Father and daughter going over finances

To My Dad Who Supported Me Through Eating Disorder Recovery

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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.

“I loved you when

you were small and hidden,

I will love you still

when you are strong.”

— “No Competition Between Flowers” by Michelle K.

Dear Daddy,

This year has not been easy for us. I’ve always been your little girl, your middle daughter, the one you saw yourself in. I know it has not been easy for you to watch me starve myself. I know you wanted more than anything for me to pick up the fork and put food into my body. Daddy, you haven’t understood, but my goodness you have tried. When I first told you I thought you might have a problem with eating, you didn’t know what to say. You shifted in the uncomfortable therapy office chair and said yes, you had noticed, yes you’d seen the weight loss. You told me we would get through this, I just needed to try and use my will power.

Daddy, I was angry. I didn’t want to use my willpower. I didn’t want to recover. I wanted to continue. I wanted to disappear. You wouldn’t let me.

Daddy, we argued. I know it broke your heart when I cried and said I would rather die than eat. I know you didn’t understand. I didn’t understand. Daddy, you didn’t always help me in the way I wanted. Sometimes, you told me to “just eat.” You said I was being rude and so many other things. I don’t fault you. You didn’t understand, but you are learning. You are asking me how to help and I don’t always know the answer.

Daddy, the first time you visited me in the hospital and said I looked “healthy,” I cried. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. In what world is “healthy” not a compliment? Daddy, we’re working on our communication. It’s not something either of us are good at. We have work to do. But, we’re getting better. Daddy, I’m trying. I’m trying to learn that food is not a moral issue and fat isn’t a failure and eating isn’t optional. I’m living again.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

Daddy, today you said my eyes looked brighter and I looked healthier and I heard what you really said. I know you didn’t mean that I looked “fat.” Daddy, when I was a child with freezing hands, you’d let me sit in your lap and you’d take my tiny hands in yours, until I was warm. Daddy, when I was a girl who cried in my bed about arguments I overheard, you’d sit next to me and talk to me until everything was better. Daddy, when I was a teen who starved herself, you learned as much as you could. You visited me in inpatient. You came to family therapy. You supported me at meals when I all I wanted to do was run. Daddy, I love you. You have given me the strength and courage to recover and I would not be where I am today without you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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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Thinkstock photo via Creatas Images

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Dear Eating Disorder: I Miss 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 “NEDA” to 741-741.

I know you are already confused just by the title.

Why? How on Earth could you possibly miss something that could’ve killed you?

If you haven’t ever struggled with something like this, it may not make sense. And if it does make sense to you, my heart goes out to you because I know it’s hard. I began my eating disorder as an obese woman, so when I lost weight, I completely transformed. I lost a very large amount of weight.

By the end, I looked like a completely different person, who I’m not going to show you. It was horrible though because I wasn’t truly aware of it. I experienced such severe body dysmorphic disorder that most days I couldn’t tell I had lost weight. My brain knew I had, because of the numbers. And I could see it when I posted comparison photos, which I did constantly to social media, just for reassurance I had actually changed. But just looking in the mirror, I couldn’t see it. That’s surprisingly common for body dysmorphia.

Anyway, I’m sure this still doesn’t make sense. What exactly am I missing here? Not actually knowing what I look like? 

Well, no. I don’t miss that.

For the first time in three years, I actually know what I look like, which is pretty great. But there are other things I miss. Unfortunately, our society treats people differently based on size. You may swear up and down that it isn’t true, but it is. By default, if you lose weight, people compliment you. They admire you, and they may even be jealous. 

As someone who really never stood out — an awkward girl on the sidelines — the attention was addictive.

The rush of losing weight was also addictive.

I struggle with a perfectionist personality type, so seeing the numbers get lower and lower actually set off endorphins for me. It was the equivalent of drugs, a rush of euphoria.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

I had orthorexia, and unfortunately, it also tricked me into thinking I was superior with my food choices.

