When Your Eating Disorder Tells You It's Trying to Help You

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

You deserve this, can’t you see it? Look in the mirror, are you blind? Gross.

Why did she keep repeating these things to herself? Why didn’t she understand it never would get better if she kept thinking like this? Everyone has the right to live. Right?

Don’t you get it? If you don’t do something about yourself, no one will ever like you. Do you think you’re good enough? Didn’t think so. I think you understand why you have to do this. It will get better once you’ve reached your goal, everything will be perfect then. Forget about everything else, all your focus on this. ALL your focus.

If she worked day and night to reach her goal, it would get better. If she failed one day, she would be even more worthless. A punishment maybe, a little less food?

Yes, you will be just fine with less food. I promise you. So you’re saying you’re hungry? Ha ha! Go to the mirror and take a look at yourself. Still hungry?

The eating disorder just wanted to help her feel better. Because everything will get better soon, right? Later, when she wasn’t gross. Later, when she was pretty. Later, when she felt like she could live with herself. Because in this moment, it didn’t matter. What did she have to lose? Nothing. Because she was useless. Useless.

No one else understands like I do. Don’t listen to anyone.

Look! everyone is staring at you. Exactly, you know why. Yes, I promise it will get better soon.

Are you faintingDo you feel like your heart will stop beating soon? 

Are you afraid you’re going to die? Like I said, it will get better soon.

But it isn’t going to be better. It will never get better this way. The girl had already figured this out. She knew it. But she couldn’t get herself out of this. She knew deep inside this was not the way to happiness. This was a one-way ticket to hell. But it was already too late.

What the girl wanted most in the world was for someone to save her. But she could not say it out loud, because then she would have failed at one more thing. She knew she was a failure, but was she really so useless that she couldn’t even do this one thing she had been working on in the past few months? Without it she would be nothing.

She cried herself through the days. There was no hope left for her.

But the day came when she couldn’t make it anymore. The day she was so sick, there was nothing left to do but to save her. The day she got saved. The day she had been waiting for for so long without being able to say it out loud. After that day, it was time to try to live again. Very slowly life started to come back to her, even though she never thought it was possible.

A month after that day, she now feels life again. She knows there are things in life that have more value than the things that occupied her mind during the year from hell.

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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8 Messages for My Friends Without Eating Disorders

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1. You mean a lot to me: If I have divulged to you that I have/had an eating disorder, you must be pretty important to me. That is not something I share lightly, so if I have shared, I want you to know I trust you.

2. Please refrain from “diet talk” or “fat-shaming”: Though it may not seem like a big deal, calling yourself “bad” for having an extra brownie or commenting on how you need to “diet for bikini season” is incredibly triggering to me. I understand that making comments about how “huge your thighs are” is an activity that can bond women and is prevalent in our society; I can go on for days about how that doesn’t make sense, but that’s not relevant here. What is relevant is that those comments can send me into a downward spiral of my own insecurities. This may not be a huge problem for most people, but I will spend days thinking about how “huge” I am and how you all “must be thinking about how fat I am.” It can cause my behaviors to fly off the walls, and that can be dangerous for my physical and mental health. One seemingly innocuous comment could make or break me, depending on the day/any number of factors, so please just avoid them.

3. Please don’t tell me about your friend’s disorder: You may have the best of intentions when you tell me “you understand my disorder” because your childhood friend went through this “phase where she stopped eating and got super skinny, but then she got over it when she found CrossFit a few months later, and now she eats super healthy and is super fit, look at this picture of her now.” When you tell me any number of well-intentioned anecdotes about eating disorders, my mind immediately jumps to a number of disordered thoughts: I can get competitive or worried about you comparing my body to your friend’s, or convinced I must do CrossFit to get better, which may not be healthy for me. Whatever my response is, I do not want to see a picture of this girl now. Everyone’s disorders are different.

4. Please don’t make comments on my body: Hearing about how “healthy” I am now is not always a compliment in my mind. Hearing I’m “thick, but in a healthy way” can send me into internal hysterics. I know you mean well when you make comments about how “sexy” I look in that outfit, but I can then spiral off worrying about the benefits of looking “sexy” versus “skinny.” Body comments are rarely helpful, so please refrain.

