My eating disorder story, freedom, silhouette, a woman breaking out of chains

My Eating Disorder Story: It’s Not About the Food (Part 1)

*Disclaimer* This is my honest and complete story. However, I don’t discuss numbers regarding weight or body size. I also don’t share about the particular weight-loss eating and exercise strategies that I used. This type of information can be very triggering to those still suffering from the illness or in early recovery. It is my desire to give hope and to help others to feel understood, rather than to glorify the illness, or provide “shock value”.

Because I want to be very thorough in sharing my eating disorder experience, this is going to be fairly long! I actively practiced my ED for about 20 years, and I’ve been in recovery for 14 years, so that’s a lot of ground to cover! For ease of reading, I decided to separate the various sections of my story into different parts.

Here in Part 1, I’ll explain what an eating disorder is, and why I want to share my story. I’ll also go over what my childhood and teen years were like, and how my early experiences affected how I learned to cope with life.

Is there a “typical” ED profile?

When most people hear the words “eating disorder”, what usually comes to mind is a teenage girl trying to live up to society’s ideal of the skinny fashion model. She becomes obsessed with dieting, loses too much weight, and ends up looking like a skeleton. But when she looks in the mirror, she sees herself as horribly obese.

While that profile could describe some people who suffer from an eating disorder, it doesn’t fit my experience at all! As a teenager, I don’t recall having any difficulties with eating. I didn’t have any obsessive thoughts about food or my body weight, and I pretty much just ate normally. It wasn’t until around age 25, that I began to have issues with food and my body image.

Something else usually assumed is that to recover from anorexia, all you have to do is just gain weight. Once you gain the weight back, the eating disorder is gone, right? Well, not really, because it’s about more than just food!

The truth is, eating disorders are not really about how much someone weighs. It is more about the obsession that goes on in the mind, which in turn leads to compulsive behaviors regarding food.

There were times when I was at an average body weight, but I was still very much in my eating disorder! I was completely obsessed with food and how I thought my body looked. There were also times when I was severely underweight, and my health and life were at risk. Regardless of how much I weighed, the obsession was the same.

Why am I sharing my story?

My greatest hope is that I can help others who are still suffering to feel less alone. An eating disorder is a brutal thing to have to go through, and it is a very lonely experience. When I was sick, it gave me hope to hear the recovery stories of those who had made it through the battle.

For years and years, when I was in the thick of it, it was hard to imagine ever being free of food obsession. It was such a part of me, that it felt like it was me. Over the many years of my recovery, I learned that the eating disorder was just a coping skill, and an unwanted voice in my head. But it was not me!

As I learned new (and much better) ways of coping with life, I was able to slowly let go of the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It’s not an easy task at all, and honestly, recovery does take a lot of time and effort. But I promise, if you really want to recover and you are willing to do whatever it takes, you can and you will recover!

Overview

I struggled horribly with my eating disorder for over 20 years. The symptoms first began for me at around age 25 and quickly progressed from there. After several years, my life had been completely taken over by the ED, and I was controlled by food and exercise obsession and compulsion.

By the time I was 29, I was in a state of absolute mental and physical chaos. Two weeks before my 30th birthday, I checked myself into an inpatient treatment facility, where I lived for an entire year. After being discharged, I was in recovery and did pretty well for a few years. I kept up with going to support meetings, seeing my therapist weekly, and making recovery my top priority. All of my friends were in the recovery community, and I had my team of support people around me all the time. Relapse seemed out of the question.

After several years, however, I began to slip. Relationships with boyfriends slowly started to become more important than recovery, and I eventually slid into relapse. It was so gradual that I didn’t even realize it was happening! I ended up back in the ED, where I would stay for about another 10 years.

During most of those 10 years, I didn’t even believe that I was in relapse. That’s how cunning and baffling an eating disorder is! It worms its way into your mind so completely that it’s hard to even distinguish it from your own thoughts and personality. It makes you believe that it is you. When people try to help you, it convinces you that they are your enemy. But the ED is the real enemy, and it is trying to kill you!

I am one of the fortunate ones because I didn’t die. After my long and painful struggle of 10 years in relapse, I entered into recovery again, and this time it stuck. Recovery has not been easy at all. It’s taken a lot of hard work and diligence to get to where I am today. But I am so grateful to be able to say that at the age of 59, I have been in recovery from my ED for about 14 years!

I have been through many of life’s ups and downs during those years, but thankfully none of the downs have been due to food or exercise obsession. I have freedom with food that I truly never thought was possible during those years of struggle. I really thought that I would never be free, and that food would always hold me captive.

But I am living proof that miracles truly do happen, and recovery is absolutely possible! It doesn’t happen overnight though, and the path to freedom is riddled with many obstacles. Recovery is hard work, and it requires commitment.

