A female horseback rider riding her horse, Ben

How My Coach Motivated Me on My Path Toward Anorexia Recovery

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In the eighth grade, I was diagnosed by my family doctor with major depressive disorder and anorexia nervosa. To this day, my memories from the entire year are a blur of hunger pains, self-harm scars and constant calorie counting. After being diagnosed, I struggled (but survived) through the remainder of my eighth grade year, and I was accepted into a theater program at the high school I had longed to go to for years.

I never found the transition into ninth grade to be particularly stressful. I was fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful friends, and I managed to get straight A’s in my first year of high school. I dated a few popular boys my age, and I was pretty well liked by the other kids in my grade. After school, I bounced back and forth between volunteer opportunities, youth groups and horseback riding lessons. I had been riding under the same coach since I was 7 years old. So she was one of the first people to know when my home life started unravelling.

From the outside, I was seen as a happy and successful, young teen. Few people around me knew how bad it was. My mom knew about my self-harm and food restricting habits, but she never knew the extent of the problem. I would throw away my lunches at school, saving the plastic bags and Tupperware containers so she would assume I was eating them every day. I self-harmed on my stomach, thighs and hips so nobody could see the scars.

I can remember my riding coach telling me to, “Eat my Wheaties!” She said I needed to strengthen up so I could become a better rider, and she made it clear I couldn’t get strong if I wasn’t eating healthy. She knew I was going through a rough time in my life, and going to her barn was a healthy outlet in my most trying times.

When I was hospitalized near the end of ninth grade, she came to visit me. She was apologetic but optimistic, never making me feel guilty or responsible for my illness. She brought DVDs and horse magazines for me to pass my time with. She chatted me up about what was happening on the farm. I was on bed rest for 28 days because my heart rate was so low from my eating habits. Eventually, I had an nasogastric tube (also known as a NG tube) inserted through my nose and down my throat so I could be fed liquid meal replacements. My coach never stared at my tube or made me feel embarrassed about my situation. She was always willing to listen, but never forced me to talk.

After almost a month, when I was finally released from bed rest, my coach came back for another visit. She looked so beautiful in her long summer dress and her signature coral lip gloss. I longed so badly to be discharged from the hospital so I could return to the barn and have lessons with her.

She sat with me and chatted for a while before looking me in the eye and saying a few words that would change my life forever.

She told me one of her amazing horses, Ben, was up for lease as his rider had moved on to a bigger horse. She thought maybe I could ride him. I was absolutely floored. Ben was not an easy horse to ride. I didn’t feel like my skills were up to par, but she had an unwavering faith in me. She told me she wanted me to get back to riding, but I couldn’t do that until I was healthy again. She told me to remind myself every day if I could work toward recovery, then I would be able to ride her horse, which was an amazing motivator for me.

With time, I got healthier and became strong enough to return to the barn. True to her word, she let me try riding Ben, and we formed an instant bond. Ben changed my life forever. Every time I started to slip down into eating disordered thoughts, I could remind myself why I needed to be strong. If my coach ever noticed I was relapsing, then she was there to offer words of encouragement and support. She was always clear that she wouldn’t be able to coach me if I wasn’t eating. Every time I cried through a meal or considered feeding my dinner to my dog, I thought back to Ben and my coach.

Over the years, I have been able to recover fully with help from many friends and family members, but my coach will always be such an important part of my story. She gave me a reason to keep going when I thought I had nothing left. She kept me accountable when my eating disorder tempted me down an unhealthy path. She has and always will be an incredible role model. When I needed her the most, she stepped up to the plate. I will always be grateful for the motivation she gave me to get on my path to recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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The Song That Perfectly Describes My Eating Disorder Recovery

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My daily drive typically consists of the sun in my eyes, the coolness of the air conditioning and music loud enough to drown out the feelings I have toward a second round of treatment. I flip my Spotify to a fairly new song, “i hate u, i love you” by gnash featuring Olivia O’Brien. It has a beautiful melody and duet. However, it wasn’t until I found myself scrolling through the lyrics I connected the song to the reason I am in treatment.

