Living with an eating disorder is not a fad or a phase someone goes through. It’s not for attention. It’s not what someone does to “lose a couple pounds.” When a person becomes diagnosed with an eating disorder, they have completely lost control.
I never saw myself here, you know. Twenty-three years old and struggling with anorexia, bulimia, anxiety, and depression. I had high hopes for myself. I was always super healthy, liked to work out, thoroughly enjoyed food and life. Then, the disorder took over. Before I knew it, I was living with an eating disorder.
It starts out as a control thing. When everything is spinning out of control in your life, food is what most eating disorder survivors say was the easiest to control. We didn’t plan to go days on end without eating or to end up throwing up after every meal, scarring our knuckles, and ruining our teeth. Of course not. That is the scary part.
It starts as a control mechanism in the chaos of everyday life. Then one day, it ends up controlling you. It defines you. It takes over. Yes, it takes over every thought, every day, every plan, every conversation. I could be in the middle of an intriguing conversation, but at some point the wheel of “I am so fat, ugly, gross, need to be thin” etc., starts to play and I get so distracted by that, I forget what I was talking about.
All I can really think about is how consumed I’ve become. It seems to be such a minor body image issue that a little bit of self-love can cure. But it is so much deeper than that.
Living with an eating disorder goes deeper than body image
It is the feeling of being unworthy around others. Feeling not good enough and having no purpose. And it is feeling as though being thin, even if you’re sick, will allow you to finally be worthy. Worthy of what, though? It is not an attention thing. I hate being the center of attention. I hate talking in front of crowds. It is just not my thing. I’m shy, quiet, meek, and chill. But it is as if this eating disorder is pulling me even lower, making me even smaller, making me feeling less and less worthy every single day.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what living with an eating disorder is really like, here’s what it’s like for me…
A day in the life when living with an eating disorder…
My experience of almost 9 years with an eating disorder has been like living on a roller coaster that never ends. It’s a continuous series of ups and downs, and I never knew when to stop or how to get off. It’s a constant feeling of not being in control of your thoughts or the voices in your head. Anorexia means fearing the one thing you need to survive – food.
For me, food is the enemy.
It’s constantly wanting to be better, but struggling to find the willpower to do so. Eating disorders are wanting to be able to eat and not think about it.
You turn down invites to go out to eat with friends because you’re worried about calories, but desperately wish you could go. It’s wanting to be normal and healthy, but the voice is so ingrained in your head that this way of living has become your normal.
There is a constant thought of “fight the hunger” going through your head. And numbers. Oh, the numbers. The calories. The number on the scale. How much you need to lose. How much you have gained. The numbers just keep going around in your head like a broken record or a hamster on a wheel.
An eating disorder makes you constantly think you need to lose weight in order to be good enough or worthy.
You calculate your worth and attach it to a stupid number on a scale, not knowing how to retrain your brain to think otherwise. It’s wanting to shrink yourself so small you essentially become nonexistent.
You just want to sleep, because when you’re sleeping, you don’t have to think. You don’t have to think about the numbers or food or your weight. Sleep is the only time you really ever have peace now.
And don’t forget about the constant fear. Most people have common fears like spiders and snakes. And while I have those, food comes first.
Imagine having to face your worst fear every single day, multiple times a day, wherever you go. That’s what life is like for a person with anorexia.
Food is everywhere. You see it on grocery aisle, driving around town, at work, at social events, during the holidays, etc. Food is central to our lives. Now imagine instead of food, it’s your worst fear, whatever that may be. That might just might give you a glimpse into the world of a person with anorexia.
“So, are you like all the girls with eating disorders I see on TV?”
No I am not emaciated. I’ve never had a feeding tube. I’ve never passed out. I’m not even underweight.
But I’ve been so tired I literally have no energy to hang out with friends or see family. And I consistently shake.
Anorexia is not always the girl weighing 90 pounds with a feeding tube inserted. You never know who is fighting what battle.
So watch what you say.
How can you help?
Trying to put into words what it is like to battle your mind every second of everyday seems next to impossible.
People think recovery is so easy. “Why don’t you just eat?” After hearing that so many times, I start to wonder… well why don’t I? That seems like the simple solution to the problem, right? Just eat and then you’ll be fine. It will all go back to normal. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Eating disorders are truly a mental illness. My eating disorder is my addiction. It is my demon.
You might not understand it. And that’s okay. Ask questions. Be sincere. Don’t belittle my illness or act condescending. Don’t tell me things I already know (like what it’s doing to my body, my family, my life). Just help me find a solution. Help me fight this battle.
Because those of us with eating disorders think we are alone in the fight. We need to know people are on OUR side of the field.
Living in the cycle of an eating disorder
I’ve googled solutions and recovery options. I’ve googled treatment centers, meal plans, ideas to help kick start recovering from this demon. But when it comes to the challenge of starting the day, when it comes to making a move, I don’t.
Why? Fear. That’s what keeps me on this cycle.
Fear. Loneliness. Unworthy. If you asked me to say things I like about myself, it would take me a lot of time to come up with just one. There is not one thing about me that I truly just love. There are things people tell me I am, or have, or this and that, but in my heart, not one. Not one thing that I just truly love and am proud of.
Hope for tomorrow
But this demon, this eating disorder hasn’t won yet. I’m still alive, even if I’m not truly living. Her goal is to kill me. And I know if I continue down the path, it will happen.
But I’m not going to let it. I’m going to fight for my life.
It’s time to face the fear.
According to the current DSM, a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa actually requires a low body weight. Therefore, if you are not underweight, by definition, you cannot have Anorexia Nervosa (although your experiences definitely show that you have an eating disorder, but there are many).
Wow. This was so raw and so powerful, and I could relate. This is a fantastic article for friends and family who do not understand. Fight harder than ever, my dear. I’m right here with you!
Sort of a triggering article for a recovery website with numbers, behaviours, etc…
The current diagnosistic criteria for anorexia nervous is actually quite problematic and is extremely influenced by diet culture. Food Psych podcast explains “atypical anorexia nervous” and the issues with the diagnosistic criteria for “anorexia nervous” on Food Psych episode #178: The Truth About High Weight Anorexia Nervosa. https://christyharrison.com/all-episodes/
Atypical anorexia is included in the DSM-5, which is having all the symptoms except low body weight. It is found under the subtype of Other Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED).
Wow this is the most insensitive response I have ever read!
Thanks for sharing I’m a survivor currently supporting my own child with binge purge anorexia. My heart breaks that I can’t fix my baby.
Thanks a lot for this writing ❤️ For a while I finally felt angry on all this words to me :”why you don’t just eat?!”
I am with you as tou was with me with this words.