I Have an Eating Disorder
I started this blog to talk about my struggle with an eating disorder, but it has taken me so long to come to terms with that diagnosis. I still worry that an eating disorder is not really what I deal with (“it’s not that bad,” I tell myself). Because that would leave me with this obsession/preoccupation with food and confusion about what it is or what it means. The missing label would make it more confusing and difficult to own what I’m struggling with. It’s as if the label allows me to move forward and recover.
But it’s also terrifying to have this diagnosis next to my name.
Owning Up to the Diagnosis
I have gone through denial and back-and-forth internal dialogue for so long. I’m trying to understand my thoughts, actions, and feelings around food. It wasn’t until now that I told myself this is real: I have an eating disorder.
I know “eating disorder” is all over this website. I have admitted to an eating disorder for some time now. But it has taken me months to own up to it. I began to notice how shy and tentative I was about bringing it up with friends and family. And when anyone I meet asks me what my book will be about, and I start talking about how it details experiences in college with racing and learning about myself. I’m constantly skirting around the big “eating disorder” phrase or topic.
Strength in Speaking Up
Even when I first started this blog I felt nervous to post about it on my Facebook page. I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to make people feel bad for me. But I realized recently how feeling shy and tentative about the eating disorder makes me powerless to it. Many of us who struggle with food see the topic of eating as shameful and difficult to bring up. I couldn’t even say the word “calories” out loud in my anorexia stage. But we DO need to talk. And I know I am fine talking about it now once we get the conversation rolling.
Yes, I have an eating disorder. It’s a struggle. I am continually healing and growing. I have made good use out of the life lessons the eating disorder has given me and will continue to use it to help others as well as to help myself.
So I guess this final statement is directed toward the people who know me personally: I am open to you asking me about the eating disorder. I am willing to answer questions and tell you about the struggle. I probably need to talk about it out loud.
I have an eating disorder.
Rachel, I understand your feelings about your eating disorder. Coming to terms with autism, depression, Tourette’s Syndrome, and ADD have been a challenge for me, too. But I’m proud of it. They are what make me who I am. They are what make me me. It was hard at first, but I managed to do it. I congratulate you for owning up to it and admitting to it. I think it’s awesome, and I wish you well in all that you do!
Hey Jusin, thanks for your comment! And thank you for sharing your experience, too. :)
Rachel, kudos to you for speaking out about your disorder. What an inspiration youll be (and probably already are) to women (and men) all around you, young and old.
This is your mother and I am so happy to read this post. Even though you publicly “admitted” to your eating disorder with your blog years ago, you would seem to cringe when I brought it up and called it how I saw it. I am probably one of the most blunt and forthright people in your life and will blab whatever is in my head without realizing that even though people (you) are willing to make things public they (you) may still be shy or reticent about them. I always feel bald-face honesty is best though that is not true in every case. But you are embarking on a journey with this book that will make it absolutely necessary to face this with your own brand of bluntness and I am glad to hear how ready you are.
Once again, Rachael, I find myself nodding in awe at how perfect you capture things. I cannot disagree that the word ‘Calorie’ is like taking a sip of a toxic poisonous drink. As a female, who is constantly see how healthy I can be, how can I cut back on my calories, and how much more so I need to run to shave off those m&m’s I had earlier– I have nothing but genuine admiration for you gracefully out yourself and your problem (and how you continue to do it). It takes an inner courage to be able to look yourself in the eye and say I have a problem, but it takes an astonishing amount of power to admit it to others. Your blogs have a theme of control, and yes I know eating disorders deal with a psychological issue of control, but your power to address this issue, even reach out to others who suffer from this same issue is the most amazing control you can have.
You speak of your progress, even proclaim that we, your audience, should ask you about your eating disorder. Well, in previous blogs you speak of this craze over foods, and healthy foods: has this health nut craziness died down a little bit or do you think that this is something that you may carry with yourself forever?
I guess what I’m getting at is, do you see a contentious progress with your control over your health nut sense of control?
Hi Ryanne, thanks for your comment!
