hands in the shape of a heart in front of the setting sun

My eating disorder was a dark and severely self-destructive journey — one that I am, even now, uncomfortable sharing about in detail. It’s hard to find the words, to be eloquent enough to do it justice. But it is a story worth telling, as are all battles against mental illness. They help spread the awareness our world is in desperate need of. And so I will continue searching for the words to tell my story. But for now, I will just tell you what I am comfortable discussing, and that is my recovery.

Of course, it did not happen overnight. Recovery took years and years; it was a slow process — one full of pain, anger, and the burning desire to understand why I felt this way in the first place. I started with some of the usual courses of treatment: antidepressants and therapy. But they didn’t help much. I still longed for answers.

What I did know was if I was going to live, I wanted to be happy and enjoy my life, not be miserable and struggle, which can be common with eating disorders. I believed I couldn’t be anorexic and live a happy life. I felt I had to choose. Life or death? Happiness or misery? I had chosen life, but happiness?

Finding happiness meant I needed to find my self-worth and learn to love myself. But how? I hated everything about me. How could I learn to love myself? I had to make another choice. The choice to try, as impossible as it seemed. And so began the biggest challenge of my life.

So how did I start? By looking for reasons to exist and be happy. First, I had family who loved me and needed me to recover. Second, I already had this amazing man in my life who loves me to this day. He sees something worthy in me. I love and respect him, so I knew he couldn’t be all wrong. I had to try and see what he saw. Then there was school, where I was an excellent student. And then my career, in which I have been successful. All these things gave me some feelings of worth, some reasons to be proud of myself.

Next and best of all came our babies, these beautiful little human beings who I love so fiercely. And they came from me! I was able to help create such amazing little people. Motherhood has never been easy for me, but regardless, I enjoy it and am good at providing for them.

Over the years, I kept finding these little things in life I was good at, even if I had a hard time admitting them to myself at first. I knew being good at things was not a requirement of loving myself, but it was somewhere to start. I also learned I didn’t have to be the best at something to be good at it or to find joy in doing it. I definitely wasn’t good at loving myself at first. But all I had to do was keep trying. And in time, persistence paid off.

Life, as it often does, has thrown many more stressful situations my way over the years. I have continued to look for different and healthy coping mechanisms. I have tried many things, and some have made a real difference. Like surrounding myself with positive people, and eating and exercising in a healthy way. And even though it has been the challenge of a lifetime for me, I have not relapsed back to anorexia for more than 10 years.

Through more therapy, meditation and lots of soul-search, I’ve finally found the answers to “why.” These answers have helped the most — and through them, the realization that I did not do this to myself. My eating disorder was not intentional. It was not my fault. It was how my young mind coped with the difficulties of life. But I had the power to change it.

This journey has taught me I am not only in control of my actions, but my thoughts as well. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I can retrain my thoughts to be positive instead of negative. In so doing, I learned to change how I feel about myself. I learned to turn my weaknesses into strengths. I now use that perfectionism towards useful and constructive things instead of destructive ones. I’m finding all the things I’m passionate about in life and channeling that energy into them. I am learning to love myself and be happy simply by trying and not giving up.

And I will continue to succeed because I refuse to fail.

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.

A version of this post originally appeared on Mel’s Empty Journal.



I’m writing this to be real with you — with me.

I sat with my counselor as we planned my next session for nine weeks out. Nine weeks. We joked about me doing the “best” out of all her clients. It seems I’ve almost completely beaten you, which seemed impossible only months ago. You don’t control me anymore. I rarely feel the anxiety and depression you used to radiate through my being. I’m allowed to look at the number on the scale when my dietitian weighs me, and I can shrug it off. I now have an internal shredder that destroys each and every note you pass my way, no matter how strong.

It’s not always easy, though. I win every battle with you these days, yes, but some are devastatingly exhausting. I’m fighting my own body to “lose weight,” all while not letting it trigger a relapse. You tell me I’m not losing fast enough — that I’m not eating the perfect foods to reach my goal when and how I should. I shred those lies to pieces, but sometimes that shredder gets jammed. Too many notes passed and I start to break. You take my truths and twist them: “When you’re at your body’s ideal weight, you’ll finally be able to relapse and get that ‘anorexic’ look before people — or your body — can stop you.” You tell me my patience with weight loss will pay off when I can watch the weight drop between sessions, gaining enough to fool my team, then losing it all again. You try to give me “hope” for a future with you, as if we’re simply taking a little break for right now.

This letter is to tell you that this is not a break. We’re done. I may get stuck at times, but I’ll unclog my shredder to demolish every last note you send my way. I am in control of my mind, not you. I don’t need you to survive, but you need me for your survival. I’m glad to watch you wither away. I’m finally happy, finally free. You will never take that from me again.

