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What to Expect If You're a New Mother Recovering From an Eating Disorder

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The moment I found out I was having my first baby I was beyond happy — my mind was on a cloud dancing Gangnam Style, with my friends the Care Bears. Anybody who longs for a child might feel this, but my joy was infused with such gratitude and relief that it is hard to put into words. I had thought I had completely ruined my body during my two-decade long struggle with an eating disorder (ED), but once I got my weight back to a healthy BMI and my period became regular, I was able to get pregnant.

“Oh my gosh, we are going to have a baby!” I shrieked, my initial reaction to seeing a positive result. I placed my hands over my mouth in disbelief. I am having a baby! As excited as I was at that moment, once it sunk in, there was a part of me that was afraid the weight gain would jeopardize my recovery. I’d finally found balance in my routines and eating and felt strong in my recuperation, and this was a curve ball. So here is some advice for a wannabe mama or mama-to-be in recovery who finds herself in a similar position:

1) How do I deal with my body changing?

I had some initial struggles with my rapid body changes: sudden huge breasts and out-of-control evolutions I had never experienced and could do nothing to affect. This is how I dealt with it. For starters, there was my half hour workouts each day that helped keep me in shape and fueled me with “feel good” endorphins. Then there was another part of me, a much more rational and greater part that wanted a baby more than anything and knew, no matter what, I would be OK. I would make sure of it because my baby would need me to be. So if you find yourself struggling, remind yourself what is in your belly and why you are gaining weight in the first place — your incredible baby!

2) How do I cope with seeing the numbers go up on the scale?

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Don’t look! When you are pregnant, you are expected to gain a certain amount of weight. Every time you are at the OB’s office you will be weighed to make sure you are on track. I would advise you to stand backward on the scale and let the professionals track your weight without you knowing. As long as you are on track, that’s all that matters. I know people without eating disorders who do this. I know weighing myself is a trigger, and I take no chances with triggers when I take the health of my child into account. That is why standing backward and not knowing my number is a good solution for me.

It is very important to be upfront with your gynecologist about your eating disorder history and past. This may seem trivial, but with my first child, I received a document from my gynecologist with great news, but it had my weight on it — a trigger. I hadn’t seen a number in three years and I hate to admit it but that number haunted me. I couldn’t stop staring at it as the doctor was talking to me. To resolve this, I emailed my OB reminding her of my history and how it would be better to not know the number, as long as I am gaining healthily and the baby is doing great. She said no problem and that was that.

3) What helps you feel comfortable with your growing belly? 

The other issue I struggled with sometimes was my actual bump size/physical weight gain, not surprisingly. Sometimes I thought it looked cute, and other times I thought I looked chubby or like a “beluga whale” — more the latter honestly, which I am not proud of. I was carrying very side to side, so I just started looking pregnant around 28 weeks. I was waiting for “the bump” for so long, and once it came I was actually not that confident in it.

What helped a lot was that I had gotten a great maternity wardrobe which I felt comfortable and confident in. I would suggest everyone get clothes which fit and feel good, especially toward the end of pregnancy! It was helpful to invest in a maternity wardrobe, and it’s not a waste of money — I still wear the clothing postpartum. I also plan to have more kids, so they can definitely be recycled. It’s better to avoid all of your old clothes during this time. It can be a sting to your ego when your clothing starts to get tight and remind you that you are packing on the pounds.

4) Will I have some down days? What should I do?

Of course you will! Duh, you are human. On days when I did feel insecure about my bump, I felt guilty talking about it. If I would complain, “I was feeling huge and bad about myself,” I would be met with “but you are having a baby.” Then I would feel extremely guilty for my feelings because yes, I was having a baby and I was extremely lucky, but on the other hand, I am allowed to feel not great about myself. It is ironic that our need to be skinny is dictated by the media and society, but then if we have a fear of getting “fat” when we are pregnant, it is considered blasphemous and we are thought of as superficial. Addressing any downsides of being pregnant is frowned upon and seen as taboo, but it shouldn’t be. I bet you most mothers-to-be have insecure days and these so-called “irrational fears.” We have to start supporting, rather than judging, one another so we can talk about these normal fears and make one another feel better, instead of holding the feelings in.

My number one advice is to talk to someone about how you are feeling (a support) and then do something to make you feel good. Go get a pedicure, a manicure, read a good book, exercise — whatever makes you feel like your best self.

5) Will my second baby be easier?

OK, so surprise: I am pregnant again (by almost 20 weeks).

