In honor of NEDA Week (National Eating Disorders Awareness), I’m opening up about my struggle with anorexia that began more than 10 years ago.
*Note: This post may be triggering to some people who have struggled with an eating disorder. I am not mentioning any specific numbers but just be aware if this is a sensitive subject for you to read with care (or skip the post). Thanks for understanding!*
Dear Eating Disorder,
It’s been more than a decade since you snuck into my life. You didn’t arrive with loud fanfare; rather, you silently infiltrated my thoughts over time until I was fully in your grasp. It started out innocently enough, with me wanting to eat healthier. Unlike many girls with eating disorders, my concern at first wasn’t with my weight. I was always petite growing up and didn’t really think twice about eating cereal or candy. No one ever insinuated I needed to lose weight, it was more the opposite. But a health class my freshman year of high school got me thinking about my eating habits (which certainly weren’t terrible — I never had a huge appetite and I mostly gravitated towards healthier things like fruit and whole grains).
Suddenly, I was seeking out low calorie options like Lean Cuisine frozen meals and sugar-free Jell-O pudding. Breakfast devolved into a slice of 45-calorie toast topped with maybe a teaspoon of almond butter if I was feeling generous and “hot chocolate” made with cocoa powder and a packet of Sweet-n-Low. Dinner was a often a measly portion of plain black beans and white rice. I grew up always having a snack before bed and that quickly disappeared.
Once my brain was sufficiently starved, then I started seeing myself as being “too fat” and asking for advice online on how to lose weight. Never mind I was already underweight to begin with. I became obsessive over my body image and never felt good enough. I had already drifted apart from most of my childhood friends early on in high school and by my junior year, I didn’t have many left, so I clung to you. I thought you would help me feel confident and less alone but little did I know, you did the exact opposite.
I wanted to die the day in March 2009 my parents confronted me about you. I cried so much and I was so scared about what they would think. You told me to deny everything, but by opening up, I felt a release. Months of hiding you were finally over, and I was finally free.
Well, not really. The thing about eating disorders is they don’t suddenly disappear once you start recovery. Many people say they’ve been able to fully recover, but I’m not sure I’ll ever completely be rid of you. Ten years after starting the difficult journey of recovery, I still encounter you from time to time. Some days I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. Sometimes I flirt with letting you back into my life, and I start counting calories again, becoming obsessive over exercise, restricting foods from my diet under the guise that I can just do it until I reach my goal weight. But if I’m being honest with myself, there really is no one goal weight. If I reach it, I’ll immediately want to go even lower. You’ve left scars on my brain that may never fully heal, which is why I have to be very careful not to let you into my life even a little bit. If I give an inch, you’ll take a mile. I’ve had minor relapses I’ve been able to bounce back from, but it takes every ounce of energy I have not to give into you and take the easy way out.
But you know what? It’s worth it to me to keep fighting every day to keep you out of my life. Without you, I can actually have a life. I can go on vacation and feel confident in a swimsuit. I can go out to eat and not spend hours beforehand agonizing over the “safest” thing to order on the menu and instead order what I’m actually in the mood for, whether that’s a salad or loaded vegan fries. I can be present in conversations with friends and family instead of mentally adding up the calories of what I’ve eaten that day. I can go for a run or a hike because I enjoy doing those things, not to burn calories. I can dream of a future for myself where you’re not in the picture at all.
I may not be completely out of your grasp yet, but trust me — I will keep fighting and doing what it takes to not let you ruin my life again. I deserve to live a happy, full life and sadly, that doesn’t include you.