Goodbye forever,


Image via Thinkstock.

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.

I wasn’t always this way.

I didn’t always have to tell myself to stop counting calories, to put fats back in my diet or to stop running. I didn’t always ignore the scale every day, or have to force myself not to go to the gym.

But, that’s how I am today — I’m recovering from anorexia.

The recovery looks different to everyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, and everyone has different goals in recovery — once they realize how sick they are. But see, that’s the hard part: realizing you’re sick.

Anorexia becomes a lifestyle, a mentality and a way of being. Recognizing that is as painful as it is demoralizing, and seeking help usually requires a push. I can remember sitting in my eating disorder doctor’s office, 10 years ago. She sat me down and said: “Elissa, you’re sick. You have to eat, or we will hospitalize you. You have to eat or you will die.” But it didn’t register. I was so sick I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to die. I was so convinced I was living and eating correctly, her words didn’t faze me.

It wasn’t until she told me that, unless I ate, my recent major knee injury would never heal and I’d never play soccer again, it clicked. I was about to lose soccer — the one thing that kept me somewhat attached to this world. I started the recovery, and 10 years later here I am.

Looking back, I can group the phases of my recovery into three parts:

  1. Starting to eat again.
  2. Limiting my workouts.
  3. Learning to love again.

#1. Eating Again

My recovery started with eating. I was asked to eat something small every three hours from the moment I woke up until I went to bed.

Every. Three. Hours.

To this day, I do this. Now, I don’t eat a huge cheeseburger every three hours, but I do eat a significant snack or a meal. If I don’t, the result it chaos. That chaos will crawl into my brain and infect my psyche. It will flow into my veins and cloud my vision. I get angry, I get teary, I get mean. I start reverting into my old eating mentalities. And yes, it happens as soon as I go very far past three hours between meals or snacking. Every time.

This seems like a lot of food, especially is you’ve been stuck in today’s “dieting” fads or had an eating disorder of your own. But, it really isn’t too much food. And, as long as you’re staying active and not eating straight bacon grease, it is a healthy way to eat. And it is OK to eat — that was a huge part of recovery… being OK with eating again.

The most helpful advice for the eating part that I received was this: “Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.” Don’t stop before that, and don’t continue to eat after that. Your body will tell you when it’s hungry… listen.

#2. Limiting Workouts 

This was a hard one — probably the hardest part of all: making myself stop working out. Now, I don’t mean stop completely. Working out is great for you. But, in moderation. Especially for someone with a history of an eating disorder and workout addiction, limiting yourself in the gym or on the track is very important, because even if you get the eating part of the recovery down, if you continue to burn way more calories than you’re eating, and you can’t get out of the mindset that you must run, then it’s hard to be healthy again – mentally or physically.

The workout addiction was the hardest to break, for me. I literally had to force myself to be lazy, watch a movie or simply not go bonkers in my own head trying to sit still. It was so hard, so unbearable not going to the gym every day, when I had gotten to accustomed to going two or three times a day. It is an addiction, and the only way you can break it is to remove yourself from it completely. Now, it has been a while, but I am back in the gym, slowly doing this and that. I go on walks and kayak. But I set timers for myself, I don’t stay as long as I want, or I know I will never leave. It’s a tight balancing act, but it is possible.

I can’t say I’ve mastered this part yet. It is a work in progress, even 10 years later. I’m still fighting the addiction. But I am proud to say I can go into a gym and leave 45 minutes later without overdoing it every time, and without the compulsive feelings coming back. I am a work in progress, and you know what? It’s working.

But, the most exciting part of recovery, and one that has led to many wonderful memories, is listed next…

#3. Learning to Love Again

Learning to love, to actually love food and love myself, was the part of my recovery that made the biggest impact as far as healing goes. My husband helped with that.

My husband grew up in a home centered around the kitchen. And he brought a love for food into our relationship when we started dating. In fact, the night he asked me out was the first time we made spaghetti together (well, let’s be honest, he cooked all of it and I handed him ingredients).

Steven slowly gave me a love for cooking, which to be honest makes food even easier to eat. Putting love into something makes it so much better, and now I can say I love cooking. And, even more than that. I am starting to love myself again.

Part of an eating disorder is that it distorts your ability to see things clearly — especially yourself. I had held my self-image in such a negative light, I thought there was nothing good about me — physically or otherwise. I was always hard on myself. I was never good enough. But through Steven, and surprisingly through loving cooking, I have grown to accept myself just as I am.

I am a work in progress, and a recovery in the making. But, I’m getting there. I don’t know how long it will take before I consider myself healed from the eating disorder, but I know I will get there. With Steven’s help, and my new found joy in cooking, I’m leaning to live and love again — one day at a time.

