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Maintaining Anorexia Recovery While in School

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Being in the midst of midterms, with finals just around the corner, my stress levels are extremely high. And when stress is high, I know I am more vulnerable to resort back to eating disorder behaviors to cope. But I’m intent on protecting and prioritizing my recovery! Here are some of the things that are helping me do so:

  • Prioritizing eating — literally scheduling meals and snacks into my agenda and my phone to remind myself of their importance and to not let them get pushed aside.
  • Reminding myself of why I am fueling myself: It enables my body to perform its basic functions, to keep my lungs breathing, my heart beating, and my brain thinking. It allows me to get from home, to school, to work. It allows me to write a paper, to create something artistic, to get through a yoga class, to play with my nephews, and to go out and have fun with friends!
  • Doing meal planning in advance can help me ensure my nutritional needs are getting met and to lessen the stress of having to make on-the-spot decisions about what and how much to eat.
  • Having a list of safe foods on hand that I am most comfortable with. These are my fall-back plan, and if I am really struggling I can go back to one of these foods.
  • Regarding food as medicine. I wouldn’t skip my medication, so I shouldn’t skip my meals either!
  • Not comparing what I am doing to what others are doing. Other people might not take a break to have lunch or snack, but that doesn’t mean I have an out to do so too. Different people have different needs, and I know what I need to do for my health and my recovery, which is to eat adequately and on a regular basis.
  • Learning to have some flexibility because sometimes things don’t go to plan. Maybe I planned out that I was going to buy a particular thing for lunch, and it wasn’t available. But that’s OK, because I can pick out something else. Maybe lecture ran late, and I can’t eat at the time I planned to, and that’s OK! Relaxing my rigidity is a process, but it’s one I’m working at daily.
  • Forgiving myself for mistakes. Recovery is not linear, so sometimes slips happen. I try to see slips as isolated incidents and not in an all-or-nothing manner (i.e. “I skipped one meal, therefore I’m a failure at recovery and a failure at life!”). It’s not that cut and dried. Yes, a slip needs to be taken seriously, but if I let it defeat me, I just open the door to more slips which could then spiral into a relapse. So I actively choose to respond to mistakes with kindness and compassion.
  • Finding a recovery community of others who “get it.” For me this is the Instagram ED recovery community. I use this judiciously and recognize what is helpful to me and seek that out, and avoid what is triggering to me. Instagram has allowed me to connect with some truly amazing, encouraging, and supportive individuals.
  • Finding what coping strategies work for me and making a point of utilizing these every day. For me, this means using opposite action, mechanical eating, and reminding myself to treat recovery as an experiment.
  • Making time for self-care. I literally have to schedule this in for myself or I can easily end up neglecting it. It can be hard to allow myself to take a break, but it is needed, and deserved! It will make me more focused, refreshed, and effective when I return to what I was doing.
  • Leaning on my support system and asking for help when I need it! I used to think this would be a burden to others, but in fact, not asking for help can end up being much more of a burden to people because if I don’t let them know how to help me, their hands are tied. Figuring out what I need, and asking for help in getting these needs met is incredibly important and empowering. Anorexia robbed me of my voice, and so learning how to get my autonomy back is really meaningful to me.

So, to everyone else who is stressing about school or work, take a deep breath, re-focus on what is important to you and keep fighting! Recovery is possible, and it is so worth it. Be aware of your vulnerabilities and find ways to skillfully navigate them.

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Stock photo by Poike

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

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When Anorexia Is an Unwelcome Guest in Your Home

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It came into our lives in an instant. At least that is what it felt like six months ago. One instant, and my world was turned upside down.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

Of course it wasn’t really an instant. Anorexia had been invading our lives, slowing sneaking in and making himself at home over the course of about eight months. He started simply enough, making my daughter question her choices. Making her seek out information about what is and isn’t healthy. He whispered, hiding in the shadows, not wanting to make himself known. But as he got more comfortable, he began creeping out, joining the family for meals and putting his feet up on the coffee table.

