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What It’s Like to Have an Eating Disorder in College

Thirty million people will be affected by an eating disorder every year.

Out of 30 million, only ten percent receive treatment.

This lack of action is likely associated with the widespread misunderstanding of what an eating disorder actually is. The theme of this year’s campaign is “I Had No Idea”, referring to the confusion resulting from extremely varied versions of eating disorders.

So, what is an eating disorder? It’s any sort of emotional or behavioral reaction to food, often expressed to exert control as a manifestation of a deeper underlying problem.

Four years ago I was hospitalized for anorexia. Despite their concern for me, many of my family members and close friends did not understand. “Just eat a cheeseburger,” my dad would say, frustrated at what appeared to be pure stubbornness. “It’s not that hard.”

It was, in fact, that hard. Although I couldn’t even explain why at that time.

I would avoid social activities for fear of food being involved, instead spending hours alone in my dorm room creating a Pinterest board of extravagant meals I would cook one day once I was done being “good”. Little did I know, without any sort of intervention, that day would never come.

My disorder was unintentionally encouraged by comments from other girls: “Oh my god, you are so tiny, I’m so jealous”. I doubt they’d be jealous if they knew I woke up each morning to begin counting down every second until the next, waiting anxiously for night to come just so it could be tomorrow and I would have conquered another twenty-four hours of emptiness. I forgot that existence was not the same as life.

If you have a friend exhibiting irrational behaviors regarding food, approach her with compassion, not accusation. Start a conversation rather than firing questions and assumptions at her. She may not want help, but the earlier she gets it, the better. It could also be that she does want help but would rather be confronted by someone than admit to her struggle herself. I, personally, saw nothing wrong with my behavior until I overcame it, and it gives me chills to think where I would have been without the help of my friends and family.

If it’s not your friend, but it’s you, listen up. It’s winter and believe me, I know how cold you are.

Picture your dreams. Where do you want to go one day? What do you want to do there? You can only do these things if you are alive and healthy. Maybe you don’t think you’re worth it. Well, as my mom told me, “Imagine you are your own daughter. Take care of yourself like you would take care of her.”

It may feel like you’re losing a battle by seeking help, but in reality, by acknowledging your condition, you are beheading a nasty fire-breathing dragon and your victorious future self will thank you, for she would not exist without your decision to let her. Only you can defeat the darkest part of yourself. Make a list of everything you love: people, places, activities, memories. These are what you need to fight for. Read it whenever you begin to lose hope.

I only have knowledge from my own experience, and everyone’s is different. But I do know one thing.

This life is only beautiful if you are a part of it.

Learn more at National Eating Disorder Awareness.

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