5. Please don’t comment on what I eat: Odds are I’ve already given too much thought to the nutrition content of what I’ve put on my plate. If I take a second cookie, I probably didn’t do so cavalierly. I don’t need to hear whether I “eat like a bird” or “must be ravenous today!”

6. Please don’t ask me how low my weight got/how much I’ve put on: This is really personal information. It also doesn’t matter at all. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, so weight is not always indicative of severity. Also, I wouldn’t ask you how much you weigh.

7. I am not “crazy”: This is here more to ease me than for your benefit. I fear that people associate eating disorders/mental illness in general with insanity. I am the same smart, kind, composed person you knew before I revealed to you my struggle. I am not my disorder.

8. Feel free to ask questions: Other than ones about specific weights, I am open to questions. I don’t want this to be an elephant in the room. If you want to know something, come to my face and ask me. If it is something I don’t feel comfortable answering, I’ll tell you.

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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'I'm Fine' Does Not Always Mean 'I'm Good' With Eating Disorder Recovery

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This morning, I read an article from Monte Nido called “Combating ‘Fine.’” The article, meant for people who are just starting to consider getting help for an eating disorder, described how people are often deluded by the eating disorder voice into thinking they’re fine and don’t need help, even when those around them are concerned.

“The disorder will use any available evidence to prove to you that you’re fine: you’re still getting good grades, you’re still a star employee at work, your blood tests look normal, you get admiring comments from (terribly misguided) people on the street about how thin you look, you’ve seen sicker looking people than you online…or the greatest argument of all: you yourself have been sicker than this before (however you measure that), and see? You’re fine right now.”

I’ve been here. I was one of the ones who quickly went from “I’m fine” to “I can’t stop,” but that was over a year ago, and now? Now, I am fine. I got help. I had a great support system. My weight is up, and most of my health issues — easy bruising, low heart rate, fatigue, dizziness, irregular periods, bloating and constipation, headache, poor memory — are gone. I’ve been to therapy, and I’ve got all the apps: Pacifica, Recovery Road, Headspace. I don’t exercise compulsively, and my mother asks me what I had for dinner out of curiosity, not concern. I listen to my body and respect that it’s doing the best it can to keep me alive. I am fine.

This is the tricky part: “fine” is not “good.” Because even though I eat an appropriate amount of calories and keep the panic attacks to three times a week and the “bad” relapses to once a month, I still spend my days preoccupied with food and calories and how much space my body takes up. I still recoil when people touch me, and I still restrict when I’m eating in public. I still bargain with myself, trading exercise and food for a manageable anxiety level.

I am fine, by the standard that I am not starving and I am not dying, but being “fine” does not make me “better” in any way except better at pushing it away and smiling instead. Sometimes I get glimpses of “good” — days where I feel loved and whole and fulfilled before the anxiety and disordered thoughts creep back in. There comes a point where you must choose if you are satisfied with “fine,” with glimpses of “good,” or if you are willing to go the distance for yourself.

The article I read today was not just for first-time treatment seekers. It is for me. It is for you. It is more anyone who is settling for anything less than wholeheartedly “good.” It is for anyone who is halfway between “sick” and “good,” far enough from “sick” to feel decently healthy but still close enough that you feel discouraged from swimming across the abyss to “good.”

I’m asking you to swim. The article this morning asked me to start swimming and keep swimming in the direction of “good,” knowing it will be murky waters while we visit “fine” and asking me to keep going anyway. Don’t settle for a halfway recovery. Fight for the light, the color, the vibrancy of life. Reject the pieces of your eating disorder you are keeping, and find new ways to cope. Find motivation in the world around you – find it in smiles and shivers and tears and warmth and laughter and love. That is where you are meant to live, not in the abyss of “fine.”

I’m going to strive for “good.”

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 'Ideal Weight' Becomes a New Obsession in Eating Disorder Recovery

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After years in and out of treatment centers I have heard the phrase “ideal weight” more than I can count. It’s the idea your body has a set point it is supposed to be at. Now this is helpful when you are underweight and need a goal weight to get up to while you are clearly not eating “normally.” It is not however, helpful for me now.