The health nut craziness has definitely died down a bit, but it has been such a SLOW, gradual process. For some reason it just takes a long time for my mind to rationalize through what I eat and relinquish the need for control. I have a feeling I may always carry a bit of the crazed feeling toward food but I have noticed things getting better over the years.
I think you are so brave to admit this. I know so many people in my life who are struggling or have struggled with eating disorders. Some of them are still unable to admit it. I also have a blog in which I talk about my dealings with anxiety, but some days I still have issues talking about it and will post something random instead. You are an incredible, brave, beautiful human being and never let this get you down. I can see you are starting to come to terms with it, and you are stronger than it.
On a completely different note, I love how you kept repeating the main phrase from beginning to end. It really reinforces the idea and also shows how you are coming to terms with it. Great job.
I have a questions–at what point does an unhealthy relationship with food, like counting calories, develop into an eating disorder? Or, more like, at what point is it necessary to label oneself with an eating disorder?
One of my favorite lines from this piece is, “It wasn’t until now that I realized that only when I admit my demons will I completely release them.” I like how you personify your demons to prove that they can be overcome. This contributes to the message of the piece: everyone struggles in some form, and only through acceptance and hard work will these demons truly be let go.
Writing about an eating disorder could alienate potential viewers, but the way you communicate your success in such a positive way engages readers of all backgrounds. You allow your readers to see the dark side of eating disorders despite any feelings of shame or embarrassment you possess. The media often shames people who admit their struggles, causing many people to not seek out help. Your blog is refreshing and honest, and I admire that you’re willing to be vulnerable to help others.
Hi Katy! That’s a good question–and one I’ve had to ask myself over and over these past few years. The best way to answer it for myself, at least, is to compare myself now to how I looked at food as a child. I ate when I felt hungry and stopped when I felt full and didn’t think about food again until I felt hungry later.
And I definitely didn’t count calories.
At it’s worst, with an eating disorder I thought about food constantly. I worried about what kinds of food I ate and when, and I obsessively counted calories. If I ate too many calories I felt guilty, and if I ate too few I still “had” to make myself go to bed hungry in order to keep away the guilt.
On the other hand, there are just some people who count calories to learn more about food and health to lose weight, and this is healthy enough if you just do it up to a week or so just to have more awareness. However for those people more prone to eating disorders, this can lead to an eating disorder if they continue with counting to the point of obsession.
There is no distinct line you cross from a healthy relationship with food to a bad one, and that’s what makes it tough to see if you have an eating disorder or not. Often, it’s very gradual. I think that’s why many people who have eating disorders are in denial (like I was) because you seemingly make just little changes over time that eventually become drastically unhealthy and life-consuming.
I hope this helps!
A turning point I noticed with Rachael, as her mother, is when she told me in her high school senior year she saw 123# on the scale her reaction was Yay! Yes! This is awesome and I win this battle with weight; and then entering her freshman year in college she saw 123# on the scale and her reaction was Oh my word! I am too heavy! I need to seriously lose weight. A radically different reaction to the same number. I knew she was recovering when she looked back at pictures of her younger self and realized she was not heavy or overweight in the least and in fact was quite (too) thin. She could finally “see” herself without the ED goggles on.
I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your blog and how much your story resonates with me. I think its so interesting in your case that your mom was so blunt, and that you were telling her everything was fine. In my case even at my sickest my mom (who dearly loves me) remained fairly silent, maybe occasionally encouraging me to have an extra apple. And when I told her I was drowning in my anorexia she would still tell me I just needed to stop thinking about it so much and that things weren’t as bad as I made them out to be. I also have heard other people say they didn’t feel sick enough but I promise you I never did, not at a normal weight or at emaciated or anywhere in between, and yet while my brain was (and often remains) stuck in anorexia I remained equally miserable across the spectrum.
Oh, and to the previous comments using the phrases “health nut”: also ironic, we should probably come up with a less endearing phrase for what this often really means. Neurotic food obsessionality maybe? People called me ‘health nut’ at various times but those who know me know my fixations were quite disordered and not at all healthy. It sounds like that may have been the case with you too.
Anyway kudos to you for your courage and just a terrific little blog.