Questions about exercise and healthy living became regular conversation and we began to take notice of my 10-year-old daughter’s anxiety around choices related to healthy living. Our daughter became like a shark, always moving, always questioning and never requesting food.

Then the monster unpacked his suitcases and had his toothbrush in the bathroom. He was there, he was living with us. He was my daughter’s constant companion, but we couldn’t see him. His whispers were now screams in her ear, but we couldn’t hear him. And then one night I caught a glimpse of him. He was a creepy-looking fella who sent shivers down my spine. I questioned if what I had seen was real. But I knew, real or not, I had to make sure that this stranger was nowhere near my daughter.

We made our first appointment to have her evaluated at an Adolescent Eating Disorder Clinic. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t real. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t living with us… but in an instant that all changed.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

How could this be? How could this have happened? How could this have happened to my 10-year-old? She is only 10!

But it did happen and there we were, learning all about Family Based Therapy and the Maudsley Method. We learned that if we had allowed this visitor to stay much longer, our daughter would have required inpatient treatment. We learned that getting him to pack up his stuff and move out was going to be hard work. Oh my goodness was it going to be hard work!

Over the course of the last six months we have worked hard. Family Based Therapy is no joke and the name says it all. It was going to take a village to get that monster out of our house.

It started out well; he packed his bags, put his toothbrush away and then firmly planted himself on our couch. I got him to take his feet off the coffee table and pretty soon he was in a chair in the corner. He stayed there for a while, shouting out at my daughter. Trying to distract her. Trying to persuade her to bring his bags to the guest room. We fought him. With every meal and every pound gained, we pushed him away. He ended up hiding in corners and peeking out of the shadows and my daughter, my strong and resilient daughter, turned her back on him.

He walked out the door but he’s still on our sidewalk, peering in from the street. His voice is silenced by the love, support, strength and nourishment inside our home. She can’t hear him, but I send him warning glances to stay away.

I have learned more about anorexia in the past six months than one could ever imagine. Everything I thought I knew has been traded in for meaningful and accurate information.

My daughter’s eating disorder did not originate from a desire to be thinner or a dysmorphia that made her believe she was fat. This mental disorder took advantage of my rule-following, Type A daughter and her desire to do “the right thing.”

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media recently about eating disorders. Many celebrities have come out to admit their own private struggles. I applaud many of these celebrities for sharing what can often be a very isolating and shameful battle.

One particular celebrity — Candace Cameron Bure — has shared her struggle and recently partnered with the Eating Recovery Center as an advocate. While I applaud the Center’s intention of bringing attention to eating disorders through the use of a well-known celebrity advocate, I question what is truly being achieved. There has been very limited mention of the mental health aspect of eating disorders. There has been no mention that eating disorders are the number-one killer among psychiatric illnesses.

A recent episode of Dr. Oz is the perfect example of a missed opportunity for Mrs. Bure to effect true change in the misconceptions that surround eating disorders. In her recent profile piece in the June 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, she squandered an opportunity to be a true advocate and traded it in to share fitness tips and how she eats to make “40 look like 20.”

If the intention of the Eating Recovery Center is to erase the stigmas and misconceptions associated with eating disorders, we must do more than parade a celebrity around to share the simple fact that she, too, has struggled. We must arm advocates with the information to shout to the masses about where eating disorders truly originate.

As a parent, I have been reluctant to share my daughter’s battle with the world, not because I am ashamed but because the task at hand seems so immense. When the mainstream media portrays eating disorders as purely body-image issues or — as in the case of Mrs. Bure — an issue of pure control, they are doing a disservice to all people and their families who are battling this deadly disorder.

I have stayed silent thus far, but feel that I can do so no more. I shoot knowing glances at that monster through our window, warning him to stay away. But now I must also yell from the rooftop to the world for understanding.