My disorder led me to believe I was morally a better person for starving myself. I look back at me then, and kind of want to smack myself in the face. I even got as far as trying to educate others on my food choices, because people asked me to. I had no place doing that. I’m so ashamed of it, but I can’t exactly take it back now. It’s an illness. I really wasn’t completely in control of my actions. Orthorexia controlled everything. 

But there are things to be missed, right? 

I miss not getting the glances in public because people do look at you differently when you are overweight.

I miss being able to blend in. 

The catalyst for stopping my disorder was a pregnancy. Once I became pregnant, I knew I could not continue what I was doing, so I was able to stop. But I also ended up having from life-threatening complications, which were not related to my eating disorder. Those complications caused me to gain a lot of extra weight, which ultimately saved both my daughter’s life and mine. But some people can’t see that or don’t see it that way. There are people who think I “threw away the body I worked so hard for.” There are people who believe I’ll someday get it back. 

I don’t really plan to — most certainly not in the way I achieved it. I didn’t look sick, but I was sick. I was very sick. I was afraid of sugar, afraid of carbohydrates. I avoided social engagements because other people’s food or restaurant food wasn’t “clean” enough. 

So while I do think I miss some of the attention, I realize it’s because of warped societal standards. 

I also realize that the disorder still lives inside me. It hasn’t been so long, not really. It’s there. I ignore it most days. I go to therapy, I work hard not to rank certain foods above others. I unfollowed all the harmful “fitspo” and “clean eating” nonsense.

But it’s still in there.

And while it may try to trick me into missing it, while it may try to guilt trip me into giving it another chance, I won’t. I’ll keep shoving it away and putting in earplugs until eventually, I won’t hear its screams anymore.

Because I don’t actually miss it. 

I don’t.

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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4 Things I Want the Diet Industry to Know as Someone in Eating Disorder Recovery

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It was a sunny Friday San Francisco afternoon. I was enjoying conversing with a new colleague over some hummus and pita. But suddenly, the conversation — and my mood — took an abrupt turn. He asked me if I had heard of, let’s call it “The Non-Diet Diet.”

“Is it a diet?” I asked.

“No!” He said cheerfully. “It’s more of an eating plan. You don’t eat sugar and other things. I don’t know much about it… It’s healthy.”

“It sounds like a diet.”

“No! It’s not a diet!” He insisted.

At this point, I had had enough. I stood up, pushed in my chair and said, “I don’t follow diets, so I am really not the right person to ask.”

The reality is that I have had an eating disorder for most of post-pubescent life. Today, I am in recovery and doing well. Yet like everyone else — particularly young 20-something women — I am bombarded with chatter from friends, loved ones and co-workers about diets, non-diet diets, eating plans, fitness challenges, exercise plans, etc.

Until that Friday, I had always ignored the chatter. At this point in my recovery, my healthy voice sounds the alarm that this is not a conversation I want to listen to, nor is it a topic I want to debate. So I put on my headphones or just run away.

But the evening after this conversation, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up at 2 a.m. and I had this strange urge to check out the Non-Diet Diet’s website. The self-care alarms were sounding. They screamed, What would your therapist think? What if you find something triggering? You are happier and healthier than ever. Why risk it?!

Armed with knowledge, I waded forward cautiously. And what I saw infuriated me. I have never been this pissed off at 2 a.m.

As a result, I am not hiding anymore. I engaging for the first time with this letter to the diet industry.

Dear Diet Industry,

1. As you have promised, diets have changed my life…. but, for the worse.

Here’s how. You have told me what to eat. Day by day, my performance on the diet shapes my mood. It may work for a week, 10 days, a month. But eventually, something happens, or my perception of things shifts and suddenly, I have failed. I’ve created a massive, internal mess. And while my life may be objectively great, my mind and mood are in the trenches. They can only be rescued by success on another diet.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

And suddenly my life — the life of a well-educated, smart, beautiful young woman — can only be rescued by the arbitrary rules I saw on some website.