Feeling used / But I’m / Still missing you / And I can’t / See the end of this

I feel manipulated by my anorexia. It pulled me in and pulled me down beneath the surface of normalcy. After a week back in treatment and writing this on a day off, I find myself missing my disorder and the control it seemed to give me. Yet, I pulled myself out of bed to eat both breakfast and lunch thus far.

It’s hard to see the end of a battle like this one. I didn’t think the end would come, especially after relapsing immediately out of treatment due to a lack of resources and support. Yet, on pure faith, I am keeping my head down and my feet moving through recovery, as I know in my heart that the end is near.

I hate you I love you / I hate that I love you / Don’t want to, but I can’t put / Nobody else above you / I hate you I love you / I hate that I want you

The last time I was in treatment, I wrote a letter to the eating disorder that ruined my life. I wrote about the things I lost because of it. I wrote about the skeleton it made me into by removing every single layer of who I truly was, leaving me with a pile of bones. In the same instance that I hated my disorder, I loved it. I hated that I loved it. I hated even more that I put my disease above everyone and everything else in my life. I hated anorexia, and I have endlessly hated the days I wanted it, both in the thick and thin of it.

I miss you when I can’t sleep / Or right after coffee / Or right when I can’t eat

Something people may not realize about eating disorders is how often we think about them when we have them. We miss them in recovery, but also seem to miss them every second we are eating and not acting upon them. There’s the lingering guilt when we miss them after completing an eight ounce cup of coffee with two sugars and three hazelnut creamers at the table on the unit. It’s a guilt that sticks around when we do eat and wish we hadn’t. I miss it in recovery, and I miss it in the thick of it. Yet, in re-nourishing my body, I am becoming less attached to the pain.

F*cked around and got attached to you / Friends can break your heart, too and / I’m always tired but never of you

When I first started with my eating disorder, I thought I could refrain from eating and not develop such an attachment to the actions. When I opened up about it, I thought I would be able to stop just by eating and keeping it a secret. Anorexia and I started to become close friends, but it broke my heart, killed my electrolytes and destroyed me from the inside out. My lack of nutrition exhausted me, but I was never tired of you.

Sometimes you gotta burn some bridges just to create some distance / I know that I control my thoughts and I should stop reminiscing

Returning to recovery and treatment after a relapse is much harder than it was the first go around. I was convinced and had everyone else convinced I would never return to my disorder. Walking through the doors of my unit seemed to leave everyone else as stunned as I was.

I hate the phrase “relapse is a part of recovery,” but for me, it was. The difference, however, is my relapse will not be my future. I am burning the bridges with my disorder, and leaving it where it belongs, in my past. I am leaving it with the negative thoughts and hope of obtaining the thin ideal. I am leaving my anorexia at my treatment facility, knowing that although my eating disorder was not a choice, recovery is.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Bekah Georgy Shares What Dressing for Summer With an Eating Disorder Is Like

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Bekah Georgy Magazine Spread

When Bekah Georgy looks in the mirror, her body looks distorted. “Gazing into a mirror for me, is like a ‘normal’ person looking into a fun house mirror,” Georgy, who is in treatment for anorexia, said.

Georgy has spent the past 13 years trying to achieve her idea of a “perfect” body. “For 13 years I have literally been starving myself to death just to be thin enough,” she said. “There is always that ounce of fat I believe is there, or a spot that isn’t toned enough.”

Georgy, from New Hampshire, admits some may find her body matches what society considers a “beach body.” However, Georgy disagrees. “I normally love the beach but I feel like I don’t have the right body to wear a bikini,” she said. “I’m not toned enough, not tan enough, not thin enough. So I avoid going at all costs, and if I do, I won’t take off my cover up.”

Given the way Georgy feels about her body, summer consistently challenges the 23-year-old. Unable to hide her body under sweaters and sweatpants, Georgy’s anorexia tends to get worse. In addition to having anorexia, Georgy also lives with gastroparesis and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). “I had three feeding tubes put in and removed from my abdomen, leaving obvious scars,” she said. “I also have self-harm scars I would rather hide. I feel that when people look at me in a bathing suit they are judging me by these scars.”

Georgy also has a nasojejunal tube (NJ-tube) – a visible tube that runs from her nose to the middle section of her small intestine – which adds to her insecurities.