After all of these doubts — I did it again. And guess what? This time around has been much easier because I know what to expect. I am finding the change in my body is also easier because not only have I already been through it, but also I have no time to focus on the changes this time around. I am constantly chasing my toddler around, taking her to classes, feeding her, watching her reach milestones etc. Also, the best thing about this time around is that you really know what you are getting out of it — another little person who you will love more than anything in this entire world. For that deal, I am in, maybe a couple more times (ask me a couple months after this one enters into the world. I may be bluffing.)

6) Will I relapse after having my baby?

In my mind, I know I will be healthy for my daughter so, in a way, she will always be keeping me “honest” about my recovery. I never want to hear the words “I am fat” out of her mouth.

I never want her to emulate unhealthy eating habits from me. I want her to look at her mommy and want to be the confident, smart, kind individual I plan to be for her. I want her to see that intelligence and a kind heart is what real beauty is. Helping people is what beauty is. Being happy and healthy is what beauty is. The rest is bullshit. I want her to know bodies come in all shapes and sizes and one is no more perfect than the other. I want her to never compare herself to anyone. I will teach her self-acceptance because no one is perfect. It’s the world’s greatest farce.

But always make sure to contact support after having your baby if you are finding yourself struggling with your postpartum body. With the stress of having a new baby, it is easy to feel like you are not doing a good enough job and everything is completely out of control. These times are when the disordered eating thoughts come back into my head, and I must be vigilant about shutting them down. Wanting a “perfect” body is hardest to resist when everything around you is so out of control. I had to remember the size zero jeans in my closet weren’t the key to my happiness; in fact, they made me the most miserable I had ever been. I stepped back and realized I was only obsessing about fat because I felt overwhelmed — between balancing working from home and a new baby who needs to eat every two to three hours — and I shut the voices down. This is what you will need to do.

Also, I wasn’t able to diet to lose the weight, because dieting isn’t recommended for those recovering from anorexia nervosa. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t tempted at times. I am not sure of what my weight was before I became pregnant again, but between breastfeeding (which burns calories and helps shrink your uterus), eating healthy (intuitively) and exercising (chasing a baby is a workout when they get a bit older!) the weight seemed to come off fairly easy.

I will never know if I hit my pre-baby “magic number” because I didn’t get on a scale, but that’s not important to me. Also, like diets — I don’t believe in scales and obsessing about numbers. I went by how I felt. Most important, my baby was getting proper nutrition from my breast milk and gaining weight. I was strong enough to be the best version of myself for her.

If you are questioning getting pregnant because of your ED history, know you will be more than fine. In fact, it will be the best decision you ever made. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Just because we had eating disorders doesn’t mean we won’t be amazing mothers. It means we will be strong, sensitive, caring, appreciative, aware mothers to our offspring.

For mamas out there — this mothers day, every mama in recovery deserves to be celebrated because not only are we mamas, which is a hard enough job, but we were able to do something our ED told us we couldn’t. We were able to produce and care for an amazing human being. Bravo to us!

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.

Unsplash photo via Marvos Moraes

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The Naked Truth About Eating Disorder Recovery

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I quickly slide into the hot spring, carefully balancing the white washcloth on my head in the process. I try to avoid eye contact with the dozens of naked women around me, and I smile to myself as I resist the urge to burst out giggling. I am freaking naked. Surrounded by naked strangers. In another country. And I couldn’t be happier!

As someone in recovery from anorexia nervosa, I can say with confidence that I never thought I would enjoy something like this.

I spent 15 years of my life weighing, measuring and critiquing every little thing about my body. I despised my body more than anyone or anything on the planet. I physically harmed it and starved it and pushed it to the brink of exhaustion more times than I can count. My body was my nemesis.

Yet here was that body, carrying me on a solo backpacking trip to a small village by the Sea of Japan known for its Japanese onsens (hot thermal baths). Here I was, in my body, enjoying a large smooth stone pool of steamy goodness — taking in the bamboo forest enveloping the peaceful setting I found myself within.

I closed my eyes and remembered the snow crab udon I enjoyed for lunch, and the sushi I planned to eat for dinner. I breathed in the sea breeze and, when I exhaled, I released all tension held tightly in my belly as I meditated on just how far I had come.

woman in front of japanese shrine jumping for joy

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

My time in the hot spring didn’t start out so gracefully. I had prepared for my trip by reading online articles on how to respectfully enter an onsen. I nervously repeated the steps to myself as I entered the women’s locker room and slid off my clothes. I gathered my washcloth (that currently felt smaller than ever before), and walked through the steamy doors.