Oh Cheryl, I am so saddened by your struggles but see that you are facing and dealing and being honest with yourself. That is so important. I tend to be a very blunt person, but I had to research a lot of things I didn’t want to even know about in order to understand just a little bit of what Rachael would need and how I could be a support for her. We have grown a lot together through this. I am not her first line of defense or her first ear as she has some really wonderful friends, both my age and hers, who have helped her through many tough times. I am certain my bluntness gets in the way occasionally, but Rachael and I have learned to forgive each other our humanness, and count on our love for each other to get us through misunderstandings. I hope you and your mom are learning how to deal with each other in such a way. Of course she loves you and it was so good to read that you recognize that! It is wonderful to keep those communication lines open. Tell her what you need, tell her what to read, and I am sure she will make a great effort to understand.
Thank you for your reply Tamara. Unfortunately I have given her so much to read, taken her to therapy with me, even had her in sessions with me during times I was in hospitals, and she just hasn’t engaged. I have let it go for the most part but every once and a while the bitterness comes back up and I have to remind myself she does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. Deep down I know she does love me and I love her so much. She supports me in other ways but she is just not capable of acknowledging this (a ‘mental illness’ is something for ‘other people;’ and there is such a thing as ‘eating too little’ or ‘exercising too much’ and a lady must exert her ‘willpower’ around food and exercise and such; these ideas run deep in my family). I think largely due to how she grew up, and how she has lived her life. I also have other people in my life I can turn to and have learned to do so. Anyway thank you again for your reply. I really do think your daughter is doing a courageous thing with this blog and you are both helping people with your candor.
Ah, the difficulty of that ingrained upbringing. It is sad she is finding it so hard to see things your way. I guess that part is her struggle. You sound so strong and sensible and you are learning to care for yourself well. Ultimately, it is up to you, and you find yourself capable of self-rescue – with support from me, Rachael, or anyone else who reaches out. It is wonderful you can accept your mom and the relationship with her for what it can be and for the love you can offer each other. Never give up on yourself. Your pain and your condition are real and you do have others to help you. I’ll be thinking of you and willing you to cope well.
Acceptance is the first step towards recovery- you may have already recognized your eating disorder and taken important steps forward, but this moment of honest reflection and declaration is just as important. I wish you luck in your future endeavors!
“But I realized recently how feeling shy and tentative about the eating disorder makes me powerless to it.”
This line is so powerful for me. The idea that not admitting to my struggles or bravely answering peoples’ questions have left me weak to my issues. Just recently I gave begun to try therapy for the third time. I am notorious for quitting everything I have ever tried for my anxiety disorder, but I got to a point this summer that I realized I didn’t deserve to live like this anymore. Anyways, just last Friday as I am about to walk out the door for therapy my roommate stops me and simply asks where I am going. I pause. I begin to enter the world of “cycling thoughts”. I kept asking myself what I should say and then it dawned on me…how about the truth? I timidly replied therapy and kept walking to my car.
In those moments of being directly confronted with what is going on in your life can be extremely daunting. Even though I have been discussing my anxiety with friends and family for over 6 years now, I still cringe at confronting it. Hopefully one day my heart will not race when I tell (or type) about my personal experiences with mental illness, but for now I will just keep remembering to speak. :)
Thanks again for the wonderful insight. It really helps.
Mariah! I totally had an experience similar to yours when I went to an eating disorder group meeting last Monday. I came to school and one of my friends asked what my meeting had been for, and I paused. In the past I would have lied or skirted around the subject, but this time I just owned it. Just as if we had a physical injury and had to go to the hospital to get it fixed, a mental injury should be treated no differently. I didn’t have to be ashamed about it. Yes, I was at therapy! And that was okay.
I’m glad you felt you were able to admit that to your roommate, too. It’s powerful owning a part of you like that, because it helps everyone else to be more open, too.
Owning up to our own demons is hard enough without attempting to write a blog about them. It’s important to know, however, that coming to terms with something like an eating disorder isn’t something that happens once – it’s a battle every day – and it’s inspiring to see you fighting.