Dancing in the Wind: Living with an Eating Disorder

 

Trigger warning: This article is highly descriptive in discussing eating disorders and disordered eating behavior, which might be triggering for people with eating pathologies or body image issues.

 

Tape measure? Check. Scale? Check. Calipers? Check. Self-restraint? Missing in action.

What is an eating disorder and how can one begin to understand it? I used to ask the same thing. An eating disorder is a psychological disorder in which the affected person has abnormal or disturbed eating patterns. There is a variety of eating disorders including binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and purging disorder.

 

Eating disorders can be hard to understand, so here is a simple way to explain some of the most common disorders. The behaviors can manifest themselves differently in different people, and it's often common for a person to have more than one or even a combination.

  • Binge eating disorder is when a person overeats during random periods and cannot stop. Usually, the person lacks a sense of control with their food and they over engorge. The behavior is often accompanied with an intense sense of shame. Normally, people with this disorder have other correlated disorders such as bulimia nervosa and/or purging disorder.
  • Bulimia nervosa is usually best conceptualized as when a person vomits post eating a large quantity of food. They normally binge eat an excessive amount and then purge themselves through behaviors like overexercising, forced vomiting or abusing laxatives. Bulimia is one of the most common eating disorders and can have negative repercussions on your organs.
  • Anorexia nervosa is when a person refrains from eating or eats very minimally. The affected person essentially starves themselves, causing the body to go into emergency shutdown and start storing the little nutrients it receives.
  • Purging disorder is when a person takes any form of a diuretic or laxative or participates in excessive exercising or vomiting in order to lose weight.

 

"Tape measure? Check. Scale? Check. Calipers? Check. Self-restraint? Missing in action."

 

Growing up I was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, which causes the afflicted person to believe that their body is misshaped or deformed. In my case, I could never see myself as thin; I would look in a mirror and see someone who was much bigger than I actually was. I’d pick at my flabby stomach and pinch at my thighs; I was truly living in my own nightmare. When I reached high school, I realized that I had to do something about my “situation,” so I developed an eating disorder. I became borderline anorexic with bulimic tendencies. My meals were highly restricted and my daily caloric intake was around 600 calories at most (the average female should intake at least 2,000 cal perday to remain healthy). If I over ate that day or went above my allowed calories, I’d purge myself until I felt there was nothing left in my stomach.   

 

"There is this sense of control that comes with having an eating disorder that is almost intoxicating."

 

Living with an eating disorder is incredibly debilitating and puts pressure on your relationships. There is this sense of control that comes with having an eating disorder that is almost intoxicating. It allows you to have power over something that once made you feel so weak and pathetic. I remember not wanting to eat out anymore because I didn’t know the calorie count or I didn’t want to throw up in a public restroom. My mom was increasingly worried and my friends didn’t know what was going on with me. It seemed like this control that I had was starting to slip from my hands.

Looking back on it, I remember how weak my body was but how powerful my mind felt. I took diet pills thinking it would shed extra pounds, only to get mad when the results weren’t instantaneous. I wouldn’t eat for long periods of time, using the excuse “oh, I’m just not that hungry,” when in reality my stomach would be gnawing at itself. What I wouldn’t give to go back and tell myself that it’s okay to eat and not to fear food.

 

"What I wouldn’t give to go back and tell myself that it’s okay to eat and not to fear food."

 

An eating disorder is just like any other mental disorder; they’re a pain in the ass and take time to heal. I never allowed myself to properly heal because I was so deep in denial. Now in my 20s, I still deal with the temptation to skip meals or purge. I think about it a little too often and wonder "how many meals can I skip before I feel sick?" This is not to say that once you have an eating disorder you always have an eating disorder; this is my own specific case and everyone experiences disordered eating differently.

 

"An eating disorder is just like any other mental disorder; they’re a pain in the ass and take time to heal."

 

I have had relapses, but I’m working hard on recovery each day. A piece of advice I once received was to take each day at a time; some you’ll win and some you’ll lose, but never stop fighting. If you or a friend is suffering from an eating disorder, I implore you to get help. Getting help or admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of strength. It takes a strong person to admit that they are in need of help and are willing to go seek it. Eating disorders are a constant battle, but with the right weapons, I believe we can win the war.

 

If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at (800) 931-2237.