It’s not helpful for me now because I am sick and tired of worrying about moving out of it in either direction. I used to live in recovery just waiting to hear each week if my weight went up or down. I used it as a measure of success. I thought it was different than when I was in my eating disorder because I was trying to stay healthy. But it wasn’t different.

It was an obsession nonetheless.

This obsession with maintaining a weight or losing weight is not unique to people with eating disorders. It is everywhere. For some reason the idea of having a weight that changes as we go through life has become confused as something bad instead of natural. Somewhere through the fatphobia and diet culture we have stopped trusting our bodies to tell us what they want and need. We tend to believe if we do not keep “control” over what we eat, we will overeat. This is a lie perpetuated by diet culture. We are not in fact, smarter than our bodies. As long as we are healthy mentally and physically, our body doesn’t need us to make rules for it. Our own ego is getting in the way of our health and happiness. The only time I have ever wanted to overeat was when I told myself I couldn’t have something.

Even more importantly, I have grown angry at the idea that one body shape or size is better or more attractive than another. I’m tired of hearing smaller looks healthier because there are more and more studies coming out about health at every size and how unhelpful a BMI chart is. I came to this headspace after a lot of conversations that looked like this:

Me: I’m worried I ate too much this week.

Dietician: What would that mean?

Me: That I gained weight.

Dietician: Why would that matter?

Me: It would mean I didn’t follow my meal plan.

Dietician: Did you ever eat past the point of being full?

Me: No.

Dietician: So why are you worried?

Me: Because I think I gained weight.

Dietician: So?

Me: So I’m going to keep gaining weight.

Dietician: So?

I had this conversation many, many, times and at the end of each one I was forced to think about what gaining weight would mean about me. I was horrified at the idea of being an “anorexic” who got fat. I was terrified about what it would mean about me. Would people think I just lost all self-control? Would they think I looked better before? Then I had to think about these worries. Why was I having them? Why was I concerned about what people thought of my size? At the end of our conversations I always came to the conclusion I was miles happier than I was before. Why is there the idea that we need to have heightened self-control around food. Why do I still care about this?

The reality is it is so much harder for me to give up control around food. It’s taken strength to listen to my body’s needs instead of always focusing on the control aspect of eating. People have had an issue with this idea when I’ve expressed it before and I get it. It’s against everything we’ve been taught. We live in an era of diets and “cheat days.” However, I’m here to say you don’t need to wait for the next excuse to eat what you want. Listen for the cues. I win every single time I grab the bag of semisweet chocolate chips out of the freezer because they sound so damn good and then put them back when I’m full or have had enough of them and am craving something else. I don’t need permission from a calorie tracker, I don’t need permission from allotted points, I don’t need permission from anyone or anything besides my body.

I lived a life where I spent more time creating rules for myself and worrying about what I was and was not eating instead of doing the things I actually enjoyed. But I’m recovering. So I’ll say it again. There is no body size better than another. I am not here to be aesthetically pleasing. I am here to write, love, spend time with friends, make a difference and eat some damn good food.

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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Dear Friend, I Fight My Eating Disorder in Memory of You

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Hi Nicole, it’s me.

It’s the girl who first saw you in a group during treatment and took note of how gorgeous you were. I was jealous when I first saw you, as I compared every ounce of myself to you. I remember your pearl earrings, your turquoise Pandora ring, flannel and white Vans, which I soon took note of as your trademark outfit. I remember how you stayed quiet, while the other patients shared how they felt about whatever the group topic was. I remember your sense of peace.

I wasn’t in treatment for long before you transitioned into my program. After your first day in the partial-hospital, I was certain you weren’t coming back. I listened to the other girls talk to you, and I listened as you said how much you hated it here. That is something all of us girls and guys bonded over in treatment, our resentment of the place that was supposed to be saving us from our eating disorders.

I learned later on that not everyone can be saved.

I remember telling you I would eat the pudding you hated so much with you so you didn’t have to do it alone. I remember going to the Pandora store, getting the My Princess ring we talked about and showing you how pretty it was after I got it. I remember you looking through my altered book, telling me how you liked my art.

