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To the Parents of a Child in the Beginning Stages of an Eating Disorder

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I want to write about what I wish I was able to say both to myself and to my parents 14 years ago when I first began struggling with an eating disorder.

More than anything, I wish there had been some way I could have shown my younger self how the following years would unfold, where the decisions I was making then would lead me. I don’t think I really understood what I was doing at all, and sometimes I think that if I had known, I would’ve stopped before things got really bad. And yet as much as I want to believe I would have, part of me is almost certain that I would’ve shrugged it off and convinced myself that I wouldn’t let it get that “out of hand,” that I just needed to stay under a certain weight, under a certain number of calories, just had to lose however many pounds, and then I’d stop. I probably would have still found a way to convince myself I was in control.

I was so convinced that I had control of it then, even though so many people tried to tell me I didn’t. And by the time I realized I didn’t, it was too late. I couldn’t get out of it.

There is so much I would say to my parents. First and foremost, I would say that I do not in any way blame them, that they did not “cause” this. My parents loved me, and while they weren’t perfect, I know they always had the best intentions in everything they did. When I first got sick, I remember my mom used to write me little notes all the time, and she would always ask me, “What can I do? How can I help you?” She told me over and over again that she would do anything, and she would beg me, that if I couldn’t eat for myself, could I please do it for her? If I could go back and answer those questions now, I would tell her not to wait, not to give me “one more chance” (regardless of how much I begged her to) before putting me into treatment. I would tell her to never believe my promises that I would “eat more this week” or “try harder.” I would tell her I was sick with a mental illness and that I couldn’t be reasoned with logically, and that this wasn’t a problem that could be fixed by going to the store and buying all the foods that used to be my favorite. That this wasn’t a diet I could just “snap out of.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

It took my mom a long time to start calling my struggle “an eating disorder.” I think it was hard for her to grasp that I had a mental illness, and if I could, I’d go back and try to help her understand/accept that. She used to tell me she just wanted “her Rachel” back, and I think one of the most important things I would tell her is that “her Rachel” never went anywhere — that beneath the struggle, I was still there, always. It always broke my heart when she or my grandma would say that, because I felt like whatever I was wasn’t acceptable, and I didn’t know how to go back to “the old Rachel.” I would also just want to apologize, to both of my parents, and really to everyone in my family, for the way I’d end up treating them throughout the duration of my struggle. I would apologize for how it affected family dinners, holidays, and vacations.

More than anything, though, I would thank them. I would thank them for all the things I hated them for at the time — sitting through all the crying and screaming and still making me eat, driving up to the school parking lot to eat lunch with me, dragging me to doctor’s appointments, dragging me to treatment. Ultimately I do believe that someone needs to truly desire recovery before they can actually get better. But my parents kept me alive until I got to the point where I could want it for myself. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have made it to my 12th birthday.

So I think most importantly, I would tell them — and any parent whose child is in the beginning stages of an eating disorder — not to wait until that person is ready to get better, not to buy into the idea that until someone wants it, there’s nothing anyone else can do. When someone is drowning, you don’t wait for them to clearly articulate, “I’m having trouble swimming, could you please come in and help me?” You just dive in and grab the person, and you would try and get them out of the water (even if they’re kicking and screaming). I would encourage them to keep going, not to give up regardless of how hard I fought back.

I would also tell my parents to try, as best as they could, not to take any of what I said at the time personally. I never hated them and never could hate them. I just hated that they were trying to take away from me what I felt at the time I absolutely needed.

I hope this helps anyone in a similar position. I would also say (last thing, I promise) that hope is one of the most powerful things you can offer to someone who is struggling. My parents refused to give up on me, and for that I am so grateful.

I’m not recovered, but I’m finally at a place where I’m able to, essentially, keep myself healthy and alive through my own choices. Food is still something I experience a lot of anxiety around, and to be honest, I’m not sure if that will ever change, but that anxiety is manageable now. I’m able to eat simply because I have a life that I want to stick around for versus because someone else is forcing me to, and that’s pretty cool.

