” and ability to expertly explain away my problems.
But still, years later, I couldn’t shake the residual weight gain and looked at my body parts like foreign objects. It was hard and terrible, but I had this relationship with food I felt I couldn’t escape. I didn’t know how to be healthy, and I didn’t know how to feel normal. I had to take stock of my insides—what was real and what needed to be discarded along with the voices that narrated my disorder. I had to allow myself to meet the new me, an adult who was accepting (and, ultimately, loving) of her parts even when they didn’t look the way they used to. I had to rebuild myself free from judgment, hatred, and jealousy. What I learned was the uselessness of comparison and how valuable it was to cut it out of my life. Standing next to a waif doesn’t make you fat. The boy at the bar hit on you because he likes the way your body looks, not despite it. Jeans look different on everyone. Chinese food tastes better than salad. Don’t feel bad about wanting to change your body—just make certain where those feelings are coming from.
Issues with weight will always remain steeped in my reality, but I move forward and use it as a source of strength rather than an excuse to spiral.
A decade later, I do feel different—finally free from the lonely battle I’d waged against myself for most of my life. That being said, the struggle, though decidedly quieter and less frequent, remains omnipresent despite my distance from it. I’m not above feeling the allure of a different, skinnier form. It springs up when I see an unflattering picture, notice a deviation in the way my clothes fit, or have an especially gnarly bout of PMS. But I give those thoughts only seconds of my time before deciding whether or not they’re worth the brain power it takes to overcome them. The fact of the matter is, they’re delusions. When I’m feeling especially down on myself, I remember my body looks exactly the same as it did the last time I felt good. The only thing that’s changed is my perception.
Issues with weight will always remain steeped in my reality, but I move forward and use it as a source of strength rather than an excuse to spiral. At this point, I refuse to allow my thoughts to rule with an iron fist but instead let my scars nourish and empower the way I live my life. Without experience, what would we have to talk about? Who knows who I’d be if I didn’t have to pick myself up and keep moving with permission to be flawed. Not being hard on yourself feels like the key to life doesn’t it? With your body, sure, but with everything else too.