I remember playing Bananagrams, and you asking us how to spell words you were unsure of. I remember Occupational Therapy group, where you tried time and time again to make a bracelet with the tiny beads, getting fed up with how small they were, then laughing together after they all fell off the string. I remember the day you wore a dress because your doctor “made you,” and telling you how cute you looked, even though you hated it as it showed your body. I remember the little things, which now, seem to be so important.

Nicole, I wish I had been able to be there for you. I wish I could’ve told you that you had the world in front of you, and in recovery, we both could’ve taken it by storm. Both coming from Catholic high schools, we shared a small bond that no one else on the unit did, but I wish I could’ve told you I understood you so much more.

I wish I could’ve told you how beautiful you were and how you lit up the room when you smiled. I wish I could’ve helped you more and been there for you during the times when your eating disorder put you at your lowest. I wish I could’ve been the friend you needed, to encourage you, to talk to you and to listen to the struggles you had but that we also shared. I wish I would’ve given you the hug you needed. I wish I could’ve helped you pick up the pieces and grasp just how enough you were. I wish we had more time.

To the girl who got tired in the fight against her eating disorder, I hope you can look down and see how loved you were, how strong you were and how beautiful you were. I hope in Heaven there aren’t eating disorders, depression or self-harm. I hope by the loss of your life, you have saved someone else. I hope you saw the fundraiser I put together for you, allowing me to send almost $800.00 to the National Eating Disorders Association in your memory. I hope you know on the days when I struggle to hold my own recovery together, I think of you and vow to myself that I will do this for you.

I hope, that one day, I will see you again.

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

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Why I Need to Believe I Can Fully Recover From My Eating Disorder

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A lot of people think you can’t fully recover from an eating disorder. That you’ll always be in a state of “recovery” because recovery is a process, not a destination. While I enjoy the sentiments of recovery being a journey, I don’t like the idea of there being no end to my eating disorder.

Where is the hope in saying that you’ll never be recovered?

All throughout treatment and therapy and just recovery in general, we are told to have hope. That things will get better. That the eating disorder’s voice will soften. That meals will become easier. But why can’t we have hope that one day we will not struggle with the eating disorder at all?

It’s a hard process, I know that. But if we truly believe ourselves to be the strong women (and men) we learn that we are in therapy, why do we not believe that we can reach full recovery?

I think part of it relates back to our belief that we aren’t good enough. That’s a common belief of people with eating disorders. Really, it’s a common belief with everyone. We all have this sinking feeling in our stomach that maybe, just maybe, we don’t measure up to what we wish we did.

If we believe we aren’t good enough, we’re going to believe that we don’t have the potential to reach full recovery.

But we do.

We’re strong people. We’re brave people. We’re people who have fought like hell against our own mind. We can recover.

It’s a journey to get to the state of full recovery. It’s not just “I went to treatment for x days/weeks/months and now I’m perfectly fine, yay!”

But I do believe there is an end to the journey one day.

Maybe we’ll still have disordered thoughts every once in a while. I’m not saying that’s OK. Our minds will never be perfect so we’ll always have those thoughts sometimes. But they won’t be as often and loud as they are now. 

I’m excited to one day be so far along in recovery that I no longer have thoughts. To be able to eat a piece of cake without a second thought of the calories or fat content. Heck, to be able to eat a second piece of cake because the first piece was so dang good and having seconds is normal.

Recovery is great, y’all, but I’m so excited for recoverED.

I know that it’s a long way away. Who knows when I’ll get to that point. But I have hope that one day I will.

I refuse to believe there is no hope for my mental health.

I refuse to believe we will all be 90 years old and struggling to eat breakfast will our grandchildren.

I refuse to believe there is no end to our relationships with our eating disorder.

It’s not always going to be the type of breakup where you “stay friends” and still text each other every once in a while to see how life is.

This is the type of breakup where there was a nasty divorce, but you’re so much happier and you haven’t talked to your ex in years.

That’s what I have hope for.

That one day we’ll be completely free of every voice telling us that we are “fat” or that we shouldn’t eat.

I have this hope for me. For you. For every person struggling with an eating disorder.

There is hope of recovered.

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

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