I think, with the right support, it’s possible for anyone to get to that point. So if you’re struggling to hold onto hope for your child or if you are the one struggling and don’t feel able to hold onto hope for yourself, know that I am holding that for you.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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You Don't Have to Wait Until You're ‘Sick Enough’ to Treat Your Eating Disorder

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The day I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder was the worst day of my life. Even before I was diagnosed I knew I had one. My friends told me. My parents, who are both psychologists, knew it too. I was admitted to the eating disorder clinic right after I turned 13.

It took me a couple of months to even admit I had a problem. After I realized I did, I had convinced myself I wasn’t sick enough to recover yet. So, a few months later, I managed to lie my way out of the clinic and return to my eating disorder behaviors. I desperately wanted recovery, but first, I thought, I needed to hit rock bottom.

I spent the last semester of my freshman year of high school in a residential treatment center, 800 miles away from home. Even when I ended up in rehab, I still thought I wasn’t sick enough. Somehow, something inside me changed. I don’t know what, how, why or when, but it did. All of a sudden, after seven weeks of fighting the treatment, I gave in. I dedicated myself to getting better.

It took me a long time to figure out, but now, I have discovered what I realized made me change. I was never going to be sick enough. I was never going to hit rock bottom.

Because when I would be “sick enough” is when I would be dead.

For years, I was trying to become “sick enough” so I could get better. The pain I was feeling was unbearable. All I wanted was for it to be gone, but it was never enough.

The mindset I had wasn’t something I created myself. It was a game my eating disorder was playing with me, telling me it would go away when I fit in size x pants or weighed x pounds. It was all a trick.

To the people out there who feel the same way as I did: You will never be “sick enough” to recover. Being “sick enough” is a myth. You can start recovery at any time, at any stage of the illness you are in.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Stop trying to hit rock bottom because rock bottom is death. You don’t have to be “sick enough” to start recovery. You don’t have to be “sick enough” to realize you are enough just the way you are right now.

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.

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To the Eating Disorder That Promised Me Everything

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Note: Ed is a reference to an eating disorder or E.D. He takes the shape of many eating disorders, such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder. He is not a real, physical person, but may be portrayed as so to help patients struggling with eating disorders to disassociate from the illness. It’s a tool I like to use to help myself create a barrier between my own person and the illness.

Dear Ed,

It’s been 10 years and one hell of a ride. I remember when we first met. It was just after I broke my arm in gymnastics. I was alone, lost and in need of attention and comfort. You rushed to my side, this seemingly perfect stranger who promised me happiness, confidence and friendship. And I, the wide-eyed and naïve, little girl who I was, welcomed you with arms wide open.

You gained my trust rather quickly. I followed your every piece of advice, your every command. I believed your word that if I did exactly as you told me, then I would be skinny, perfect, happy and loved. I wouldn’t be a burden to anyone and I would be in control of my life.

Hungry? Well it’s not exactly 12:30 p.m. So you can’t eat until then. Suck it up and suck it in. Your jeans are too tight. No dinner for you tonight. See that girl there? You’ll never look like her if you keep eating the way you do. Nothing but water and carrots for the next day or two. You may have reached your goal weight, but you’re still too big. Lose more. You’ll never be enough looking like that.

I believed your every word. But you blinded me, Ed. How could you? As our relationship grew, I shrank, both physically and spiritually. I was deceptive, running plates of food to the bathroom to flush down the toilet while my family wasn’t looking. I cried after every time I ate, even though I was barely sustaining myself on what I was per day at my lowest point. I lied through my teeth to my doctors, family and friends about how much I ate and how I couldn’t explain the weight loss.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I couldn’t go out to eat with my friends out of fear and embarrassment for ordering a bed of lettuce as my meal, and then worrying if they put oil or some high calorie dressing on it while I wasn’t looking. I locked myself in my room on holidays out of fear that breathing in the air of the meal was somehow ingesting calories and therefore making me fat.

My hair was brittle. My face was gaunt, and I barely had the energy to walk. Not to mention, I was miserable to be around. My lack of confidence was palpable. My worries of not being accepted and loved written all over my face. My self-hatred replacing every ounce of weight I had left.