There was a woman going in before me and I decided my safest bet was to duplicate her actions. She went to the corner of the room where there was a small fountain with a bucket placed within it; she simply threw some water on her shoulders. I did the same and quickly got into the pool so as not to attract any more attention to my tall and very white self. “That was strange,” I thought. I had read that I was supposed to scrub my body for several minutes with soap before entering the springs.

When I looked up, I experienced something similar to what I had felt when I was in my eating disorder: everyone was staring at me. I tried to act cool as I gracefully hopped out of the pool — just in time to see dozens of shower stations I had missed coming in. The showers reminded me of the large single shower I feared in my junior high school gym, except each shower station was furnished with a mirror, soap, and a stool.

I sat down and stared at myself in the mirror. “Don’t cry. You didn’t know. Let’s start over.”

My friends will tell you I am known for an excellent “resting bitch face.” But the truth is I am often quivering inside and full of self-doubt and judgment. And, I hate breaking the rules.

When I was in the lowest depths of my eating disorder, I covered my bathroom mirror with wrapping paper so I didn’t spend hours picking at my acne, pinching the little hip fat I had left. At the onsen, I looked in the mirror and saw not just the body I was born with, but the body I went to war with.

I scrubbed myself from top to bottom and stared at the glistening reflection before me. I felt strong and powerful despite my rolls and imperfections. I reminded myself I was a survivor. If I could overcome the internal hell of anorexia, anxiety, depression and suicidality, I could most certainly endure an afternoon amongst several (now probably angry) naked women.

Nicole Griswold is an Eating Recovery Center Recovery Ambassador. She is passionate about sharing real stories of hope in recovery and is grateful for her body — strong, resilient and alive.

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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A Night Out With Ed: An Allegory for My Eating Disorder, Anxiety and Panic

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I’d rather be home, warm and safe, surrounded by the things that are familiar, simple, comfortable. This isn’t really what I want to be doing. But, I want to do what other people do, I don’t want to be isolated from the world. So, I walk into the club.

Loud music, flashing lights, people everywhere.

It’s hard to see, hard to hear, hard to move … It gets hard to think straight.

Everyone seems to be having a good time, so I should too. I shake it off, introduce myself to a man who appeared nearby. His name is Ed. Something about him makes me uneasy, yet something makes draws me close. I feel safe near him, and that feels good. He gets me a drink. As we talk, it seems like we’ve known each other for years. I begin to feel numb, and it doesn’t feel too bad. People are talking, and I’m not really sure what’s being said; things start to feel hard to keep clear. I start to get warm, itchy. It hits me — something has been put in the drink. I shouldn’t be here.

I begin to panic, I’m claustrophobic, overwhelmed. I want to get out. I don’t know where to go, what to do. Things are getting bigger, louder — the room is dark yet the flashing lights seem blinding. Everything is closing in.

I spin, see people passing things around. More drugs, in various forms. The people taking them seem fine, having a good time, yet their smiles and laughs are twisted, distorted. Should I do what they’re doing? They are fine, I’m not. Do what they’re doing. I don’t know what the drugs are. I try to ask, but can’t understand the answers. It’s getting worse. Things are spinning, I can’t breathe, my heart is racing. I desperately look around for someone to help, to pull me to the surface. Suddenly, Ed is there. He’s beside me. He tells me it’s fine, to follow him, he’ll take care of me. I panic, look around for someone who may know how I’m feeling. I try, but I can’t show it, can’t explain it. Someone offers me a drug, someone says to take another. Ed declines — he keeps giving me drinks, telling me they’ll help. I stand in place, wanting desperately to scream out, yet I can’t say anything, I can’t do anything. I push everyone away; their drugs aren’t going to help, it’s just going to things more out of control, scarier.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

The drinks aren’t helping, I’m not feeling better. I’m just spinning. I’m numb, it’s dark, I’m unsure of the things happening around me. I can slightly recognize faces, I can hear some distant voices, but that’s it. I pray if I just mimic what they’re doing, although I can’t cry out, maybe I just won’t be left behind, lost.

Everything goes black, silent.

