This past spring, I received news from the counselor at my school's health center that I couldn't, and still struggle to, believe. I was told I have an eating disorder: anorexia. As defined by the National Eating Disorder Association, anorexia nervosa is defined as "a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss."
This was something I couldn't wrap my head around. I knew I was someone who was conscious of what I was eating, making sure I got in my fruits and vegetables for the day, and wasn't eating too many carbs and sugars, but I never thought it would have turned into an eating disorder.
Accepting the fact that I was living with this "problem" of an eating disorder was incredibly hard for me to do at first. And honestly, I'm still having a really hard time accepting it all. Accepting it was one thing; admitting to others that I have this "problem" has been even harder, and quite scary to be frank.
I thought people would look at me differently, treat me differently, and begin to analyze my personality and emotions, as well as how and what I was eating. I understand that not everyone is going to know how to respond or know how to help or how to react, but it's clear how many people care about me and love me and want to help me get better.
For everyone else who is struggling with an eating disorder or has a friend or family member who is struggling with an eating disorder, here are a few things I came up with that I wish I could easily explain to those who try to understand what I'm going through.
No one chooses to become anorexic.
Becoming anorexic is not a decision. It's not a diet. It's not a lifestyle choice. But it's not my fault either. Anorexia is more than just feeling fat or not liking what you see in the mirror. It's more than just a battle with your physical appearance. It is a mental illness.
Anorexia is an internal, mental battle with yourself.
Battling this eating disorder is a battle between the rational and irrational parts of my mind. I know I'm not healthy and that I need help. I know my eating and exercise habits aren't normal. I know I need to gain weight. I know I need to make a change in my lifestyle.
Yet, the irrational part of my mind, usually referred to as "Ed," the little evil man living in your head, keeps telling me to go against my rational brain. It's a constant internal battle between myself and Ed, feeling like someone is controlling my decisions and it's so hard to stop that.
Ed is my biggest enemy.
Oh, if only it were that easy. Ed takes over your mind and makes you feel like you lose all the freedom inside your own mind. Ed makes it hard to be able to steer away from low calories, my low and unhealthy weight, and to break away from my "safe foods."
Ed tells me my eating habits and exercise habits are okay. Some days, Ed even tells me to exercise more, or eat less, or tries to convince me I'm not hungry. Ed tells me my weight is fine, sometimes trying to convince me to lose more weight. Ed tells me my lifestyle is okay.
Whenever I start to feel positive and start making good changes for recovery, Ed tries to shut that down and fill my positive thoughts with negative ones. Ed and I do not get along.
Eating is challenging. It's a daily struggle.
It's not as easy as it seems to just "go eat a sandwich," or a bagel with cream cheese, or a delicious, cheesy slice of pizza. No matter how badly you may be craving a certain food, whether it be your favorite chocolate chip cookie, fries from McDonalds, or even a warm cup of hot cocoa, there tends to be something (like my good friend Ed) stopping you from going and grabbing those foods.
The hardest foods to eat are "fear foods," which are types of foods those with eating disorders are scared to eat and try to avoid at all costs because they believe they will cause instant weight gain. Consuming these fear foods can lead to a feeling of guilt.
There's an overwhelming feeling of guilt when eating.
Imagine denying that freshly baked dinner roll every time your waiter offers it to you at dinner. Imagine skipping out on social events because you're worried there won't be something healthy (by your own definition) for you to eat. Imagine feeling stressed first thing in the morning when someone insists you eat a donut that your professor kindly brought into your 8:30 am class.
I sometimes struggle with going out with friends, because even though I may wake up with a headache in the morning, the biggest pain I know I'll be feeling is the feeling of guilt and regret of the amount of sugar and "wasted calories" I consumed in the drinks and late night snacks the night before.
The thoughts of food and eating constantly fill your head.
Every moment of the day, the thought of food is somehow on my mind. Whether it's debating with Ed about whether I'm hungry or not, or what I want to eat vs. what I should eat or vs. what I view as "okay" to eat.
I think about every calorie, every ounce of carbs and sugars and fats that I'm consuming. In my head, eating 6 Oreos isn't just eating 6 Oreos. It's eating 320 calories, 14g of fat, 50g of carbohydrates, 28g of sugar.
Going to the grocery store isn't an easy process for me anymore. I contemplate which food is the better choice and analyze every item I put into my cart. I read every nutrition label, trying to figure out which foods have fewer calories, fewer carbs, fewer sugars than the other.
Recovery is far from easy, but I'm realizing how worth it it is.
I'm only in the early stages of recovery but I'm already trying to do as much as I can to get myself back on track to a healthy lifestyle. Some of the hardest parts of recovery are addressing your own triggers and fears.
I do still look in the mirror and not always like what I see; I do still read every nutrition label of the foods I'm consuming; I do still exercise in an attempt to "make up" for the foods I indulged in the night before. I may be in recovery, and have recognized that I have a serious eating disorder, but I also know I have a long way to go.
Unfortunately, an eating disorder like anorexia is not something that can be solved overnight. There's no pill that can be taken to magically make the eating disorder go away (if only it were that easy).
I'm doing the best and the most I can to get back to the woman I was a year ago—the girl my friends know me as. Thankfully, I know I have friends and family who love and care about me unconditionally and are with me for every step of the way through this hard recovery process.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, check out the National Eating Disorder Association website for more information, or call their hotline at: (800) 931-2237.