There are no words I could use or descriptions I could think of that could ever accurately explain what it’s like to have an eating disorder, or more specifically, anorexia. No one could ever completely understand the pain, loss of control, and lack of emotion that are like extra bullets during the hardest parts of my journey, and I’m not a good enough writer to put you in my shoes. The reality of it all is that the only way you’ll ever know what an eating disorder is like is if you have had one yourself. I would never wish that on anybody, and I hope that you, my dear readers, never have to experience it.
However, eating disorder awareness is important. It’s very important. Even though I can’t make people know what it’s like to have an eating disorder, I still have to share my story. People need to see the truth, the reality of suffering from an eating disorder. Those who have them need to know they’re not alone, and that others who have gone through the same things have come out on the other side. Those who don’t have them need to see the truth and eliminate stereotypes and reduce the stigma they consciously and unconsciously have.
All eating disorder journeys and struggles are different. You can’t judge one person with anorexia based on what another has experienced. I cannot speak for everyone. However, this is my story.
*Warning: If you have an eating disorder, please be aware that I talk about ED behaviors that may trigger you. No numbers (specific calories, weight, weight loss/gained, etc.) are mentioned, but my story could still potentially trigger you.*
Happy, loud, energetic, full of life, crazy, probably annoying, passionate- that was me my whole life, from childhood through the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I didn’t care much about anything. What people thought of me didn’t matter. Sometimes I had doubts about what my body looked like, but for the most part, I was okay with it. I loved playing the French horn and being with my friends and family. I joined JROTC and shooting team and a bunch of other clubs at the beginning of the year, was making good friends and keeping the old, and life was good.
By the second semester, however, I had fallen into a deep depression. The next two semesters, and the summer in between, were fulled with anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and dark and lonely days. I tried to keep up with everything, and I was still in band and shooting team, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I used to. A lot of my friends seemed to have disappeared, and while I had a “new best friend”, I still felt lonely and lost. My depression took over and I just wasn’t me anymore. I tried to continue to be the girl I was before, and I fooled everyone- except myself.
I began to notice my body more. I had gained weight since I started high school. I started losing friends in high school, and was depressed and anxious. Even though my weight and the other things had no correlation whatsoever, my brain connected the two. I believed that nobody liked me anymore, and I was so depressed because I was fat. Therefore, all I needed to be happy and have friends again was lose weight. I hated myself so deeply that I was willing to do anything. In my mind, I needed to lose weight.
So that’s what I set out to do.
My Eating Disorder’s Beginning
January of 2014. I started exercising and running and skipping some meals here and there. Nothing too drastic, I assume those are normal things people do when they’re trying to lose weight. It started out going well, but in my already sick brain, it wasn’t fast enough. I started skipping more meals and restricting a little more, doing as much as I could. I started noticing calories in the things I was eating. I would look at the packages in my house and choose the things that had lower calories, and say “No way” to the things that my brain told me was “too much”.
It still wasn’t enough.
I started skipping more and more meals. I began feeling guilty for eating “too much”, or eating something that I used to love but that had “too many calories”. I started losing weight faster, but I grew more and more distant from those I loved- even further than my depression had pushed me. My depression and anxiety continued to grow worse, and I was convinced it was because I was still way too fat. I remember thinking during my 16th birthday party, “It’s kind of sad when you feel guilty for eating your own birthday cake.” I ate two bites then threw the rest away. I felt gross for even eating that.
I went to Washington DC with my JROTC program during the month of May. I had been counting calories for a while already at that point, but during the trip is when I first started writing it all down. I challenged myself to get lower every day, and was excited when I reached my lowest yet. It was way, way too low, but I felt proud of myself and exhilarated. I was in freaking Washington DC with a bunch of friends and the only thing that made me excited was the low amount of calories I was eating and getting away with. I don’t remember much of anything from that trip, but for some reason, I could still tell you what I ate at different places.
When ED Took Over
For lack of better words, that summer was hell. I got lower and lower every day, both in calories and mood. I felt “happy” and excited when I lost weight, but sad and defeated when I stayed the same or fluctuated up a small amount. It became a sort of game or challenge to me, to figure out how to get away with eating as little as possible. It became addicting. How can I only eat one small meal today without my family noticing? I got away with way more than I thought I ever could. I started out by saying, “Okay, I can eat this, but I won’t let myself eat less than xxx calories” because apparently I still cared about my health a small amount. But then one week later I ate less than the original limit I set for myself, and all rules went out the window.