I wake up. I’m home. I’m tired, weak, but I’m OK. I don’t have the strength to move, to even think. I don’t know how I got here. Did I find my way home, did someone help me? I’m scared. I stumble out; everyone else is fine, acting like nothing happened. They look at me kind of odd, talk to me like I’m distant, somewhat unfamiliar, but they smile at me and carry on like nothing’s changed. I go back to my room. I don’t know what’s happened, but I’m just happy I’m back home, warm and safe, surrounded by things that are familiar, simple, comfortable.

My vision is blurry. I stumble to the mirror. He’s there, Ed’s reflection. “Ready to go out 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 a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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

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When 'Getting Healthy' Turns Into an Eating Disorder

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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 “NEDA” to 741-741.

When I was 11 years old, I got stuck between two tires in a tunnel on the playground.

My friend’s mom had brought us, and when she could not pull me out, she enlisted the help of strong-looking men who were there with their own children. They grabbed me under my armpits and yanked as hard as they could.

“Suck in your stomach,” they told me, but no matter how much I tried to deflate my body, I would not budge.

Someone called 911, and I was rescued when firefighters used the Jaws of Life to pry the two tires apart.

I emerged humiliated.

I’m fat. I’m fat. I’m fat.

I couldn’t make the words stop screaming in my head.

That moment shaped how I viewed my body; my flesh felt so out of my control; I had told it to move and it didn’t. The time I spent between the tires taught me that I existed as two entities, my mind and my body. The latter was defiant.

As the next few years of pre- and mid-pubescence rolled along, I was often reminded of how much I hated my body. Sure there was the tire incident, but there was also the moment when I realized I needed to buy husky jeans; the time when a “friend” pointed out my “big belly;” when I grew hair in my armpits before my friends.

I wore t-shirts when swimming and best attempted to hide the outline of my physical expanse beneath baggy clothing. Yet, I could never escape my feelings of self-disgust. Regardless of what covered me, I knew what lay underneath: Fat, imperfection and inconvenient bulk.

As eighth grade neared its end, and high school, varsity cross country and the prospect of being a sexual being drew closer, I decided this was my moment to shed my baby fat; it was my time to become thin.

I began training for a road race with my dad. We went running every night. As I trained, the weight I had always been ashamed of melted off my frame.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

As I began my freshman year, I went from being a mediocre runner to one of the best on my team. I began being flooded with compliments about not only my appearance, but also my newfound athletic ability.

But, as I achieved “healthiness,” I didn’t want to stop there. I sped right on past.

I started limiting the kind of food I could eat. At first, almost subconsciously, my portions of food began shrinking. And so did I.

Like many things in life, drastic weight loss is a slippery slope. Like many other stories I have heard, my newfound passion for health very quickly took a sinister turn.

I started going for runs by myself after cross country, and when I heard John Tesh say something on the radio about weight loss happening when you made sure you ate a certain amount of fiber for every X number of calories, I didn’t take that as a suggestion — it became my rule. I often walked to the grocery store for fun, where I wandered the aisles trying to find new low and zero calorie products. From sugar-free ice cream with fiber, to laxative chocolate, it wasn’t hard in a-binge-and-fast-obsessed-America to find foods and supplements that would aid my now full-fledged eating disorder.

Eventually my body would crave food, but because of the deprivation, when I would finally eat, I would gorge. I would hide in my room and eat tubs of cookie dough and bag after bag of chips.

When I was done, I would lock myself in the bathroom where I chugged liters of water. Maniacal yet methodical, I always turned on the shower and the radio to hide the sounds of hacking as I vomited over and over until I thought I’d gotten it all out. When I’d look into the mirror, my eyes were glassy and bloodshot, but my seasonal allergies always provided the perfect excuse.

It didn’t take long for, “You look great,” to change into commentary about exposed ribs and sunken eyes. When people expressed concern, I took it as a compliment.

Like any addiction, my eating disorder made me behave strangely; I retreated into myself and felt always alone. When I ate too much in public, I made excuses to go home so I could remove the sustenance from my body. When I went to meals with friends, I lied and said I’d already eaten and watched enviously as they ate “normal” food without thinking twice.

One day while out at lunch with my mom, I made myself throw up in the restaurant bathroom. “Did you just throw up?” she asked when I sat back down. “No,” I snapped angrily, changing the subject, even though all I really wanted was someone to make me stop.

Around this time, I began drinking heavily. Minimal eating and heavy drinking not so shockingly proved to be a dangerous combination. That fall just after turning 16, I spent a month in inpatient rehab after being hospitalized twice for alcohol poisoning.