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.

Anorexia, my self-destruction coworker, my nemesis, my captivating master. Although it has been years since you dominated my life, there have been times I’ve stumbled across you again to find your allure hard to resist. You entice me into your trap, and I feel like the defeated child I was when we first met.

I find myself missing the times when I felt helpless and you made me feel strong and in control. I miss the sense of accomplishment you gave me and how proud you made me feel when I denied myself of nourishment. You were like the cool older kid I wanted to impress and my compliance was your weapon.

I miss you the most on bad days. I miss how when you were happy with me, you made me feel extraordinary. You made my problems appear trivial as long as I satisfied your demands. You promised to keep me safe and protect me from harm. You told me if I followed you, then I would be sheltered from struggle and pain.

What I did not know back then was you are all hammer, no nail. Your words were empty and your intentions fatal. The euphoria you guaranteed only led to misery. You took a vibrant little girl and placed her on death’s door. Darling anorexia, while you may always have a slight presence in my life, there are things I could never, ever miss about you.

I won’t miss how you made me feel utterly alone even though the amount of love and support around me was endless. I won’t miss your cruel remarks and how the more you beat me down, the more compliant I became. I was so desperate to please you, but no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough. I won’t miss how at only 10 years of age, you made me feel inadequate and unworthy. I won’t miss how when you were in my life, I lost the ability to think and act for myself. You told me what to do and how to do it, and if I didn’t obey, then you induced an unbearable guilt.

You warped my reality and turned my carefree childhood into a somber place. You took my innocent dreams and tainted them with goals that revolved around emaciation. You took advantage of my naivety and stole the blissful simplicity of the world. Yet, you now no longer hold that power. I am older and I am stronger. The drive that was once used to obey is now used to defy you. The tables have turned now. So take your bow.

The temporary honor of appeasing you will never compare to the liberation that came from defeating you. I will continue to defy you today, tomorrow, always.

Image via Thinkstock.

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.

I don’t hear it as an actual voice in my head, and I don’t see it as a little devil on my shoulder. I don’t give it a name and I don’t give it all the attention it cries out for. I know it isn’t always right, but it’s always there.

As with any illness, every person’s experience of it is different, as are the coping mechanisms we adopt to deal with the feelings that surround it. But one thing remains the same – however it manifests itself, the “anorexic voice” has an answer to everything.

It’s a voice that defies logic. How many illnesses can you think of that somehow make you want to get worse? That make you go to extreme lengths to go against nature? That make you put your illness before everything else? That makes you carry on ravaging your own body despite knowing it could eventually kill you.

When you’re in hospital and people are trying to get you better, they tell you food is fuel and your body is a car and the car needs fuel to work, but by that point you don’t care about the car and you’re past caring about how well it works, if at all. They tell you that food is medicine — just as chemotherapy is for cancer or an inhaler is for asthma. But anorexia is a mental illness — one that doesn’t want you to “get better.” The “anorexic voice” translates better to fatter, and that is the last thing it wants.

I’m OK. I’m not that bad at the moment. I’ve been much, much worse. But I’ve also been better. I’m not “fine.” I am aware of that voice creeping slowly back in. When people around me talk about food and weight and calories, when I’m eating something that at my worst I wouldn’t have dreamt of eating, when I’m clothes shopping, when I’m in a supermarket… the list goes on. I’m not even sure if it ever went away. Some people think full recovery from an eating disorder is possible, but how can something so deeply ingrained for so many years just disappear completely? Maybe we just get better at fighting it, until our own voice and logic become consistently louder than the anorexic voice. Whatever the case, in my case, it’s still there, getting louder, and I’m not happy about it.

I don’t want to become gravely ill. I don’t want to be hospitalized. I don’t want my life to be punctuated with blood tests and weigh-ins and therapy appointments. I don’t want to become unsociable. I don’t want to lose my hair and color and identity. I don’t want to become that skinny zombie I was years ago. I don’t want to be stared at. I don’t want attention. But I do want to be thinner than I know is healthy. That matters. And it’s a slippery slope.

I’m trying to not lose weight, but I’m also gripped by the familiar fear of gaining it too. I’m sitting somewhere in between, where I have a grasp on rationality but am also questioning everything. That myth that I’ll feel better when I’m thinner is one I reluctantly fall for and fight against at the same time. It’s tiring, but I’m trying.

I know I’m not the only one — there are so many people in the same position as me; who know they are ill but not ill enough for help, and those who are ill but, as they’re not literally dying of starvation, don’t get picked up… until it’s too late. Too many people are slipping under the radar and they are the ones who will not develop an illness, but continue an illness beyond what we ever thought was possible. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the cycle in action and I know for a fact if it isn’t caught early, it just continues and gets worse. We can, and should, do more.

