What No One Tells You About Struggling With An Eating Disorder
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What No One Tells You About Struggling With An Eating Disorder

A look into the more inconspicuous realities of having an eating disorder

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This article discusses topics such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, diet/food/exercise, and other potentially triggering subjects.If you feel you are easily affected by this material, I advise continuing with discretion.

I remember the first time I made myself throw-up. It was something I had thought about doing for a while. When I was hunched over the toilet, in my head imagining the number of calories exiting my body, I was filled with a feeling of catharsis and satisfaction, followed by an almost instant wave of shame and fear. "What have I just done?" "What does this mean?" All at once, I felt diseased.

I told my best friend that day, thinking that if at least someone knew what was going on, it wouldn't get so out of hand. In my mind it was just a fluke, a moment of weakness; at least I hoped this was the case. It was not, however, and as things progressed, I found myself growing more reluctant to address the situation and increasingly set on convincing everyone, including myself, that things were fine.

Eating disorders are so much more than the documentaries they had us watch in middle school health class. They are defined not just by food and a number on the scale, but by the physical bodily turmoil, overpowering thoughts of self-deprecation, and constant emotional distress that come to consume your life. For many, they develop out of a desire to attain a certain standard of beauty, to become what the general population has deemed "pretty". However, the reality is anything but.

This is the ugly truth about struggling with food, the things that no one tells you.

No one tells you there are times you feel like what you're going through is not valid. No one talks about the pain of knowing you are sick, but still feeling as though you're not sick enough. In school, we more or less only learned about anorexia and bulimia, with some mention of binge eating. There was very little education on things like abuse of laxatives, diet pills, chew-and-spit, or orthorexia. In a lot of ways, it was seemed like if you weren't starving yourself or throwing up after every meal, then you didn't have an eating disorder.

This was something I really struggled with. I knew that I was having disordered thoughts and was taking part in disordered behaviors, but because my habits didn't always fit into the categories outlined in mainstream-media, I felt as though my struggles didn't count, preventing me from getting help sooner. In reality, eating disorders are very fluid. They can encompass symptoms from multiple defined EDs and often change and develop over time. In fact, the NEDA lists UFED or unspecified feeding or eating disorder as a type of ED for those who do not fall into traditional categories.

Additionally, there is the notion that if you're not unhealthily skinny or losing weight rapidly, then you couldn't possibly have an eating disorder; this too is far from the truth. In regards to body composition, an ED can manifest itself in an infinite number of ways. There is no weight cut-off when it comes to having an eating disorder; those struggling can fall at any point on the spectrum of body types. That being said, the fact this isn't often talked about leaves many of us with ambiguous eating disorders to question the validity of our struggles, something that can be both mentally taxing and extremely dangerous. But no one tells you about that.

No one tells you how it affects the social events you used to not think twice about. No one realizes that while struggling with an ED, a situation like Thanksgiving dinner or a graduation party suddenly becomes your worst nightmare. Not only are you expected to eat, but you are expected to eat food you had no control over the preparation of. The ambiguity of calories puts a pit in your stomach, and even worse, people are watching.

Prior to my ED, I was never one to feel embarrassed about eating in front of others. However, with the development of extreme body dysmorphia, it became something I dreaded. With every bite, I swore I could hear the thoughts of those around me.

"I can't believe how much she's eating when she looks like that."

"Shouldn't she be on a diet or something?"

"Wow, going back for seconds?"

All extremely delusional but nonetheless debilitating thoughts that came to overshadow any positive aspects of a social gathering like such. The reality of an eating disorder is the dissipation of happiness from the things you once enjoyed, the things everyone else takes for granted. But no one tells you about that either.

No one tells you about the way your body will start to turn on you, taking place far before you get to a critical state. It wasn't long after I stopped eating that my head began to pound with every step I took. Then came the dizziness, dizziness that would cause me to black out if I stood up too quickly.

After a while, I lost my period, on some occasions for months at a time. There was an overall aura of weakness that followed me when things were at their worst. In a lot of ways, I felt like a zombie, walking around but dead on the inside. Struggling with an eating disorder means you're always tired but can never sleep, always hungry but refuse to eat, and soon enough you feel nothing at all.

It is not fun, feeling like you're wasting away. All the pounds shed don't even come close to outweighing the feeling of being so powerless in your own body. But no one tells you that.

No one tells you how hard it is to maintain healthy relationships when you are hiding such a huge part of your life. Lying to your dad about having already eaten a big lunch, telling your best friend you're just tired from staying up late, all these deceptions cause you to feel so isolated, even from those you care about most.

