“I have an eating disorder.”
It took me so long to be able to say these five simple words, and it’s still hard for me to say.
Three years ago, as a freshman in college, I led a secret life of unhealthy eating patterns. I would essentially starve myself for a week, eating no more than a granola bar or a handful of pretzels a day. Then I’d feel guilty and stupid, so I’d end up binge eating the next week, pigging out on whatever I could find. But then I’d feel gross, the guilt would return, and I’d spend the next week trying to make up for it by cutting back my diet to one small snack a day again.
It started a vicious cycle. But it was all perfectly justifiable in my head. I never went a full day without eating something (no matter how small it was), nor was I forcing anything back up. That’s what defines an eating disorder, right? So what I was doing was obviously no big deal. A big enough deal that I felt the need to hide it, but only because “no one would understand.”
For about six months, I let my insecurities get the best of me. The girl in the mirror wasn’t good enough – her body was flawed, her clothes didn’t fit like they used to, she wasn’t desired, and she wasn’t perfect. I felt like I was falling apart. With my emotions all over the map, I was desperate for something I could control…and I found it.
I wish I could tell you how it ended. But quite honestly, so much of that time in my life is really blurry. I just remember getting to a point where eating only three bites of food made me so full that the thought of taking another bite actually made me feel physically sick. I remember that jolting me back into the binge cycle, and for some reason I didn’t look back. I started eating consistently and stopped skipping meals. I don’t know how. I know it doesn’t make sense.
I should’ve been found out.
I should’ve been pulled kicking and screaming out of my mess.
I should’ve been forced to get help.
But I wasn’t. I walked away the same way I walked in – alone.
And from that very moment forward, I somehow shut out and repressed all memories of what went on. In my mind, those six months never happened that way. I truly believed that and completely forgot my own biggest secret.
It wasn’t until almost a year later that I hit a wall. I felt this darkness inside of me, like a cancer that had been dormant for so long and was finally showing signs. I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. All I knew was that I was bitter, angry, sad and confused…I wanted to scream and cry…but I didn’t know why.
I called Heather, hoping for some simple, uplifting words to “cure” me so I could move on. But instead she challenged me to go face-to-face with a friend, be vulnerable with someone in person instead of over the phone, and get to the real root of the problem. That was much deeper than I wanted to go, so I told her she was being ridiculous, and I decided I’d just handle it and get over it by myself.
But Heather could see through my stubbornness to a deeper issue that I didn’t understand, but clearly didn’t want to address. After a lot of pushing, arguing, challenging, and even threatening (tough love is often her greatest tactic with me), she forced me out of hiding. I reluctantly broke down with my friend Mackenzie (making it very clear, however, that I was only doing it because Heather was making me. To say I was difficult is an understatement).
It turned out to be exactly what I needed. She sat with me and patiently sorted through my mess of emotions. I don’t remember much about that conversation or how we got to this point, but somehow all of her digging brought long-suppressed memories to the surface. I just remember a wave of shock washing over me as the truth set in, and for the very first time I spoke the words, “I think I had an eating disorder.”
I dreaded admitting it to Heather. It wasn’t that I expected her to be angry or disappointed in me. But I definitely wasn’t expecting my guilt and shame to be met with more grace and love than I could have possibly imagined. She didn’t sugar-coat anything, of course, and told me the road ahead would be long, hard and painful. But she promised to walk every single step with me, and to this day she has remained by my side through it all. I can’t tell you how many fights I’ve had with her over me wanting to give up when things get hard and her refusing to let me. But her push is what I’ve needed.
Coming to terms with all of this has been hands down the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And even then I’ve still tried to hold on to some semblance of perfection by saying that I had a “borderline eating disorder” – because it wasn’t typical and I felt like I had never gone “all in,” so I still didn’t want to believe I had a real problem. I just almost had a problem.
Even now I struggle to say the words “eating disorder.” I have yet to even call it what it is – “anorexia.” Typing it out is hard enough, but that word has not yet made it past my lips. I’ve only just recently started to work on that and take another step towards healing.
As much as I want to believe that that time in my life was a phase that is completely over and I will never struggle with it again, it’s not something that just disappears. I’ve had to learn that I still have an eating disorder. Anorexia is a disease that is just as much mental as it is physical. While I may not act on the thoughts and feelings that triggered that problem three years ago, that doesn’t mean those thoughts and feelings don’t still attack me. Frequently. The lies still come. I just choose each and every day how I respond. And that is a choice I will always have to make.
Posting this for the world to see feels like I’m completely shattering the reputation I meticulously built for myself and starting all over. I’m admitting to being a liar. A fake. A fraud.
I’m admitting I’m not perfect.
But by stepping into the light and exposing this truth, I am vowing to try harder.
To choose authenticity when deception is easier to default to.
To fight for healing.
To accept that this is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me.
And to believe that my story is still being written…
…and in that, I find hope.