How was this anything you had promised me? Yet, I defended you. Anytime anyone threatened to take you away from me, my guard went up out of fear of losing you. It wasn’t until seven years into it that I realized you were costing me everything I ever loved and valued. My friends, my family, my love of life. I was losing everything because I thought you were the only key to happiness, my one-way ticket. So I broke up with you briefly. To be honest, that was one of the most blissful years of my life. I was free from you and free to be just me. Just Britt.

Like any bad, unhealthy ex, you snuck back in somehow. This time, though, you transformed. Not only were you that annoying, mousy, little voice telling me to restrict, but you were also the voice telling me to end it all. You told me I wasn’t going to ever get better and I should just give up. I lost interest in everything that brought me joy, my relationships, painting and running.

With help, patience and hope, I was able to once again overcome you and break free from your deathly grip. I almost lost that time, but I proved I was stronger than you. I am stronger than you.

Now, here we are again. Well, Ed, my old friend whom I once knew so well and loved dearly, your presence is no longer wanted. This is the last time you will ever take up residency in my head. Old habits may die hard, but I can promise you this will be your last attempt to steer me down the path of a sad, eating-disordered, barren life. No, this is not some epiphany or Nirvana I’ve finally reached. This is me finally being fed up (forgive the pun, though I’m sure you’d enjoy it) and tired of you destroying every crevice of my life you’ve seeped into.

Simply put, I’m done. With the counting calories, with the constant anxiety of what I ate, how much I ate and when to eat, with the shame and embarrassment of eating in a public setting, with the destruction of any relationship I’ve ever had. I’m done. To quote one of my favorite bands, Blink-182, “I won’t go down that f*cking rabbit hole with you again.” Not today, nor ever again.

Sincerely,

Britt

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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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 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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What Living With an Eating Disorder Has Taught Me

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It’s big-headed, pretentious, conceited and self-centered. But it’s true, and the reason I know this is because no one can ever understand a person’s life or point of view until they crawl into their skin and walk around in it.

Nobody knows what my life so far has been like. People can empathize, and perhaps draw similarities, but nobody knows how they would react in my situation.

I didn’t want to go back to college after those girls did those horrible things to me. But here I am, 10 months away from graduating. I didn’t want to go to the job interview because I didn’t think I was good enough. But here I am, doing the job. I didn’t want to get up today, or yesterday, or the day before or last week. But here I am, getting up and living.

Living with an eating disorder has taught me a lot.

It has taught me that the years of struggling are often the most beautiful.

The worst, most impossible days are the days where I learn the most about myself.

It has taught me how loved I am by my family.

It has separated my true friends from the toxic people.

It has taught me some people are just nasty and that isn’t my fault.

It has taught me I don’t have to be happily ever after — I just need to be happy right now. One day at a time.

It has taught me that even though I feel damaged and scary, I deserve good things. Just like everybody else.

It has taught me that just because I don’t lift weights every day or follow a macro plan anymore I’m not any less of an amazing person.

It has taught me there is no magic cure or special pill. There are only small forward steps. An easier day. An unexpected laugh. A mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

It has taught me I am smarter and braver than I could have ever imagined.

Having an eating disorder may feel safe, tranquil, familiar and sheltered. But the truth is, it’s a cage, not a cocoon.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I have great days. Sometimes even multiple great days. Then I will have a bad week. However, one definite thing is that even my worst days in recovery are better than the best days in my eating disorder.

While rereading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” I realized what my strength was. In the novel, she talks about how real courage isn’t the man with the gun in his hand, but rather it’s the person who confronts something that they know all too well may cause them to fall flat on their face and see it through no matter what.

This is me. Most days I find it a miracle that I have even managed to get up and make it through the day when my brain and body tell me to give up. But I do it, and before I know it, a week has passed, then a month. And I’m still here. Doing what I can, while I can.

Not everybody is happy all the time — that’s not mental health. That’s rubbish. So stop pretending to be someone you aren’t. Stop thinking that just because you aren’t “thin enough” you drop a level on life’s hierarchy. There is no such thing as thin enough. Not with an eating disorder. So look at how far you have come. You don’t need top grades, run a marathon or donate an organ. You woke up today, and you are breathing. That’s more than enough. You are needed, and you are important.

