The motto of this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “It’s Time to Talk About It.” In honor of that credo, Sovereign Health is sharing the stories of eating disorder patients in recovery. Their words provide invaluable insight into the mindset of a person with an eating disorder as well as serve as inspiration to overcome that mindset.
In this article, Shari M. discusses what brought her to develop an eating disorder and how she achieved recovery.
Question: People with an eating disorder (ED) often obsess over food in a love/hate interplay. Many will work in the food industry or play farming and food prep games. They may also cook in large quantities for friends and family without touching the food themselves. Has this ever been true for you? Describe your train of thought and mood when preparing food or playing food apps.
Answer: I was personally deep into the throes of anorexia during my freshman year of college at American University in Washington D.C. during the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. I’d sit in my dorm for hours on end obsessively watching the Food Network: Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Cupcake Wars… There was something about watching others prepare food I’d never deem to touch that soothed me, and on the other hand, it was a way to consume the food, through the viewing, without actually eating it. I’d look at recipes I’d never make, and food menus as well because all I could think about was food.
When you’re sick, and starving your body, part of the reason you obsess over food so often is because your body is trying to remind you that it needs it in order to survive, and in order to calm those thoughts without giving in, was to read about it or watch it in order to trick your mind and stomach into being quiet.
Q: If you’ve ever had a time when loved ones brought up ED treatment, or perhaps you awoke in the hospital after a medical emergency related to eating disorder, what were your first frantic thoughts? What were your fears with an outsider “stepping in to help?”
A: I’m lucky enough that I realized something was wrong before it got so bad I ended up hospitalized, and because I was away at school and had isolated myself from my friends, they didn’t realize how bad it was until I told them I was getting help for my eating disorder.
However, when I went to the counseling center at school and was diagnosed, the therapist I saw was adamant that I should go to the Renfrew Center for treatment in Bethesda, even for just outpatient treatment because I started frantically freaking out over the prospect of leaving school. When they said that, even though I had gone in for help, I sat there thinking they were crazy because I wasn’t “sick enough” to go there.
I was afraid people wouldn’t take me seriously as an anorexic, because I didn’t see myself as being good at the disorder; I wasn’t thin enough and I thought everyone there would make fun of me for being so fat. So instead they suggested I find a therapist specialized in eating disorders and the school dietician, but even then I was very resistant, fearing that nobody would believe me because I didn’t believe I fit the bill, when in reality eating disorders are more than your weight, it’s about your disordered mindset in regards to food.
Q: Looking back, what do you recall that instigated a disordered relationship between you and food?
A: I started restricting my intake off and on when I was thirteen, which was when I became consciously aware of my body, in part, because I went from being a girl to a woman and started going through puberty.
The other reason for the start was because I was being bullied. Some person said my butt stuck out when I walked and on the other hand, my friends were not including me in activities, which continued throughout high school. I felt invisible and I thought if I was thinner than this wouldn’t have happened.
My eating disorder came about in May 2013, right before I graduated high school, and it was because of this same mindset that I went on a “diet” in order to make friends in college, which just spiraled out of control, when all I wanted was control, and I thought controlling my intake and exercise would help.
Q: Some eating disorders begin with medical conditions that require strict monitoring of personal diet. If this happened to you, please describe the medical condition, how it changed your relationship with food and the series of events that dead-ended in an eating disorder.
A: I never had my diet monitored due to an illness, but I did use my eating disorder as a way to cope with my undiagnosed anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. My anxiety made me feel like I had no control over anything, so I turned to food as a way to cope and calm my racing thoughts. As a way to cope with the empty feeling and numbness I had due to depression, the hunger gave me this type of high in that made me feel like I was on top of this world and could conquer anything that was put in front of me. Often times, eating disorders are coping mechanisms for other mental illnesses, and I think that needs to be talked about more.
Q: When you had a harmful; relationship with food, what statements by friends or family would trigger you most?
A: I’m lucky in that nothing my friends or family said ever really triggered me. It was just their difficulty to understand what I was going through that was triggering. I thought that in order to prove to them I was sick, I had to show them by refusing to eat and put up a fight and pick at my food because if I did eat they would think I was better. I think if society understood eating disorders better, more people would be willing to get the help before it was too late.
Q: As a person recovering from an eating disorder, what statements by your loved ones, quotes or reminders lift you up and keep your mind centered on nourishing your body and wellness?
A: “I love you” and” I’m here for you” are two big ones from my loved ones that helped because I felt so alone. But one of my favorite quotes is from the author of “Winnie the Pooh,” A.A. Milne who wrote, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The other one is from my friend Aubrey Nolan who runs a Tumblr blog called Aubernutter, and she always says, “Bad days build better days,” and I think that’s important to remember.
Follow this series
Sovereign Health is publishing one testimonial per weekend during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Check back tomorrow for another look inside the world’s deadliest eating disorder. You can also review the other installments of our series:
About Sovereign Health
Sovereign Health provides behavioral health treatment for eating disorders as well as other mental health disorders, substance abuse. Trauma and chronic pain. Our residential treatment facility in Rancho San Diego, California, offers an eating disorder program for adolescent girls, while our facility in San Clemente, California, treats adult women with eating disorders. Both facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission, the most respected health care accreditation institution in the United States. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.