Why Hearing I Looked 'Healthy' Was Hard in My Recovery From Anorexia


Anorexia nervosa is is more common than one might think. It affects roughly 0.9 percent of females and 0.3 percent of males. Many of us will come into contact with someone who has struggled with disordered eating at some point in our lives. The process of recovery looks different for everyone, but our journeys all have one thing in common: they by no means occur in a straight line. There will be many ups and downs, steps moving forward as well as setbacks. The goal is not for recovery to be “perfect” because this is largely an unattainable goal and only sets one up for failure and disappointment. Relapses happen and it’s best to prepare ourselves for them. We need only strive for an upward-trend toward recovery. While we may not entirely understand what someone struggling with anorexia (or any eating disorder) is going through, we can take steps to support them and increase their momentum toward recovery.

After five months in a partial hospitalization program, I was discharged. I was left to navigate the world on my own — well, not completely on my own as I still saw my therapist once a week. Despite knowing I was equipped with the skills necessary to fight the daily battle anorexia posed, I was terrified. I feared relapse but knew it was a likelihood. This didn’t stop me from feeling at any moment I would slip back into my old ways of disordered eating. I needed the support of those around me.

In the midst of my struggle to continue to move toward recovery, I found myself struck by a common comment others made to me. I knew they were trying to be supportive — searching for the right words to say that would encourage me to keep going — but my mind twisted their words. People would say to me, “you look healthy” and all I heard was “you look fat.” I had such deeply held beliefs about my appearance that a seemingly innocent statement would send me into a period of restriction. What was intended to be a compliment was transformed into fuel for my eating disorder. Old desires and urges lurked in the shadows of my mind, looking for anything to latch onto and send me spiraling.

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

With anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the odds were scary. I needed to choose recovery every day, every meal. Through working with my therapist, I came to realize when people said I looked healthy, they meant I no longer looked sick and the color had returned to my face. They did not mean to imply I was “fat,” but instead that I was returning to the world and no longer isolating, participating in activities and pursuing things other than a specific number on a scale. “Healthy” now means I am living.

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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