woman with her legs crossed

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.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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.

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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.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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.

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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.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

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.


For years I only had one lover: anorexia. Then I stared dating the man who is now my husband, and anorexia got in the way of our lives together. No matter how my husband pushed and prodded, anorexia fought harder. I knew all of the horrible statistics, all of the detrimental effects of this disease, and so did my husband.

I thought marriage would save me. I can admit that now. And for a short time, it almost seemed to be true. My dreams all seemed to be falling into place. Then we got back from the honeymoon and returned to work, and everything started falling apart.

My husband and I joke that we share the same brain. We often finish each other’s sentences, or say something and one or the other of us exclaims, “I was just going to say that!” We like a lot of the same foods, and enjoy the same odd and quirky sense of humor. All of these things are not enough to hold a marriage together, obviously. We did our best to keep things fun during the early days, and we still do. Two years ago, I was happy. We were happy. Until we weren’t.

It’s taken a long time for me to see through the fog and storms, to finally admit that love simply wasn’t enough. We could have the best day together, my husband and I; and yet going to bed after a mere chaste kiss was obviously affecting both of us deeply.

My husband often tried to talk to me about intimacy, and I shrugged him off. Not only was it a sore subject for me because of never talking about it with anyone else, but also because in the midst of restriction and body image issues, I never wanted to be intimate. Emotionally, I feared attachment. Physically, I flinched at his lightest touch. We were at a loss.

I felt horrible about avoiding my husband. Many nights I would pretend to be asleep when he came to bed, to avoid feeling like even more of a failure. This went on for over a year, living with an elephant in the room.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Sex. It’s everywhere. In movies, books, the media. I hated seeing those scenes in movies, they only seemed to reiterate my own problems. It was hard to sit there next to my husband and watch an image of a couple doing the things we never even attempted anymore.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me when I went to the doctor and she told me to abstain from sex. Now I had an excuse, a doctors order! I was at the doctor for my first appointment of many, in an attempt to get help and recover from anorexia. The doctor told me to avoid sex because of the slight chance I might get pregnant, and not be able to carry the baby to term.

I told my husband the doctors “orders” and for months, we barely kissed. In fact, I moved out of our house and into a cottage a few blocks away. I didn’t talk about it, but my sex drive was dead and I was stressed to the max.

Over time, I gained weight and became less depressed. Finally one night, I was ready. Neither of us had to say a word, we just knew. This is only my side of the story, with few details, but I hope someday it will help another woman who is in a simile predicament. Things can, and do, change.


I can recall the days I walked to kindergarten with my father, arriving to school early as “the early bird always catches the worm.” I wore my oversized polo shirt, white tennis shoes which would soon turn gray with wear, and navy shorts bearing the name of the school I was attending. The alphabet lessons, simple addition, and minimal strings of foreign language were my classroom lessons, yet, I fondly recollect the more important and seemingly more abstract ideas I carry with me to date.

Robert Fulghum discusses the prospect of true life lessons, including how to live, what to do, and how to be, as lessons with a root in kindergarten. Thirteen years later, at 18 years old, I can honestly say I agree with Fulghum. A lesson I find myself consistently returning to from my childhood is the overall idea of appearance being the least important aspect of what truly makes a person. In some senses, yes, appearance is important, however, my mind wanders to the more abstract and mature idea of our bodies being beautiful when they house a beautiful soul.

Personally, my childhood lesson of focusing less on appearance and more on what each and every one of us have inside, is one that shapes how I live, what I do, and how I want to and choose to be.

Growing up, change is truly inevitable, and when society changes or life throws a curve ball, the way we live may face unexpected alterations. From a young age, I have had a skewed view of who I am, in terms of body image and being able to genuinely like who I am. This view of myself, constructed from as young as kindergarten age, resulted in a battle with an eating disorder beginning intensely my junior year of high school. As someone who wasn’t necessarily content with my body, I still chose to nourish it, never entertaining the idea of starving myself and denying myself the right to eat. However, when life became unbearable with school, family, and friends, I turned to anorexia, which ultimately changed the way I was living. I lost the core of my childhood lesson, living in a disorder that left
me focused on my weight and appearance 99.9 percent of the time.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

After struggling with anorexia nervosa for two years, I was finally able to admit myself to treatment to battle my internal and intrusive thoughts that left me struggling on a daily basis. As I became healthier, my childhood lesson began to shine through cracks. I was becoming happier, as my mood was stimulated by the nutrition and medicinal assistance I was providing myself. Gaining weight was not easy, yet, I began to feel at home in my body again, trying to accept it for whatever size it would be at my goal weight.

Simultaneously, I was completing treatment each day and working in my campaign to create awareness of eating disorders and the impact of negative body image on society as a whole. This is how my childhood lesson had an impact on the things I do. For the last four years, I have been a co-presider of a campaign that has reached thousands of individuals, consisting of those who are and are not affected by eating
disorders. My involvement in the campaign has allowed me to be an advocate for
the men and women who are in my old shoes, without an advocate or anyone to
speak up for the help they need. My recovery is shaping each and every day and giving me the opportunity to share my more-than-appearance based childhood lesson.

Fulghum addresses the idea of “how to be,” and I find this to be a difficult one to speak on. Societally, we are seemingly always told to be and act a certain way. This is
the very conception that helped fuel my eating disorder, leaving me with the impression that I had to be thin to be beautiful. However, returning to my lesson from kindergarten, there is no wrong way to look or to have a body. Logically this is a concept I know very well, yet, in the mind of an eating disorder, my body is wrong unless I am a skeleton dying in a hospital bed. In my recovery, I am not only relearning how to eat, but also relearning how to accept myself upon more than my outward appearance.

Through the lesson from my childhood, I am able to recall that I should live according to what my body needs, rather than giving into the standards of society. I am remembering that for me to help other people, I need to be the best me I can, which means maintaining my recovery, speaking the truth, and creating the peaceful acceptance of my body originally learned in my kindergarten past.

Image via Thinkstock.

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