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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When You Can't Imagine Having Had an Eating Disorder During Recovery

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Last week, a good friend was visiting from home, and a group of us were hanging out together. When I walked in, my friend laughed and said, “I was just telling them how you ate so many carrots you turned orange!” She’d made these kinds of comments before, and usually I didn’t mind. I laughed it off, but I started to think about the reasons behind it. You see, carrots were my safe food when I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I ate bags and bags to satisfy the hunger pains, knowing exactly how many (or should I say how few) calories they had. My palms and the soles of my feet did indeed turn orange, and I couldn’t eat carrots for a long time. It seems funny in retrospect, but all her comment did was remind me of how far down the rabbit hole of anorexia I had been.

Honestly, it was an intense sort of wake-up call, because lately I’ve been grappling with this idea, this notion in my head that I didn’t have an eating disorder. There’s no way the girl I look at in the mirror who eats dessert every day, who no longer fears pizza and bagels, who accepts her curves and her natural body size could have ever struggled with such a horrific disease. But I did. I was there, in the thick of it, at war with my body and my mind.

It honestly feels like a different life sometimes. I was a shell of a person, a fraction of who I am today. I feel almost detached from that “before” life. Before I knew all foods were good. Before I realized exercise wasn’t just to have abs by a certain time of year. Before I realized there was more to life than the calculator on my phone. I can’t even fathom going back to that place.

Which is why I also can’t imagine ever having an eating disorder. Because how could I have ever sacrificed my freedom for a monster of a disease? How did I find the courage to break free from the crushing hold my disorder had on me? How am I able to be so positive and reassure myself time after time that life with an eating disorder is not worth it? It astonishes me really, this hidden strength and bravery I have. I’m not being sarcastic; I don’t remember where it came from. What motivated me to fight and push and conquer?

All I really know is I’m so grateful I did. I don’t know where I would be without recovery and everything about it — the tears, the arguments in my head. But also, the pure love I was able to build for my body, my mind and my soul. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I embrace all that’s happened on my journey.

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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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When I Realized It Wasn't Me Who Was Controlling Anorexia

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A woman hiking at a cliff with her arms outstretched Anorexia began to develop in my brain at a young age. To this day, I continue to be caught off guard by its compelling deceit and powerful grip over my thoughts, which lead to frequent relapses.

As a child, I thought I decided to have an eating disorder. Consequently, I spent the majority of the next two decades blaming myself for how sick I’ve been. During preteen and teenage years, I truly believed myself when I said, “I can stop if I want. I just don’t want to…yet.”

Then, anorexia surprised me. I was 15 years old and found myself struggling with a mental illness on the pediatrics floor of the hospital, and soon enough at the Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Program in a larger city.

How could I have let it get so out of hand? How could I be so weak-willed that I could not even make myself eat?

My whole life had been about control. About controlling people, situations, my surrounding environments, and especially myself and my body. Hence, it came as a grotesque shock to realize this disease had complete control over me, not the opposite, as I had convinced myself. This lack of control is the one symptom that shook me to my core.

Anorexia has never ceased to surprise me. It has the cunning ability to turn my thoughts against reality. It causes me to forcefully ignore every experience I’ve had and instead re-create a fantasy that “this time will be different.”

The sheer monstrous grip it takes on my physical health, pushing me to the limit of life, time and time again. The endless torment in my head, seemingly out of nowhere, and its ability to play fickle rule games. I lose every time.

One can never win with anorexia. By this I mean there is no way to fully satisfy the illness. Winning comes in the form of freedom. This freedom is bought at the high price of years of torture, and at many times, it feels utterly impossible. Yet, without consistently putting in the hard work to break free, I miss out on perhaps the biggest surprise of all: 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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

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The Reality of Rebuilding After an Eating Disorder

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Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. Prince charming doesn’t give you a fairytale ending. The friends you thought would always be around suddenly don’t feel so close anymore. The major that was supposed to be your dream job and life calling totally isn’t. You get sick and need help even though you’re an adult. Life turns into something we can’t handle.

We all have plans about how we envision our lives playing out. I’d be lying if I said I’m living the life I had planned. “Everything happens for a reason,” is always said to explain life, but it’s a hard idea to buy into. Sometimes, we don’t know the reason, and sometimes, the things that happen suck. That may sound pessimistic, but over the last three years I feel like I’ve learned more about myself and life in general than I have over the past 20 years of my life.

