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, Sloane G. talks about how she developed an eating disorder and managed to overcome it.
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 have most definitely felt “obsessed” with food, despite not eating it, or tasting it and then spitting it out. I loved to mostly control what was going into the food, if I were to eat it: make sure there isn’t too much of this or that, keeping the calorie-count low. I believed that preparing food gave me control, but also that others thought I have tried it and I would be off the “hook” for eating in front of them: “I made this. I know what it tastes like. I hope you enjoy it too.”
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: When I first went to college, I played a sport. I had struggled with my eating disorder before that and my behaviors were still prevalent, and my weight was still fairly low for my build. My coaches, parents and other staff made me sign a contract, with things being added or taken away with each “milestone.” The ultimate step was that I would have to leave the team, and the school, and go to in-patient treatment. This scared me, but it also seemed very far-fetched and something that would never happen to me.
I checked off each milestone, and ultimately, I had to go in-patient. I was so scared, but more than that, I was disappointed. More than feeling bad for myself, I felt sorry for my family, and that I let them down. I had promised I would be okay, and I failed. I felt like a giant embarrassment and this belief stalled my recovery even further.
Another time, after I had recovered in in-patient treatment, I was living away from home. My parents had a feeling something was up, so they had me move home. They were right, my weight and mindset was at an all-time low. As soon as they saw me, they took me to the hospital, where I stayed and was monitored for several days. I was dehydrated and had a low heart rate, among other things. My feelings at this time? Apathy. I didn’t care if I lived. I felt sorry and selfish that my family would have to handle it, but it would probably be better this way if I stopped causing them such trouble. My biggest wish during this time was to have independence and to have people stop worrying about me. I didn’t see the steps I had to take to achieve these things.
Now that I am healthy in mind and body, this feeling of apathy scares and saddens me the most. Because that girl could have very well let go, released the pain inflicted on everyone. And today, it empowers me to know my family did not give up on me, and either did I.
Q: Looking back, what do you recall that instigated a disordered relationship between you and food?
A: My event started in high school. I had had a fairly easy and fortunate childhood. I was good at sports, smart, and had a lot of friends. My parents are still happily married. I was a hard worker and a very happy kid. Nothing was ever “wrong,” and maybe that was my problem. A group of jealous girls began spreading rumors about me around school, calling newspapers to stop mentioning my athletic success, and writing anonymous comments on national sport website forums… all discrediting my talents and successes and personally bashing me. No one was there for me. I couldn’t talk to anyone anymore because, well, literally no one would. I went from being friends with every type of “clique” to friends with no one. I ate my lunch in the bathroom and spent my free time in the library with my head down. I came home from school and napped so I wouldn’t have to deal with my new reality of loneliness and isolation… because I didn’t know how.
I felt ill-equipped with handling adversity in my personal (and every other aspect of my) life. My family was not the kind who talked about our feelings, because they were generally happy- what else did you talk about? So, because I couldn’t do anything else about it, and I didn’t trust anyone anymore, I internalized the situation. And when it didn’t go away, I began becoming more independent, more on my own, controlling my own “stuff.”
Yes, control was my issue. The decision to make it about food… well, I’m not sure how that happened. I do know that many food events are social. My parents saw that I had become depressed, and I usually liked going out to eat. I no longer wanted to do anything with anyone, including going to eat. I felt like I should punish myself for being disliked. I didn’t want to be social in fear of more people seeing me and then talking bad about me. There were social factors for me involved with my very conscious decision not to eat.
Instead, I exercised when others would be going to parties or having friends over. I became obsessed with the feeling it gave me, filled with numbness and endorphins at the same time. I was addicted. Then when I was getting positive feedback on how it was affecting my body, I became even more hyper-aware of what I was eating. “Why am I working so hard if my eating is standing in my way of looking (and feeling) slim?”
“I can’t eat that, it’s too ‘this’ or ‘that.’” Labels of good and bad. Restricting food and turning down food-based social opportunities both kept me in my disorder and by myself. It became an obsession I couldn’t get out of.
Q: When you had a harmful; relationship with food, what statements by friends or family would trigger you most?
A: I, like many eating disordered people I have known, am stubborn. Stubborn to do it, stubborn not to. Knowing this now, triggering comments to me were the ones that told me what to do. It made me want to do the opposite, in spite of them. “Don’t tell me what to do or not do” is still one of my themes, but I also learned to be stubborn for my own health and my life. Now, I’ll turn it into, “Watch me live when you thought I’d wallow and die.”
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: My mom used to (and still does!) give me affirmations and positive notes. But the word that became ours is “Believe.” That’s all she had to write, or say, and I knew someone believed in me, even when I didn’t. To this day, it is reassuring in all aspects of my life. But to think back to my critical days of recovery, to know someone was next to me and believed in me, always, was crucial. It meant I wasn’t alone.
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.