I am the strongest person I know. Be the strongest person you know. Be your own role model because when you’re alone, your voice is the only one that matters, and it is usually always right.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When the Voice of My Eating Disorder Comes Back Inside My Brain

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Even though I’ve been in recovery for a good amount of time, sometimes my eating disorder voice worms his way inside my brain. He tries to coax me into relapse, sings songs of restriction and weight loss and control. Sometimes, it almost seems tempting. I remember the compliments. I remember the attention. I remember playing the games and cheating the system. I remember feeling invincible.

Then I remember the tears. The tears over mashed potatoes, over bottles of Ensure, the tears at the DMV when I was too out of it from hunger to pass my permit test. I remember forcing myself go to the gym even though I could barely stand, reprimanding myself when I didn’t burn a certain number of calories on the elliptical, those 45 minutes a waste of time. I remember misery and depression.

When that voice sounds so promising and inviting, I remember how, now, I go out with my friends and get French fries and sing along to the radio at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. I remember laying in bed reading on a lazy Sunday morning when I could have been at the gym. I remember letting go of a number and letting go of weight loss. I remember freedom and spontaneity. I remember life.

Every time the voice comes back, I choose to live, and there is no choice I’d rather make.

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Turning Down the Volume of My Eating Disorder's Voice in the Summer

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I set out with a goal in mind: finding a swimsuit. Easy enough, right? No. This can be a dreadful task. Every summer I cringe when I think of having to try on last year’s suit for fear that it may not fit.

This summer was no different. I found myself wanting to go out and play on the new paddle board my husband and I had gotten. But there was one thing holding me back: my drawer set aside just for swimsuits. I opened it, feeling my heart sink and my self-esteem drop even lower. I started sorting through them.

I had suits from my early 20s; hell, I had my first bikini in there. I half-smiled at some of the suits, remembering different places I had worn them. Then the memories took a turn for the worse, and my negative thought process started to turn up in volume.

You were better then.

You really let yourself go.

You are too old to wear that now.

People will cover their eyes when they see you in that.

I started to panic, and I quickly shut the drawer. I sat down and started to cry. I started to believe every single word I was telling myself in that moment. I told my husband I couldn’t go to the river and I needed to stay home. For a brief moment I was going to let this all sink in and start down a terrible path towards self-destruction again.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. As much as I wanted to hide, I wouldn’t allow myself. I’ve spent too many years hiding and punishing myself for being who I am. I quickly grabbed a suit and got ready to leave.

We had a great time at the river, although I was still being weighed down by the same negative talk, I made a promise to myself that I was going to ditch the old suits when I got home and go out that following week and look for a suit that felt good on my body, that made me feel comfortable and safe.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

What came first was looking for suits. I tried at least 10 different ones but couldn’t justify buying a suit when I had so many at home. I wrestled with the voice in my head. Don’t waste your money on these, all you have to do is listen to me and I can help you fit back into those old suits in the drawer. I promise if you just do exactly as I say, I can get you there.

That self-talk I like to refer to as “Ed,” my eating disorder’s voice. Ed thrives on moments like these. I left the store with nothing in hand. I went home and didn’t even touch the drawer because I considered what Ed was telling me. For a week I went back and forth between wanting to buy a new suit and start a new journey and also having a hard time letting go of the past. Then it dawned on me. This is a challenge I need to follow through on or else.

Saturday came around. I went back to the store and grabbed a bunch of suits. I went in with a clear mind and what I hoped was a accepting mind. My Ed voice turned up in volume as I finished trying on some that looked good and felt good. The voice said, No, don’t waste money on these, remember what I said, I can help you.

I was determined not to leave empty-handed this time. I grabbed the two I liked the most and pushed myself to the register. When I got home, I went immediately to the drawer I had been trying to avoid and hide from. I started tossing suits that served me no purpose anymore. I tried to remember that the memories didn’t have to be thrown away, just the fabric.

When I finally finished, I felt a sense of sadness, but an even greater sense of relief. I made a promise to my body that I was going to trust it through this process, and as hard and scary as that is, I think today was a win.

Follow this journey on Food Exercise Life…Balance.

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