I wore a step counter that counted not only my steps and miles walked, but my calories burned as well. I made it a goal to eat less than what I burned each day. Sometimes at the end of the day when I was home alone, I would run around my house as much as I could, just so that number burned would go up higher.
I hid a bunch of food that was given to me in my room because I was scared that if I threw it away, someone would see it and catch me not eating much.
I worked in a little shaved ice stand, and when there were no customers, I’d walk back and forth inside the tiny thing as much as I could, trying to get my step count up as much as possible.
I lost my period sometime in July or August.
I went to Pittsburgh, Oregon, and California (DISNEYLAND) that summer, but all I remember is the food. I can literally only recall the time, place, and contents of my meal during my mission trip in Pittsburgh. The fun I was supposed to be having? Yeah, I’ve got nothing. Pretty much all I remember from that whole year are things in relation to food and my eating disorder.
My junior year was rough. My brain wasn’t functioning properly because I wasn’t getting enough food, so it was hard to concentrate and remember things.
My hands were always ice cold, as was the rest of my body, so I wore gloves in class a lot.
Many people asked me how I lost so much weight and I just smiled and came up with some dumb excuse even though I felt like I was dying.
I “went vegetarian” for a month, and I told people it was just because I “wanted to try it and see if I could do it”. In reality, I just wanted even more excuses to avoid food groups, and cutting out meat gave me the opportunity to say “no thanks” to a lot of food that was offered to me.
I remember there were days that I’d go into my kitchen and impulsively eat a bunch of handfuls of things- chips, pretzels dipped in frosting, dry cereal, anything I could find. My body was so desperate for food that it made me shove a bunch of any food into my mouth because it wanted nutrients so bad. I felt like a gluttonous monster, even though when I did that, I was still eating less than half of what someone my age should have been eating.
I spent my free time at school looking up recipes of yummy looking food, watching videos on how they make things like candy canes and laffy taffy, and learning all about the different food at Disney parks. My brain was so occupied with food, but I wouldn’t let myself eat any.
My face was pale and I looked like a dead girl walking. There was no happiness in my eyes when I smiled, and my only goal in life was to eat less and lose more.
A couple times I got up in the morning and felt like I was literally dying- like I was seconds from passing out, throwing up, and disintegrating all at once. My heart was barely beating and my blood sugar was dangerously low; I was most likely very dehydrated as well. It didn’t go away until I ate a small carrot and lay down until it was time for school. Those moments scared me. Those moments made me realize that I could actually possibly die from what I was doing to myself. I knew when I went to bed at night that there was a possibility I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. While it kind of scared me, a part of me also kind of wanted it. A part of me knew that while I couldn’t directly act on my suicidal thoughts, maybe I could starve myself to death instead.
(By the way: I did still eat, so don’t let the stereotype of “people who don’t eat anything” stay in your mind. I ate. I just didn’t eat enough. I didn’t eat near as often as I should have. I didn’t 100% “starve myself”, but I ate an amount that was way lower than I should have.)
My friends and family started getting suspicious. A friend commented on how skinny I looked, but it wasn’t admiration this time, it was more worry. Another friend told my mom about how I was skipping lunch. The librarian noticed how I always went to the library during lunch and lectured me on how it wasn’t healthy. Another friend straight up came out and told me that she recognized my anorexia. At that point, of course, I was still in denial of having a problem, so I pushed her and everyone even further away. I caved into myself and into my eating disorder.
I stopped losing a consistent amount of weight. I fluctuated around my lowest weight, even though I was still restricting and skipping meals and getting more and more unhealthy. During the last month that I was restricting, I lost maybe two pounds total, which killed me inside. That pushed me further and further away from any doubts of my destructive behaviors.
“I’m not losing enough weight, I don’t have an eating disorder. I haven’t been sent to the hospital, I don’t have an eating disorder. I just barely have a thigh gap, I don’t have an eating disorder.”
I was a Christian during this whole time, and I even succeeded in reading the whole Bible between January and October. However, I kept my relationship with God on the surface, and didn’t let Him deeper into my life because I knew in the back of my mind that what I was doing was wrong. But God found a way to move in my heart. While my ED did everything it could to hold onto me, God was stronger. He kept finding ways to throw in mentions of eating disorders everywhere that I would see them- during a sermon at church, comments from people, during a concert. I felt like everything I did, God was screaming at me, WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS DANGEROUS AND NOT WHAT I HAVE PLANNED FOR YOUR LIFE. YOU NEED TO STOP.