In rehab, I quickly realized that most of my counselors were not interested in talking about my issues with eating. During my initial consultation, I’d decided to be honest about my habits, and when asked if I restricted eating or made myself throw up, I said yes to both. That was the last I heard about either topic during my 30-day stay. Though the counselors spent an hour going through my bag to make sure I didn’t have hand sanitizer, no one ever thought to monitor whether I was just having an apple for lunch or skipping dinner altogether.

With alcohol and drugs taken away, I had all the more energy to invest in self-deprivation. So I did. What would it feel like to not have a problem? How would I deal with life without exercising this control?

I left rehab no less sick than I had been when I’d gone in, and I spent the next six years with all of the same habits. It always began with phases of restrictive eating, which were almost always followed by utterly out of control periods of binging and purging.

***

I recently logged into a secret Live Journal account I had kept as a 16-year-old. The settings were private, so only I could see what I wrote. What I found was disturbing.

In May of 2006, a little after midnight, I wrote a post that I titled “New Diet:”

“Dearest Journal,

I have just thought up my new amazing diet.

Each day I will allow myself _______. Each can must be eaten an hour apart from each other. I will also be allowed one ________.  All beverages must be calorie free. If any food is eaten outside of my safe foods it MUST BE VOMITED. Certain fruits may replace a can of vegetables DEPENDING on their caloric value.

Tomorrow I will calculate the exact caloric value I will be taking in each day and make some exercise ideas!

Until then,

STAY THIN!”

The glee that I can hear in my writing alarms me now; that I took such pleasure in the prospect of hurting and depriving myself makes me want to cry.

I am especially saddened when I listen to the tone in the next post, that I wrote less than 24 hours later. This one I called, “Fat!”

“So, it only took me a day to ruin it. I’m coming home from therapy after only having _________ and I felt so weak. I AM WEAK. A WEAK FAT DISGUISTING SON OF A BITCH. I ate a slice of cheesecake and then came home and ate carrot cake.

I then had every intention of booting it until I figured out that my throat will barely open because of my fucking jawbone. I still managed to force some of the carrot cake out. Tomorrow my punishment will be no food. I just need to break my stomach. This bastard fat ass will not keep me from puking just by a fucking jaw pain. You don’t want to puke? Fine then you just won’t get the privilege of food.”

My jaw was in pain because I’d just had my wisdom teeth removed. Hearing my self-abuse frightens me. The way I separated my physical being and mental will into two separate beings is terrifying; it allowed me to punish my physical body, without feeling like I was hurting myself. I was trying to subordinate my cravings; I had to forget that the flesh and bone that was so “needy” was a real part of me; I had to forget it was me.

It is hard for people who have not experienced an eating disorder to understand the extent to which the afflicted suffer. While desiring thinness is certainly a factor, it is not the illness as a whole, or even close. Like alcoholism or pathological gambling, it is an addiction that is entwined with both behaviors and physical sensations.

Let’s be honest, no one thinks that it’s “healthy” to physically eject the food you just ate, but we tell ourselves the end justifies the means and that our happiness lies in confining our physical expanse to an ever-decreasing amount of space; an ever-shrinking number on a scale.

I felt overwhelmed by my life, by the changes that were happening within me, and on me, and I thought that in some twisted way if I could make myself smaller I could make everything stay the way I wanted. I felt so sick inside, and wanted to look sick outside, as well.

Of course the answer to being mentally ill isn’t making your self physically ill. Eating disorders are not glamorous; it is exhausting to be consumed by thoughts of calories and weight; it is scary to be overpowered by urges to fast, binge and purge.

It is depressing to pull back into a world that feels all of your own; where you make all the rules and yet none ever make sense.

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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My Weight Doesn't Invalidate My Eating Disorder

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I am considered clinically overweight. As a result, I constantly feel too embarrassed, scared, and unsure about discussing my eating disorder with others. People look at me and see a girl with thick thighs, large-set hips, and a belly — they would never expect that I have been struggling with an eating disorder for over 10 years.

My relationship with food can only be described as relentless extremities. I either don’t eat for days at a time or I binge excessively on fast food and sweets. Food is an ally to my self-destructive behaviors.

When I starve, it’s a form of punishment for getting to this weight. “I don’t need to eat and I don’t deserve to. I’m overweight anyway, so this is needed,” I think. I look through Instagram and find girls with thighs that separate when they’re standing, and I never want to eat again.

When I binge, the number on the scale hadn’t dropped fast enough or my stomach hadn’t shrunk at all, so I punish myself again. Apathy washes over me, and I think about how nothing I do matters because I will always be fat, disgusting, and unattractive. Afterwards, I cry for hours because I believe I have to start starving all over again.

