It has been three years since I conquered anorexia. Free from anorexia’s control, I am now living my life the way I want to, but I remember a time when it wasn’t this way. Anorexia consumed my every waking moment. While trying to write this article, I noticed that my memories are a bit fuzzy. It could be me trying to block those bad memories out of my mind, or it could simply be due to time passing. Nevertheless, what I do remember is what a complete, living hell struggling with anorexia was.
Throughout the three years since I recovered from anorexia, I’ve found that there are many societal misconceptions about the disease. And yes, it is a disease. Nobody willingly decides to take on an eating disorder. It is a serious psychiatric and psychological illness. It’s not something superficial and it definitely isn’t glamorous. It is a torturous addiction that takes immense strength to conquer.
After dealing with anorexia for years, and then finally overcoming it, I grew incredibly strong as a person and learned so much about the world. I would like to confess my newfound knowledge with you and break down some myths about eating disorders.
1. It is not about food, and it is not about weight. It is about control.
An eating disorder can begin with a simple diet. You start counting the calories, restricting foods, and watching the numbers drop off the scale. You feel a rush of success. You feel empowered. You feel like you are in control of your own destiny. As you control your calorie intake and your weight, you mistakenly feel like your entire life is under control and as you control your food intake, you are able to numb painful feelings and emotions. But soon, the disease starts to control you. Even though it began as a way for you to seek control, soon it becomes an obsession that you can no longer control. Eating disorders turn into real, legitimate addictions.
2. They can result from trauma.
Many eating disorders, including my case in particular, can be a result of severe trauma, beginning as a survival mechanism. For me, anorexia started as a subconscious way for my brain to cope with trauma I had previously experienced. I put all of my focus into my eating habits as an outlet for control in my life, distracting myself from the traumatic experiences. It consumed my life, but I was sickeningly comfortable with that because it was my mind’s way of surviving trauma and maintaining control and “emotional balance”.
3. They are not always vain or superficial.
When I struggled with anorexia, my main thoughts were never about how I looked. Day after day, all I thought about were the numbers: the number of calories I ate and the numbers on my scale. I was not trying to look good, and I was not trying to please a single person. In fact, I looked extremely skeletal, and in my opinion, not very attractive at all. I didn’t care about my looks. All I cared about were numbers. I obsessively wrote down every single calorie I swallowed in a journal day after day, and I would feel like a nervous wreck if I forgot to write something down. Controlling the numbers in my life was my obsessive form of control, numbing all of my painful emotions in the process.
4. It is a lonely disease.
Often times, while struggling with an eating disorder, you isolate yourself, devoting your complete focus to controlling your weight and food intake. From personal experience, I know that I neglected many friends while I was dealing with my eating disorder. Due to this isolation, anorexia can become your new best friend, but also your worst nightmare. In the eating disorder community, many call anorexia “Ana” and bulimia “Mia” as twisted human-esque nicknames, almost befriending the diseases. Sometimes, people with eating disorders feel completely numb and empty, but take comfort in knowing that they will always have their disease by their side. It sounds sickening, I know, but that is the truth behind eating disorders. They are mental illnesses, not glamorous in any shape or form.
5. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder.
Like I said before, eating disorders are mental illnesses. They are not “phases” and they are never just a “cry for attention”. Eating disorders can surface when you least expect them, slowly infiltrating your entire life. Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides, “Hey, I want to become anorexic!”
6. Recovery is possible.
Because eating disorders are serious diseases, often resembling addictions, it sometimes seems impossible to recover. When something is such a huge part of your life, sometimes you wonder how you would even survive without it. Anorexia used to consume my identity, so I honestly had no idea what I would be like once I recovered. But let me tell you, now that I have recovered, I am a much, much happier person. I can finally live my life as a free woman, liberated from the shackles of anorexia. While recovery is an uphill battle, it is definitely worth the struggle in the end. I was anorexic for two years, and recovery alone took me an entire year. I began my recovery at the low weight of 93 pounds and after one year of recovering, I weighed 135. Gaining over 40 pounds in one year is never a comfortable experience, but I knew that I had to do it for the sake of my health. My recovery had tons of ups and downs, and I probably have over 100 stretch marks to prove it. But the fact of the matter is: I’m happier now. I cannot stress enough how empowering it is to conquer such a debilitating disease, and I hope that anyone out there who is currently struggling finds the support and care needed to recover.
My before and after pictures, August 2011 to February 2012.