Should Georgy find herself able to dress for the beach, there is no guarantee her conditions can physically withstand the summer heat. “ My POTS makes it almost impossible to sit outside longer than 15 minutes without feeling like I am going to collapse,” she said. “Mix in the gastroparesis, where I have a hard enough time getting in fluids, the heat doesn’t help that either.”

Put together, Georgy feels her conditions force her to stay indoors. “If I do go out, I have to wear shorts and tank tops,” she said. “But the image of the ‘beach body’ weighs on my mind so much that I would rather stay inside and hide.”

Read More: This Is What It Looks Like When You Feature Disabled and Chronically Ill People in Magazines

Next: Ros Limbo Fights Her Body Insecurities in the Summer

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I'm 'Sitting Shiva' for My Anorexic Body

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When you’re recovering from an anorexia relapse, there are both visual and spatial components involved in the weight restoration adjustment period.  Experiencing, and dealing with, a new, larger body feels difficult and distressing. Through each recovery interval, I’ve struggled with the discomfort of both elements. Of the two, I find visual stimulus more triggering. Even as a starving “skeleton,” I would not, could not accept myself.

In my own estimation, I have never been thin, skinny, fit, toned, lean, “good enough” for my eyes.

For me, it’s less about comparing myself to others, a societal standard or media images, and more about self-flagellation.

Yes, every so often, while reviewing photographs, I’m able to recognize a more accurate judgment of my appearance; the rose-colored glasses slip down and my eyes get a reality-check, however brief.

But then. There are mirrors. Ubiquitous. Unavoidable.

And body-checking compulsions. Continuous. Uncontrollable.

The mirrors at the gym, at the stores, in reflective surfaces of windows, toasters, friggin’ serving spoons.

And I am triggered. I cannot, cannot close my eyes.

However… Just like I cannot control what people say or think about my cellulite or any other physical characteristic, I cannot demand that the outside world accommodate my neuroses. Eliminating all reflective surfaces is both impractical and impossible.

The other day, I was reminded of a former therapist’s unconventional suggestion for my dealing with weight restoration. Her idea was that I temporarily place either sheets or towels over all the mirrors at home, thusly eliminating the visual stimulus triggers within my immediate, personal environment.

At the time of her recommendation, I wasn’t all that interested in coping. I wasn’t interested in recovery or adjusting to my weight-restored body, because at least subconsciously, I thought I’d just get sick again.

When thinking of the strategy a few days ago, I considered it with much more enthusiasm. Interestingly, it reminded me of the Jewish mourning tradition, observing Shiva. “Sitting Shiva” is a term used to describe the practices and traditions to honor a loved one who has passed.

One action is to cover all the mirrors in the house which remain covered with the intention of evoking a period of self-reflection. Appearance is not a priority or concern at this time. I’m of neither Jewish heritage or faith, but my step-family is. Being part of a blended family means sharing traditions, such as religious holiday observances. Researching Sitting Shiva, I was interested to learn that step-relatives are permitted to participate in these practices.

Pulling away from my intimate relationship with disordered eating by restoring weight and taking psychiatric medicine feels tantamount to severing ties with a dear, albeit abusive, friend. Revisiting the concept of covered mirrors, I’m wondering if this strategy could simultaneously reduce “body-checking” compulsions while helping me mourn the behaviors and say goodbye to them. Ironically enough, a few weeks ago I accidentally broke the mirrored door on my bathroom vanity. I pulled it open to retrieve something, and, as I did, the hinge snapped away from the worn plastic. The mirror fell directly on the counter and shattered.

This was, of course, unintentional, but as I carried the mirror out to the curb, I couldn’t help but think, in regard to Sitting Shiva for my anorexic body, it’s a start.

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What I Wish My Teachers Knew About My Eating Disorder

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It isn’t that I was losing the motivation to succeed, or was becoming lazier in the course of my high school career. I wasn’t lying down in class because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I didn’t skip your classes because I didn’t care. I didn’t sit in the bathroom because I thought I was above the whole “school thing.” I was in the midst of a battle with anorexia.