Even though these feelings and behaviors are very real for me, I’m still too uncomfortable to admit I have an eating disorder because of what my body looks like. I also question where I belong or if I even fit in the ED community. My weight fluctuates so little that I almost feel disingenuous when talking about these struggles, and unfortunately this is mostly a result of the stigmas and stereotypes that are portrayed with eating disorders. Yet, even knowing that still doesn’t put my mind to rest.

When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I found comfort in reading personal accounts from people with the disorder and being able to relate to them. It helped by reassuring me I wasn’t alone. I must not just be completely “crazy.” Lacking the ability to identify the same way with ED because of my weight creates a sense of isolation and rejection. I feel like I am too fat to have an eating disorder.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

For the last several months, I have attempted to learn body positivity and self-love to recover from both the disorder and my perceptions. Yet, it always creeps back up on me. Recently, I was diagnosed with ADD and prescribed Adderall. Though it helped immensely with my ability to do well in school, I found myself quickly falling in love with the appetite suppression. I cheered as I went longer and longer without eating, and Adderall turned into some supplement to my eating disorder.

I think the worst thing about being fat and dealing with an eating disorder is people’s reaction to weight loss. After a month on Adderall, my weight fluctuated more than it has in years. When I told my friends of my weight loss, they congratulated me, gave me words of encouragement, and even one said, “You’ll be looking so good in no time!” They don’t know how harmful this is to me. I cannot tell them how harmful it is. I am overweight and need to lose weight, so the reaction is that I’m making great progress. The truth is I am slowly regressing to a world of torment, rage, and obsession.

We must work harder to include more diverse narratives. Fat girls can have an eating disorder. Including them and allowing them to feel comfortable openly expressing their thoughts and experiences with this illness could make it easier for them to cope and recover. I know, at least, it would for me.

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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Why the #BoycottTheBefore Movement Is So Important in Eating Disorder Recovery

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I am sick of seeing before and after pictures.

I am sick of people in recovery quantifying their progress by placing a picture of them at a low weight compared to a healthy weight and stating that is where the work happened. Because it’s not.

Because as hard as gaining the weight is, especially in a society that encourages weight loss and being thin and lean and eating clean, that is not all of recovery. The other parts — the learning to take care of yourself again, to tolerate really strong, painful emotions, to advocate for your needs, to talk about things that have really hurt you in the past, to learn to live in a body that doesn’t feel familiar — that’s where the growth occurs. But the part that is so often stressed is the physical aspect, the weight.

And it simply perpetuates the idea that eating disorders have a body size — that eating disorders are identified by the way the person living with it looks. That someone with an eating disorder must look visibly sick for their pain to be recognized and taken seriously. That anorexia is the only valid eating disorder since many people with bulimia/binge eating disorder/atypical disorders are often not underweight.

I am not perfect. I’ve posted these pictures. The validation of my progress from sick to healthy has kept me going on days when the hard parts of recovery are pulling me down. But I refuse to do that anymore. I refuse to post pictures of my body to validate my illness or my progress. My eating disorder was serious and worthy of validation regardless of my body size, and my recovery is worthy of applause and support no matter how much weight I had to gain or how many calories my meal plan was.

My recovery is worthy of applause because I am doing it. Because I wake up every single day and I don’t run away from pain or numb out fear anymore. Your recovery is worthy of support and love because you are brave and you are showing up to life, not because you gained weight or followed a meal plan or bought a new size of jeans. Recovery — and eating disorders — are not defined by the size of one’s body.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

One of the hardest things I had to learn in recovery was that bodies are dynamic, that weight changes hourly and nothing stays the same. My body is going to fluctuate, and I am still me regardless of that. I had to learn my worth is not dependent on the number I see on the scale or the body I see in the mirror, and because of that realization, I can honestly say I do not need to post pictures of my sick versus healthy body to validate anything anymore. I am excitable and bubbly and clumsy and silly and creative regardless of my body size — but I cannot be these things when I am sick.

There are going to be an influx of before and after, sick versus healthy pictures posted on social media as a way of people validating their sickness and recovery, and I will not be one of them. Let’s #BoycottTheBefore picture, and celebrate all the incredible things that a life in recovery and a life after recovery has to offer.

I’ll be posting lots of pictures of ice cream and skating and laughing with friends.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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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Unsplash photo via Adrian Sava

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