Starting Treatment

Making the decision to get help for my eating disorder may have been one of the toughest decisions I have had to make in my recovery journey. I had experienced years of on and off restricting and “healthy” eating. Exercise had slowly worked its way up to a major, controlling aspect of my life. It had all happened so gradually, that all my thoughts and behaviors had seemed normal at the time. It’s normal to diet and its normal to hate our bodies…I let this belief become a reason to isolate and cut myself off from the treatment available to me.

There are always going to be those people who are consistently on the latest diet or juice cleanse. And yes, people may joke about their chubby face or thunder thighs now and then. But not all of them spend hours body checking and crying in front of the mirror. Not all of them feel their self worth and value plummet when eating an “unhealthy” food. That is because not all of them have an eating disorder.

It took time for me to reach out for help. I took several eating disorder questionnaires online to deem my problem valid or not. However, even if the results indicated that I may have an eating disorder, I ignored and minimized the results by telling myself that everyone my age dealt with the same issues. There were times where I felt so miserable and thought I was crazy for letting something as vain as physical appearance affect me so much. After countless nights crying about the reflection I saw in the mirror and overwhelming moments of guilt after eating, I knew I needed help.

After accepting that I needed help, the problem came of finding a way to receive support. My parents knew very well of my eating habits, and they never sent me to treatment. I thought this was because I was too fat. Later on I learned that my parents were painfully afraid for my health, but were too afraid to confront the issue since they were struggling with their own feelings of denial. The only other way I knew I could get help is if my doctor recognized the issue. I knew I had an annual check up appointment coming up, and figured that if I truly had a problem, she would address it. Before that could happen, my eating disorder voice took over. It made me lose more and more weight, before I could really feel validated enough to ask for help. There were several cancelled doctors appointments because of the fear that I was too fat to have a problem. It was finally after needing to go into the doctors for a school sports physical signature, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

My doctor asked me how I was doing and I responded with “fine”. She told me that I must not be fine if my weight had plummeted so dramatically. My heart was pounding. I was scared. She asked me what my goal weight was and questioned me about my eating habits. I left her office with an appointment scheduled for two days later at an eating disorder specialty clinic. I cried for hours and told my mom that my doctor was wrong. But inside, I felt a slight sense of relief. I was no longer a slave to my eating disorder. There was another way. I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I knew that anything was better than the mental turmoil I was facing at the moment.

Looking back at it now, there are not words that can describe the pride I have in myself for stepping into that first appointment with an eating disorder specialist. That is where my recovery journey truly began. There have definitely been several ups and downs since then, but overall, things have gotten better. I slowly learned how to cope with those feelings of guilt I experience so intensely. I no longer believe that peace is only possible at death. I have faith that I can learn to love and accept myself the way I am. I experience relapses, just like anyone else in recovery. But I pick myself back up, and strive towards a life free of eating disorder thoughts. Eating disorders are fatal, terrifying mental illnesses that I would not wish upon anyone. My heart goes out to all the victims struggling, including myself. Fortunately, there IS a cure. There IS treatment. There IS support out there, and letting your guard down to accept help may be one of the scariest, yet most wonderful things you can do for yourself.

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So You Think You Want an Eating Disorder?

In the last thirty years, the number of middle school girls skipping lunch is nine times higher than it used to be! As shocking as this is, unfortunately it is somewhat understandable with current media. Eating disorders, which are a mental illness, are glamorized for only one of the many side effects they entail: weight loss. What seems to be disregarded are the countless other physical, as well as mental effects an eating disorder can have on its victim and their loved ones. Listed here are some grueling of the tolls an eating disorder has had on my life, which of some others may be able to identify with.

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Family: When struggling with an eating disorder, weight and food comes before all, even before family. I sat at home re-watching the same episodes of Friends instead of going out to eat with my parents. I ran upstairs to my room to look at more thinspo pictures in place of enjoying cake on my little brother’s birthday. I decided to go to the gym to burn more calories rather than going shopping with my grandma. All these precious moments I could have spent with family were wasted away by the preoccupation of one day, attaining the unattainable ideal body.

School: As smart, intelligent or determined as you are, school can’t happen if you’re in the depths of an eating disorder. I was a straight A student when I had to drop out of school to receive treatment. With no fuel for my brain, even reading the smallest article or writing the easiest paper became a major challenge. I began to be overwhelmed with the idea of calories, weight, exercise and body image. There were even a few times when I had to walk out of my class because the idea of being so huge brought me to tears.

Nightmares: Waking up in the middle of the night, being deathly afraid of having gained several pounds is no pleasant way to be awoken. When restricting or struggling intensely with body image, I have had repeated dreams of feeling so miserable and hating myself as a result of eating too much. The human body doesn’t like to be left starving. Your stomach will growl the entire night hoping you’ll get the hint to get up and eat. It’s eight hours of sleep per night that’s recommended, but you’ll be lucky if you get three.

Fatigue: Whether it be restricting, binging or purging, these behaviors leave you exhausted, both mentally and physically in the end. I personally struggled with mainly restricting during the depths of my eating disorder. Living life takes energy, and energy comes from food! You can forget about hanging out with friends and going out every night, because laying in bed will probably be the only thing that sounds good.

There is a large genetic component to the onset of eating disorders, however, most of society does not seem to understand that quite yet. Furthermore, many people do not even know what eating disorders are! Anorexia is a disease, not an adjective. Being “anorexic” is not a phase or a look; it is a serious mental illness. Eating disorders can happen to anyone, regardless of size, weight or gender. It can be a torturous and deadly mental state, and in no way is it beautiful.

In Loving Memory

Treatment friends are like no other. When I say they understand, I mean they REALLY understand. They understand the illogical thoughts racing through your mind, because they have the same thoughts. They relate to your feelings of guilt, pressure and self-hate, because they experience the same feelings. And most importantly, they understand the difficulty in striving for recovery, because they are fighting the same battle.