I was losing the motivation to live, as every day I was living on a 24 ounce coffee and a granola bar until I got home at night. I was convinced my disorder was my fault, and everything I ever did to try and fix it was never enough to get the job done. I couldn’t receive proper treatment, of course, until the middle of my senior year when I practically disappeared. I didn’t have a will to live, or a will to continue. I didn’t think I had a reason to.

I wasn’t becoming lazier, if anything I was becoming more stressed, with SAT’s on the horizon, a plethora of leadership positions in my pocket and a full load of classes, my hypothetical gas pedal was on the floor. I remember distinctly the night I came to terms with my disorder. I was getting ready for a school event I was volunteering for. I realized what I had been doing to my body and was so disconnected from that fact, I barely bothered to eat, after only eating a small amount earlier that day.

Yet, I knew something was wrong. My weakness and dizziness were the very beginning signs of the disorder that would pull me under and hold me tight. I put my head down on the desk so I wouldn’t fall asleep, sitting up from the lack of nutrition I was receiving. Yes, I wasn’t sleeping, but I also wasn’t eating. So my brain wasn’t learning.

I remember most of my days were spent moderately conscious, practically stumbling from class to class, as a result of my dizziness. I should’ve been hospitalized significantly earlier than I was; yet amazingly, I managed to come out of that school year with perfect attendance. Of course, that check mark only means I was present and on time each day of the year, but my ability to actually be attentive was gone. I don’t remember a solid time block of the school year, for about three months or so. I know I was there, but that is all I can recall.

I skipped classes because I couldn’t manage sitting in a room full of people talking so negatively, or thinking only about diets. I was too anxious to work on projects surrounded by others. So instead, I sat in the hallway to complete my work, where it was mostly silent and I was mostly alone. Some classes I showed up for a mere five minutes, spending the remaining forty wandering around the school building just trying to find something to keep my mind off the sounds my stomach wouldn’t quit making.

I skipped my lunch to go to art, and skipped my art class to just sit in an empty room. I was isolating myself, and I didn’t want anyone to care. I remember well the winter months I spent sitting in the bathroom. As you know, our uniform was a kilt with a button down shirt. The days I came to school in the darkest parts of my disease, I was wearing my kilt with a sweater and a blazer, as well as thick tights and a pair of socks. I slept in the bathroom on the second floor on top of the radiator, just to feel the warmth come through my blazer and tights.

I would tap the person next to me in class before I went, telling them if I didn’t return in the next 10 minutes, then they should probably come and find me to come back to class. I would lay there to inhale the warmth, to try to warm the pain inside me that was my anorexia and resulting depression. I wanted to be back in the classroom with you and my peers more than anything, but my mind kept me wandering, leaving me unfocused and hazed.

I want you to know the days I spent in the midst of my anorexia were not easy, but I apologize for seeming so inattentive and lazy. I wanted to tell all of you so badly, but I was afraid of the reaction you would give me. I figured you knew something was up, and if you saw the red lines across my arms, then you were probably concerned. I didn’t mean to worry you.

For the ones who asked and expressed care, I want to thank you. I didn’t want anyone to care because if I let people care, then I would have to stop wrecking havoc on my body. If I forcibly pushed you away, then I’m sorry.

I was asked to fill out a survey once, of something that I wish my teacher knew, and here is mine: I wish you knew that all of the times I was so out of it, that it wasn’t me. It was my anorexia, and I let it get in the way of my education. But, I also want you to know if you have other students that come after me in this position, I hope you will treat them as kindly as you treated me.

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What Eating Disorder Recovery Actually Looks Like

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First, let me set one thing straight: I did not choose anorexia. Anorexia chose me. I didn’t know what an eating disorder was until I had one. I believe that in my case, anorexia was a manifestation of screwed-up chemicals in my brain, triggering events that may have happened in my past and/or genetics.

Anorexia is a living hell — of a sort. Even when I learned what anorexia was after receiving the diagnosis, I never actively chose to have this eating disorder. At the time, however, I was so wrapped up in my symptoms and depressionI wasn’t exactly trying to get better, either. I hid food, making my parents believe I was eating it. I over-exercised to the point where I hated it but had to keep moving to feel OK.

