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What the Woman at the Gym Taught Me About Being in Eating Disorder 'Limbo'

The voice in my head, the voice of my eating disoder, degraded me in every aspect of my life. At school anything less than an A was moronic. In my social life no one really liked me, they just let me hang out with them. At the gym I was a fat pig who could never burn enough calories. At meals I didn’t even deserve to eat. The voice was so loud sometimes I wanted to curl into a ball and cover my ears. In the beginning I tried not to believe him, but my eating disorder continued to egg me on. “Don’t have the toast, have some coffee instead.” He was almost gentle and, I hate to admit it, encouraging. Soon my eating disorder had taken on a life of his own, and he was the only voice I listened to. He abused me emotionally, and I in turn abused myself physically. I was a shell of myself.

Although physically now I’m healthy, my eating disorder has never really left my head.  The volume of his voice waxes and wanes, but has never disappeared. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have an eating disorder in my head and not in my body. Often I find myself overanalyzing my eating habits and “correcting” for errors like a sick game of checks and balances in which both the judge and jury are my eating disorder.

It was hard to imagine others could understand my position. For whatever reason, I’ve always thought everyone else was either recovered or not, and here I was in limbo. Somehow I thought I was the only person with an eating disorder who experienced these thoughts silently because her body didn’t show the monster in her mind. 

And then I found out that the woman at the gym — whose body I wanted, whose strength I wanted, whose endurance I wanted, whose commitment I wanted, whose size I wanted, whose agility I wanted — was also recovering from an eating disorder. The woman I hated for making life look so effortless, the woman who I constantly compared myself, she has an eating disorder in her head, too. Who knew? Everyone has their own invisible struggles. Even the people we put on a pedestal; a pedestal which distances us from their humanity.

And so when a mutual friend reached out and asked if she could connect the two of us because we had so much in common, and because the woman at the gym could use someone who understands, I said, “Yes.” At the very least it might help her know someone else lives in this tenuous limbo in which an eating disorder lurks, and that someone else has some of the same invisible struggles as she does.