I fought this voice for as long as I could, but on October 20, 2014, I admitted to myself that I have an eating disorder, and I decided to seek help.
My Recovery’s Beginning
People often tell their eating disorder stories, then skip straight to “and here I am today!” part. I had read many of those stories, so I wasn’t prepared for the difficult hell that awaited for me that I called “recovery”. I knew that I would have to learn how to eat properly again, but I didn’t know how hard it would be. I didn’t know that my eating disorder was an addiction that would be just as hard to break as being addicted to alcohol or drugs- maybe even harder sometimes.
My eating disorder is an addiction, and I think that’s something people don’t realize. With most addictions, you have to stay away from something; with eating disorders, you have to learn how to face it 3+ times a day. You can’t avoid the problem, because that’s what caused it in the first place.
Recovering from an eating disorder is learning how to eat again after you have been teaching yourself to stop for a long time. It’s defying everything that your brain is telling you and choosing to listen to what other people say is “healthy”. It’s trying to adjust to this new way of doing things while your body is still freaking out, thinking you’re going to starve it again, then slowly going back to normal. It’s stomach and digestion problems, your period taking over a year to return to normal, your mind constantly betraying you and forcing you to betray your body again that was just starting to trust you again. It’s having to pretend in public that you aren’t dying during a meal when in reality you’re seconds away from having an anxiety attack. It’s hard and it sucks.
My emotions (which had been numb since my depression started but had gotten even worse with my eating disorder) came back full-force and stronger than ever. For about two months, I was extremely sad and angry at the friends who had abandoned me, angry at my eating disorder for taking so many experiences and opportunities from me. I spent Christmas night unable to sleep, wrapped up in my severe emotions and crying more than I had in a long time.
But I slowly got better. My emotions leveled out and my anger passed. I slowly started letting myself eat certain foods again, like ice cream and real milk, and eventually butter (that was the biggest thing ever for me). I avoided wearing shorts for months during the spring and stuck with dresses that didn’t show off my no-longer-gapped thighs, but I eventually did it. I started taking selfies again, and laughing again, and played a lead in my school musical and rekindled my friendships and even got a boyfriend. I started doing things I loved again and got a job that I enjoyed and finally started living.
My recovery story is a little different than what a lot of people with eating disorders experience, and for a long time, I let that define me and used it as further proof that I never had a problem, that I was never sick.
I didn’t go to a recovery/rehab center. I stayed at home, in my town, the same house, the same bedroom. That alone was hard and triggering and difficult to get used to- going to the kitchen I had avoided and making myself lunch, which I knew I could very easily skip. Sometimes I did.
I didn’t see an actual therapist until almost two years into my recovery. I had been seeing a counselor for a few months for my depression and continue to see him for a few more months after starting recovery, but I eventually stopped. He was good for depression and anxiety, but I needed something more ED-geared. I still haven’t really gotten that.
I only saw a nutritionist once. She told me that I should be eating 1400 calories (honestly a JOKE), and proved in that one short meeting that she knew nothing about eating disorders. I didn’t go back.
I didn’t really have help during my recovery. No professional help, anyway. My friends and family honestly triggered me more often than they helped me- not that they were bad or awful, I’m not saying that, they just didn’t know how to help me. I don’t know how they would. The only help I’ve had through this whole journey is Jesus Christ, who has encouraged me and helped me fight. My lack of professional help does not make my eating disorder less real, and after two and a half years in recovery, I still struggle and I am still fighting. I think if I had gotten professional help (which I think I could still benefit from), I would be a lot better off, but it didn’t happen. But I’m not going to hold onto that- I’m going to just keep pushing.
My Beginning Pt 2
And now here I am. I have been in recovery for over two years now, and I have grown immensely. Looking at the journal that I kept when I was sick and the posts I made on Tumblr at the beginning of my recovery makes me sad that I was ever that girl. But I’m not anymore. I still struggle a lot sometimes with food and thoughts and how I feel about my body and being triggered by food and weight comments and temptations to skip meals; sometimes it feels like I’m right back at the very beginning.
But I know that I have come very far. Jesus has carried me further than I ever thought I would make it, and I know He will continue to help me until I’m able to say “I am recovered from my eating disorder.” I still have a long way to go, I know, but that doesn’t matter. This is where I am now and I am proud of that. I will not stop fighting anorexia until it is out of my life, and even then, I know I will continue to fight for those who don’t know they can.
Everyone’s eating disorder story is different. This is mine.
And may I just say that life after an eating disorder, even while still in recovery, is so much better than anything I could have ever achieved by restricting.