I think the real turning point for me was when I had truly reached the absolute bottom. I realized how sick and tired I was of just merely existing. I was afraid I was going to die, and that my life would have been meaningless. I wanted to live! I became willing to do whatever it took to recover. Once I saw the ED as my enemy, rather than a friend who kept me “safe”, I was better equipped to resist it, no matter what.

What is an “eating disorder”?

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an eating disorder is “any of several psychological disorders (such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia) characterized by serious disturbances of eating behavior”.

The American Psychiatric Association has a similar description, and adds that disordered eating behaviors are also accompanied by “associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological, and social function”. They also mention that eating disorders “often co-occur with other psychiatric disorders, most commonly mood and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol and substance use disorders”.

So we can see that “eating disorder” is really an umbrella term for various types of unhealthy, serious eating disturbances. There are many ways the illness can manifest, and even the different types don’t always look the same in each person.

In addition to the terrible damage eating disorders do to relationships and quality of life, the illness can also lead to death. According to experts, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Articles from Eating Disorder Hope and Within Health cite the devastating death rate statistics: 10% of anorexics will die within 10 years of having the illness, and within 20 years, 20% will lose their lives.

Heart problems are at the top of the list of causes of death among anorexics. Years of starvation take a toll on the body as the muscles waste away, including the heart. This deterioration can cause irreversible damage, leading to a fatal heart attack.

Another terrible consequence of anorexia can be suicide. After suffering for so many years with the illness, a person can lose hope of ever recovering. Sadly, this can lead someone to take their own life, rather than continue going on without an end in sight. Health problems resulting in death can also develop as a result of endocrine and gastrointestinal disorders brought on by the illness.

The types of EDs that I am most familiar with are the ones that I personally struggled with: anorexia, bulimia, compulsive exercise, and orthorexia. The story I’m going to share is my own experience. I don’t claim to speak for all eating disorder sufferers. We are unique individuals, and so even those suffering from the same type of ED can experience it differently. But my hope is that you will see the similarities between my experience and yours, know that I understand you on a deep level, and that you are not alone!

My journey

Pathway Lavender Flower Field Under Pink Sky
The long road

Although my illness didn’t begin to manifest symptoms until around age 25, as I look back on my history, I can see how it all really started when I was very young. An eating disorder isn’t something that just happens overnight, out of the blue. It’s an extremely complicated and multi-layered coping strategy, which is developed subconsciously over a period of years.

Childhood

Some of my earliest memories are of being in kindergarten and elementary school and feeling completely different than my classmates. I used to look around me and wonder why talking and making friends seemed so effortless for them. They seemed so at ease with themselves and the world around them. I didn’t understand what was wrong, but in hindsight, I know that I began dealing with strong feelings of anxiety and panic at a very young age. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time, though. I just had a feeling that something was terribly wrong with me, and I desperately tried any way I could to keep others from finding out.

This feeling of being “different” than others followed me throughout my school years. I usually had one friend that I mostly hung out with, and if she wasn’t at school that day, I felt completely lost. I was very quiet and didn’t talk much, so I wasn’t a part of any of the groups at school. I was that weird, quiet kid that nobody really noticed. I felt invisible, which was at times comforting, and at other times painfully lonely. I had a deep fear of being noticed because I feared that people would see that there was something wrong with me. So feeling invisible in a sense made me feel safe. But not being noticed also made me feel unworthy of love and friendship.

Compounding the loneliness I felt at school was that I felt the same way at home. I grew up in a very abusive family, only I didn’t realize it until many years later. For so long I thought that I was a completely horrible person, not knowing that I was made to feel that way by the people who were supposed to love and protect me. They were the ones who acted shamefully, but it was I who carried their guilt for them in my own heart and mind.

High School

Nothing much really changed for me in high school. I had hopes that by being in a new school and meeting new people, things might change for me. But it was still the same; I still felt that I was different, and I still felt inadequate and unworthy, so I continued to have difficulties making friends. High school was pretty much a nightmare for me! I kind of just tried my best to make it through each day, and I was always so grateful when the weekend came. Even though things were bad at home, I could at least hide out in my room and have some time alone. Being alone was the only time I felt ok. Whenever I was with other people, I never felt like I measured up.

I honestly have no idea what my classmates actually thought of me. I hardly talked to anyone, so they probably thought I was a snob. But I was bullied a lot because I was so quiet, and I’m sure they picked up on my insecurity and low self-esteem. I was an easy target for those looking to lift themselves up by hurting others.

The day I graduated from high school I was so happy! I never had to go back to school, which had literally felt like never-ending torture. I felt like I was being released from prison! Hoping to leave my horrible childhood and school days behind, I got my first full-time job and moved away from home.

My Eating Disorder Story: First Symptoms & Progression (Part 2)

Please feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions in the comment section below ?

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