Additionally, increased irritability makes you that much more likely to snap on the people around you. For me, there were many times when fights would arise just because someone else was handling my food. I blew up at my mother once for using oil to cook my vegetables. All she saw was food, but all I could see was my biggest fear and worst enemy: calories. It's during the struggles of an eating disorder that we need those we care about the most; however, what many don't realize is it's often that during these times that we feel most alone.

No one tells you never get a break; it's a common misconception that an eating disorder only exists when it comes time to eat. For me personally, the effects of my ED in the absence of food took a more substantial mental toll than when my it was manifesting physically during meals. As hard as I prayed for some relief, I could not escape the constant thoughts surrounding food, weight, and body image.

"How many calories have I eaten today?"

"When can I eat next?"

"Are the bathrooms at this restaurant suitable for purging?"

It's a 24/7 loop of unhealthy, obsessive, disordered thinking that feels impossible to escape. No one wants to be thinking about food that much. It hurts to live this way; not being able to focus on the things you care about because you are too consumed with thoughts of calories. But no one realizes this; no one tells you about the waking nightmare your life becomes.

And no one talks about the shame: the shame that haunts you long after you leave the bathroom, throw away a full plate of food, or consume a whole bag of chips in a mindless frenzy. The logical part me knew that my ED was not my fault, but when toilet water splashes onto your face from the force of my own vomit and you have come to not think twice about it, disgust and self-loathing become inescapable. It is in these moments that the reality of the situation takes full effect.

When you're in the act, whether it be binging, purging, or not eating at all, you don't think about what it is you have come to put yourself through. You don't think about the toll you're taking on your body. You don't think about how mentally fragile you have become to take such measures. But when it's over, everything comes flooding back in a wave of embarrassment and regret. There were times I would feel proud of the extended periods of time I would go without eating. There were times that I applauded myself for not swallowing that cookie and instead of spitting it back into the trash can. This was all a twisted delusion and underneath it all: shame.

No one addresses this, therefore no one tells you that it's not your fault. The stigmas surrounding eating disorders are similar to those of addiction in that often times there is a lot of blame put those suffering.

It's easy to assume that having in an eating disorder is a choice. You make the choice not to eat, you make the choice to stick your finger down your throat, you make the choice to continually carry out unhealthy, disordered habits, habits you know are not safe or normal. These are as many choices, as the choice an alcoholic makes to have a drink knowing they have a problem. Recovery is not a matter of simply making the decision to stop, for the psychological effects of addiction make this nearly impossible.

In fact, abuse of food triggers responses in your brain similar to that of the abuse of drugs or alcohol. You become addicted to the habit, the satisfaction, the feeling of getting closer to this unattainable goal. Through disordered eating habits, you trigger your brains reward system, creating a dependency on this stimuli, whether it be binging, purging, or any other disordered eating habit. Therefore an ED is not something that can simply be "turned off".

When an alcoholic decides to get sober, it is pivotal that they isolate themselves completely from their vice, often cutting it out completely. When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder, this is not possible.

There is no way to cut food out of your life to avoid being tempted into your old ways. Three times a day you are faced with your vice and three times a day you must have the willpower to face it in a healthy manner. And there are occasions in which you just don't have it in you. It might be on the days your pants fit a little tighter than normal, or when you feel like you had one too many pieces of pizza, but more often than not it's the days your just feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and just need to regain some sort of control.

Relapses come with the same shame as before but this time accompanied by disappointment and hopelessness. It feels hard to get better when recovery hurts too; but your extended struggles, relapses, and breakdowns are not your fault nor do they mean that anything is wrong with you. But no one tells you that, so often times you're left in a destructive cycle of which there seems to be no way out.

There is no glamour in battling an eating disorder. It's much darker than just the "chic" thing that beautiful models do backstage before they walk the runway. Eating disorders are ugly and debilitating in every regard, not something to be brushed off, overlooked, or disregarded. And though an eating disorder is in no way a choice, understanding the emotional and physical toll that not seeking treatment will lead to is pivotal in prevention.

Eating disorders are easier to combat the earlier you catch them; identifying the presence of disordered thoughts before they manifest into unhealthy behaviors will aid in impeding their progression. And if you are already past this point, it is likely you have come to justify or even deny the presence of your toxic feeding behaviors, for they have become such a pattern that you now see them as nothing more than part of your everyday. I encourage you to recognize what you already know to be true: this is not normal and this is not the way you want to live your life.

And it doesn't have to be.

You deserve so much more from this world than living in a mind and body paralyzed by thoughts of calories and weight loss. You possess the strength to move on from your current state and into one of inner peace and self-assurance. There is an abundance of resources and people ready and willing to help; it just starts with you.

Your eating disorder is not your forever, and the time to recover is now.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call one of the following numbers for more information on recovery, resources, and ways to help.

National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association : 1-617-558-1881

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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