Anorexia makes having a social life difficult. Many holidays or events revolve around appetizers, meals or desserts. It’s extremely awkward to be the person who refuses the food that’s being offered. Sometimes I would tote along my own “safe” food (I remember eating a pita sandwich one Christmas — this embarrasses me now, but I also know it would be so easy to slip back into the mindset of only being able to eat my “safe” foods). Or I would pretend to eat the small portions on my plate, when all I was really doing was moving my corn and mashed potatoes around in circles on the fine china.

My memory can be quite selective sometimes; it’s easy for me to block complete months or years out of my recollection. But I can’t let myself forget. Not completely. Not if I want to keep progressing.

I am in recovery from anorexia. This is a serious mental illness that takes lives. It looks like dieting taken to the extreme, and an addiction to exercise often accompanies the strict food “rules” and suicidal behaviors.

But what does recovery look like? It looks different for everyone, though paths may often converge. What works for me may or may not work for the next person.

For me, recovery has been a weird experience. I now strive for health and wellbeing whereas before, my goal was to slowly fade away. Changing my thoughts and actions has been, and still is, a daily struggle. I often find myself wondering if I will ever fully recover.

Recovery is feeling really great one moment and feeling like a complete mess the next. I prefer to keep my coping mechanisms hush-hush, but the truth is, it’s very easy to slip back into an undeserving and hateful mindset. It’s easy for me to feel horrible and depressed and turn to momentary “band-aid” approaches to quell the pain.

Recovery isn’t always pretty. Countless times I have felt very uncomfortable or been a sobbing mess because things aren’t going right. Sometimes I shut down and my walls go up. In the long run, I know I’m hurting myself and those who love me, but my mind feels like a hamster wheel over a lake of fire, constantly going, going, going… It feels more dangerous to hop off than it does to just keep going.

Some days recovery feels easy. I feel good in my body and I don’t obsessively think about calories or how big my thighs might be getting. These days are wonderful and carefree, and they make coping with the hard times feel a little bit easier. I know I’m always going to have days that aren’t so great, days when I struggle to feed myself and use my mindfulness in a positive way. What matters is getting through these rough patches and not succumbing to them.

Recovery has meant growing out of lots of my clothes, and having frustrating moments tugging a pair of jeans on only to find I can’t button them anymore. This can be both a triggering and a healing experience. On the one hand, it reminds me of the way my weight has changed, but on the other, it helps me come to terms with the fact I don’t have to be a certain size to be happy (though the media might have us believe otherwise).

Recovery is knowing your limits. There were times when people did not listen to me because of my mental illness, believing the words coming out of my mouth were simply the words of the eating disorder. A doctor tried to force me into an eating disorder unit at a nearby hospital that I have not heard positive things about. I had to fight tooth and nail. To this day, I still feel traumatized by this occurrence and I feel confident in my decision to refuse inpatient treatment at that particular time and location. I am now in a much better place mentally, and I’m proud of the hard work my family, my treatment team and I have done. I’ve even give some thought to residential treatment, and if I don’t feel capable of reaching full recovery through outpatient treatment, I would seriously consider an out-of-state institution — one that I’ve heard positive things about. I don’t mean to recommend either inpatient or outpatient treatment for others — it’s a decision everyone has to make on their own, though it’s not one that should be made lightly. And I don’t believe a doctor who doesn’t even know me should try to force me into a particular kind of treatment.

Recovery is a process. One that takes commitment and support. Once I began to show I was serious about recovery, my family stepped into place beside me and helped me make positive decisions. It was still up to me to put in the hard work, but having a support hub made things so much easier.

Recovery is not perfect, and I don’t expect it to be. I often choose foods that aren’t in my best interest, and I have discovered a weak spot for ice cream and other sweets. I accept these things as part of the learning process, and I move on. I’ve also realized some things must come before others in life, and I can’t rush the recovery process. It is what it is.

Recovery is naps, good food, buffets and vacations. It’s taking time for myself, and making time for others. It’s hugs and kisses and letting others in. It’s facing fears and past wrongs, forgiving and holding on. It’s being lazy and happy, sitting in fierce depression and realizing I’ll be OK. It’s accepting help and love. I’ve found it’s all about the love. Recovery is loving yourself enough to heal for you. It’s placing value on yourself because you are worth the effort. And so am I.

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