You could say I’m not trying hard enough, but that voice is part of my history, part of me. I wish I could ignore it. I wish I could ignore every weight or food related comment I overhear. I wish I could eat what I want without guilt and deal with the consequences. It doesn’t rule me, but I don’t rule it. I’m struggling. That’s where I’m at. The in between.

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.

Follow this journey on Not Quite Curvy; Definitely Real

One of my fondest memories from college is of early morning rowing practice. In darkness and silence we ran three miles from campus to the boathouse. Besides the occasional car that drove by, the only sound was the steady strike of feet on the pavement. Teams of eight marched their boats to the dock and set off on a moonlit river for a warm up. We powered through drills as the sun came up, pushing and pulling to our max potential. It was a magical rhythm, this harmonious momentum we created with our bodies, the oar and the water.

Crew was by far the most physically and mentally demanding sport I had ever participated in. I was the stroke for my boat and intensely driven to be a powerhouse rower. In grade school and high school I played soccer, softball and basketball. I excelled at all three sports and was named MVP most years. My ambition was perfection, to score the most, win the most and please my coaches and teammates. I practiced hard and played even harder. I prided myself on having a reputation for being aggressive. I craved the sweat, physical exertion and glory of athleticism.

In my sophomore year of college, my drive for athletic success was challenged in a new and fierce way. The bar was raised, and me being me, I was determined to surpass it. During an afternoon rowing practice, as we rowed by the dock my coach shouted, “I can tell how hard you work by how much your body changes.” I remember upon hearing his words I slammed my legs and pulled the oar as hard as I possibly could. I had a new mission to master: I had to literally alter my body’s shape and size to prove myself.

Before college I did not have a hyperawareness of my body. I was an average size and comfortable in my skin. I was successful on the playing field with the body I had; I could box out with the best of them. The thought or fantasy of changing my body never occurred to me until the day I heard those very damaging words.

If my body was now the marker of how hard I worked and the depth of my dedication to my team, that could only mean one thing — I had to shrink. And that’s exactly what I did. That single statement unleashed a vicious, relentless and life-threatening eating disorder.

One year later I resigned from my position as president of the crew team and gave up my seat in the boat. I was too weak from 12 months of systematically restricting my caloric intake to continue rowing. I blamed my resignation on needing to devote more time to my studies. Still unaware I had an eating disorder, I continued to eat less and less and overexercise. I went to the gym several times a day to undo the little bit of food I allowed myself to eat. My workouts were militant, driven by a deathly fear of gaining weight.

By the time I was diagnosed with and hospitalized for anorexia nervosa my diet consisted of chicken broth and instant oatmeal. My vision was blurry, I could not concentrate, my chest hurt with every heartbeat and I could barely walk across campus due to dehydration and malnourishment. My hospitalization in 1996 was the beginning of a lifelong recovery journey from a disease that just doesn’t let up.

Many athletes have similar stories about how training and dieting regimes triggered their eating disorder. This scenario is especially common in the wrestling, boxing, football, gymnastics and dancing communities, where body shape and size are directly correlated with performance and success. For those of us genetically predisposed to an eating disorder, such body-centric messages can influence and encourage dangerous behaviors that snowball into full-blown and fatal eating disorders.

Twenty years and a few hospitalizations later, I continue to use my therapeutic team for support. Above all other tools, however, yoga has been a source of steadiness and empowerment in my recovery process, leading me to become a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders.

Although not a cure, yoga is a powerful healing tool for managing the daily challenges of recovery. In my personal experience, yoga has improved my relationship with my body and offered a safe outlet for physical activity, reconnecting me with my natural love of being athletic and active. The rhythmic movement and deep breathing calms my mind and allows me to listen attentively to my healthy voice, which for so long was muted and overpowered by my eating disorder.

The practice by its nature builds physical strength, which boosts my self-esteem, leading me to feel strong and steady emotionally and mentally as well. Unlike competitive sports, yoga is not goal and performance oriented. There is no finish line, scoreboard, or championship. The only pressure we experience is that which we place on ourselves. Yoga holds the space for us to study our habits, reactions and behaviors without having to be perfect or make the cut.

After years of being numbed out, yoga has also brought sensation and feeling back into my life. My hunger cues have returned, and yoga has taught me how to hear them again. The practice has also taught me how to connect from the inside out, to know myself deeply and to value myself for my innate personal traits and values versus the size of my body. I connect with my resilience in warrior poses, courage in crow pose, grace in dancer’s pose, openness in triangle pose, peace in camel pose and support in child’s pose.

In truth, healing from an eating disorder is hard and ongoing. My yoga practice is my anchor, my safe space, and my direct line to my personal power and truth.

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