2. You have no right to label my food with words like “junk,” “good,” “bad” and “terrible.”

My food is my business. How I describe my food is only my business. Similarly, I have no right to judge someone else’s food choices. The same goes for you, Diet Industry.

3. You have no right to label me “unmotivated” and “weak.”

You do not know me. You have no right to tell me I should be able to stick to your diet because it is “not that hard.” You have absolutely no right to tell me I am “flawed” and “unmotivated” because I cannot stick to your rules.

I have done many things in my life that prove otherwise. I moved across the country, and back again. I have confessed my love to many men and have been rejected. I moved to cities where I knew no one — thrice. I have introduced myself to strangers. Gone to social engagements I didn’t want to go to, and had a blast. Spoken publicly. Written poetry. Hiked out of the Grand Canyon — twice. Gone swimming with sharks. Been in love. And made major strides in my eating disorder recovery.

You cannot tell me I am flawed. I know I am not perfect, but I am not supposed to be — after all, I am human.

You, Diet Industry, are the one with the issues.

4. I know you are just people too.

Behind every company — including the diet industry — is just a bunch of people trying to make a living and maybe even get famous with a top-selling cookbook. I am not against this. We all gotta make a living.

However, no industry is better at taking control of wonderfully imperfect humans and diagnosing them with the wrong problem — a “too much junk food” problem, a “fat” problem, etc. — when the food is probably a symptom of something much deeper, as it was for me.

The path you advertise is so restrictive — of food, of fun, of life — that I don’t see how possibly, if I could make it through your diet, that I would want that version of health supposedly waiting for me on the other side.

Lastly, I have a few words about my least-favorite adjective: “healthy.”

There seems to be one word in English that defines a person in good health, or a food that promotes health, and it is “healthy.” However, from what I have observed, healthiness is extremely subjective. For some people, multigrain bread is healthier than white bread, and therefore healthy. I have been called “healthy” because I brought carrot cake to work instead of chocolate cake. Yet most diets would shun these foods.

So if opinions vary on what is “healthy,” what is it supposed to mean?

I have responded by putting a moratorium on using the word “healthy” in my life. Instead, I’ve called upon one the Russian language’s words (yes, according to my translator, there are 9) жизнеспособный ( zhiz-ne-spa-sob-nee), which literally means “capable of supporting life.” I love this word. Life is messy and you need food, just as you need a solid support system, to get you through the bad times and be with you in the good.

That’s the philosophy I have come to love. I only hope you, Diet Industry, can learn something from it too.

Warmly,
Erica

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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To the Men Who Supported Us in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Eating disorder recovery can be a battle. You need to be well-armed with courage, heart, patience and a strong army of supporters. In honor of Father’s Day, we asked our NEDA community members to share how the men in their lives (fathers, brothers, stepdads, grandfathers, etc.) stood by their side in recovery.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “My dad came to family meetings and educated himself on the disorder. He asked questions. He tried to understand. He was there. That’s all I could ever ask for.”

2. “My dad isn’t one to show emotions or tell you how he feels. When I was in the hospital, no matter how busy he was, he would come every single day and just sit there and hold me. I was in residential for my prom and my dad decided to come and take me out on a pass and go out for dinner and a game. He gave up everything just to visit me, even if there was nothing to say.”

3. “My dad put me to work in his wood shop. It’s important to be completely in the moment for your safety when working about the saws, etc. It was very therapeutic. It’s his hobby and he shared it with me, knowing I needed a mental escape first and foremost. It was the beginning of recovery for me. I’m forever grateful for my dad.”

4. “When I was about 15, I began to develop my eating disorder. My father was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. My whole world was falling apart, but my father has never given up on me. He goes above and beyond to make sure I am taken care of health-wise, [financially] and mentally. Although the past years have been rocky, I am finally recovered from my ED and I couldn’t have done it without him. I love you, Dad.”