Today I attended the funeral of a fellow peer. Anorexia took her life.

Words cannot explain the heart wrench I feel. When first hearing about her passing, I began to question, why is it that only some people recover? Why can’t everyone experience a fully recovered life? The answer is that recovery from an eating disorder is tough. It takes so much self-hate and despair to starve, purge or engage in any other eating disorder behavior. Having said that, it takes twice as much self compassion, courage and hope to overcome these feelings.

Choosing to seek treatment is a huge step in recovery that takes a tremendous amount of bravery. However, this is purely the beginning of a lifelong journey. Why is it that these individuals must keep their admirable decision to battle a mental illness a secret? Far too many people in our society glamorize eating disorders and do not understand just how life threatening the disorders are. If they could have witnessed the beautiful life taken today, along with the countless others taken each year, they would understand that eating disorders are far much more than an”extended diet” or an attention seeking behavior. Recovery is tough and is not as simple as “just eating”. If recovery was so easy, then we would not be needing to attend the funerals of those who lose the battle.

Precious lives are ended prematurely and I can no longer sit back and watch without putting up a fight. I will be conducting an Eating Disorder Awareness Day on my university campus next week and hope to continue organizing more events to normalize mental health topics. A simple flyer or poster about body image or the effects of low self-esteem can make a difference. I have included links that provide ideas to get involved for the upcoming week of awareness. I hope you will consider taking action, because you hold more power than you believe!

 

http://nedawareness.org

http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/awareness-campaigns/eating-disorders-awareness-week

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

Recovered vs Recovering

I feel like I have heard this topic come up several times, especially while in treatment. Is there such a thing as being “fully recovered” from an eating disorder or is it something that never truly goes away?

This is such a loaded, debatable question, and I believe that it’s really up to personal interpretation. For me, the eating disorder voice in my head has significantly quieted down and there is no longer such a large internal battle when sitting down to eat a meal or when catching a reflection of myself. Doing the right thing, in terms of nourishing and taking care of myself, comes more naturally. However, what has not become natural yet, are the small choices I make in life to ensure that my needs and wants are met first. I still have to constantly dispute negative core beliefs by telling myself that I am worth the help others give and and that I do not need to pursue perfection in order to be deserving. There may be eating disorder thoughts and urges that come up in my future, but the hope is that they are less frequent and not as all-consuming.

In recovery or not, there are always ways to continue growing and thriving in life. Gaining awareness of actions & emotions is the key to balance… and it is not only something people struggling with eating disorders do! The path to self-awareness allows us to live to our greatest, personal potential in the present moment and it is a tool that becomes stronger with practice. You could call it recovery, or you could simply call it living 🙂

 

A Martyr to Pleasing Others

The concept of pleasing others played a huge role in my treatment & recovery, but also in my relapse. From one treatment program to another, the inner fire initially motivating me was the hope of making my treatment team proud. Did I want to go to treatment? No, but that would make my parents so proud. Did I want to follow my meal plan? Definitely not, but  my dietician would be happy. Did I truly want to fight my eating disorder? Not really, but I’m pretty sure that’s what my therapist wanted.

All these crucial steps in recovery, I was missing out on. It was only when I gave up on trying to please others and accepted the idea of “failing” at recovery, my progress truly began. Listening to my inner voice and not attempting to do recovery perfectly, helped me realize what it was I wanted in life. Even though it took some time, and it took hitting rock bottom, I came to the conclusion that I, for myself, did not want to live life dictated by my eating disorder. I became more motivated that ever to do exactly the opposite of what my eating disorder wanted me to do.

Throughout these past few months of treatment, not only have I realized that recovery doesn’t come from pleasing your treatment team, but I have also learned that passion and joy doesn’t come from pleasing everyone else around you. No matter how much joy you think you get from helping others, try helping yourself for a change! Find your passions and do what you want to do! Your life is YOUR life, and I personally believe that there’s not enough time to waste on making sure everyone else is happy.

 

 

But Isn’t Perfectionism Good?

Growing up, society praised me for being an over achieving, motivated & determined student. In my mind, that meant perfectionism equals good. But why is it then, that I hear my therapists saying the exact opposite?5551828_a-e1512784138308.png

The first downside to being a perfectionist, is that there’s no room for mistakes. But surprisingly, life is FILLED with mistakes! Experiencing failure gives us the opportunity to grow and learn. Instead of getting hung up on mistakes, and giving up COMPLETELY, we have the ability to thrive and do things different the next time.

The irony with perfectionism, is that “perfect” rarely comes. Even if you do astonishingly well on a test,  trust me, there’ll always be something you could have done a little better on. Same goes in regard to a “goal weight”. That perfect weight will never arrive. I fell into that trap several times, thinking that maybe losing X lbs will do the trick and I will finally be truly content. Thinking back on it, there are moments when I get purely raged by the idea that I allowed ED to fool me. However, I do not regret any of my actions at the time. Everything happens for a reason and I believe that I had to suffer and hit rock bottom before I genuinely understood that “perfect” does not exist….at least in my new vocabulary it doesn’t!

A balance to everything is crucial. For people struggling with eating disorders, sometimes that balance is thrown off. The same goes with perfectionism. Having perfectionistic tendencies is not a bad thing! But too much of it is not healthy either.

There is a difference between striving for excellence and the pursuit of perfection. Leading a value based life in way of excellence was my key to straying away from a perfectionist life. That doesn’t mean that I don’t “try hard” or that I fail at all things. It means that I enjoy the process of simply being, regardless of the outcome. Instead of setting unrealistically high standards for myself, I enjoy the ups and downs of life and allow it to take me to the unknown.