I never planned on getting my heart broken or losing my closest friends. I never imagined having to drop out of school to focus on my health or changing majors three times. I never planned on having anorexia and all of the awful things that come along with it. I was so withdrawn from my life and so distant from my family. I spent hours laying in bed with the door shut because I was too weak and sad to do anything else.

Nothing else mattered except going to the gym, eating “healthy,” calorie counting and meal planning. I lost myself to my eating disorder. I could blame everything on the fact that I was at a low point in my illness or that I was too sick to help it. Or, on the other hand, I could face the fact that yes, I lost myself. Everyone and everything that truly mattered to me was no longer in my reach, but now I’m learning who I really am and who I want to be.

Recovery has been about so much more than restoring my health. Of course, that is a huge piece of it, but in the process I’ve learned so much about life and what is really important. I’ve learned so much about who will always be there. I’ve become much closer with my family and have realized how important they are in my life. I know what career path is going to be my passion. I’ve realized how important it is to be empathetic for others and how to be a friend.

I’m not fully recovered, and I still struggle every day. I’m not the same person I was before I got sick, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. My life is far from perfect or back to the way it used to be, but I’m learning there’s nothing wrong with building a new life with new priorities and new people.

Life is unpredictable. There’s no way to change that, but there is no greater freedom than accepting life’s imperfections and finding ways to turn your struggles into personal growth. I’m not sure what my life will be like next month, next year or even tomorrow. Not knowing used to kill me, but now I’m learning to be excited by life’s unpredictability and know that things aren’t always going to be easy. That doesn’t mean you can’t get through it and find something greater than you ever expected.

Broken hearts, lost friendships, hardships, setbacks, they are all undesirable and something we try to avoid. However, if you view them as subtle hints that there’s something out there that’s better for you, they will make you so much happier that will open your eyes to possibilities you’d never even thought of; This is when you begin to look forward to life’s unexpected moments and begin to understand why things happen the way they do. You’ll find the man or woman you’re really meant to be with, friends who are so pure and true and fulfillment in a life you never even knew you wanted. Sometimes we lose ourselves, and the best part is getting to find ourselves all over again.

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I'm Not Anorexic

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I know what you’re thinking.

Of course you’re anorexic, Sarah Beth. Your whole blog is about your journey through anorexia. You didn’t just go to treatment for nothing.

Wow, thanks for reading my mind! But that’s not what I meant.

Yes it’s true. On all my medical forms there’s a diagnosis next to my name.

Anorexia.

But that’s the thing.

have anorexia, but I am not anorexic.

You’re probably wondering what the difference is. You might think I’m being silly. But let me explain.

I really don’t like diagnoses. I know they’re necessary for insurance reasons and whatnot, but I don’t want those labels coming off the papers they’re written on.

I don’t want to put those labels on myself. 

Those labels [anorexia, depression, anxiety, etc] can be so negative and I don’t want to allow those negative words, thoughts and feelings to be extended back to who I am as a person.

As a person, I am kind, compassionate and strong. I like to laugh and I sing a little too loudly (“Annie,” anyone?). I love Jesus and I am just completely in awe of the fact that he loves a sinner like me. I hate cooking but I try to do it anyways (and normally end up with a burnt mess). I don’t like driving with the windows down because it messes up my hair and the wind is too loud. I just turned 19 but I still love getting stuffed animals. And I’m in recovery from an eating disorder.

My eating disorder does not define me. Yes, it has taken up a lot of my life, but it is not who I am as a person. I will not always have the diagnosis of anorexia next to my name on my current medical records. One day it will be in my medical history and on that day I will rejoice.

So yes, I have a diagnosis. And I fully admit to having said diagnosis. But I am not my diagnosis.

I have anorexia, but anorexia does not have me.

So I’m not anorexic. I am Sarah Beth, a girl who is learning to make a life for herself not defined by anorexia.

There’s a difference.

Follow this journey on Rewriting Her Ending

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