5. “He shared with me that he also [struggled with] bingeing and purging as a teen and young adult because of the emphasis on physical appearance in his family. It made me feel understood.”

6. “I have ‘Hope’ tattooed on my wrist. When I put myself back in treatment after a bad relapse, my little brother went out and got ‘Hope’ tattooed on his wrist, an act of both support and love. It was his first tattoo.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

7. “My dad, even while dealing with an ED himself, always ate night snacks with me. He made me feel a little more ‘normal’ and a lot less alone.”

8. “He is my biggest champion. He checks in with me every night to see how my day has been in my fight for recovery. He never judges the bad days, just encourages me to pick my head up and try again.”

9. “My dad came to my family day and participated in all the activities when I was inpatient. He still carries around the coin the program gave him. He shows it to me whenever I see him.”

10. “He gave me unconditional love, always.”

11. “My dad was the silent supporter — he kept me calm during this very rough ride. In the beginning of my treatment, he was there for me by helping to pay for all of my in and outpatient treatments. Today, almost 13 years later, he tells me all the time how beautiful I am inside and out and is always there to lend an ear. He helps me with career advice and is the voice of reason when I am having a bad ED day. I love my dad! Thank you!”

12. “When I began attending school again after treatment, my dad put positive quotes on little sticky notes in my lunchbox. I still have them to this day!”

13. “My dad was actually the one [who] pushed me into treatment. He didn’t care about the cost or how long it would take, he just wanted me to live. I hated him at the time for it, but I’m beyond grateful now. He’s always had the words of wisdom when I’m being irrational and the light on my hard days. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without him!”

14. “My father and I did not have a good relationship prior to, or during my eating disorder. Despite this, he did everything he possibly could to help me, and never once stopped fighting for me. Through my recovery and all our family therapy, I think we both came out stronger, and so did our relationship. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today.”

15. “My little brother who isn’t the emotional type said, ‘I don’t want you to die. I’d miss you, [silly].’”

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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10 Pieces of My Eating Disorder Recovery Puzzle

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I am recovering. I am not recovered… I am in recovery. This I believe. This I know.

My recovery course is ending and while I would love to say I am recovered, that was never going to happen in the space of eight weeks. Unfortunately! Many things came together to create my dysfunctional relationship with food. And many things need to be pieced together to heal.

I spent a decade searching for answers, magic bullets, the perfect diet and quick solutions. Anything offering absolution with absolutely no work on my part. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I have accrued a lot of knowledge, tools and a network of real people and online communities. The giant puzzle needed to become whole is getting much closer to completion. I think I have most of the pieces now – enough to get me well under way at least. And these are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Acknowledgment: You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. I mastered this – I definitely have a problem!

2. Acceptance: This is much trickier. While I fully accept the issues, I struggle to accept and move past the origins. I’m just about there.

 

3. Overeaters Anonymous: I loved OA – it’s an awesome recovery place no matter what flavor of eating disorder (ED) you have. I didn’t find all the answers I needed but I found a lot – a community of loving, supportive people and a place to share my story without judgment. I learned how to listen with my ears open and my mouth shut. I read a lot and learned about journaling, reaching out and making recovery a priority.

4. Professional Support: I am blessed with a wonderful doctor, dietitian, psychologist and psychiatrist. All of whom helped give me lots of tools – understanding why I developed an ED, understanding nutrition, accepting the importance of medication, using CBT and DBT. The most important of all though, was recognizing, acknowledging, accepting and working through emotions. I have so much more work to do in this area.

5. Journaling: If I were to tell someone with an ED to do one thing, it would be to journal. We have so many emotions, thoughts and feelings all tucked away, hidden inside, desperate to be let out. Thoughts govern feelings. Feelings govern actions. To change our actions, first we change our thoughts. Journaling is the best tool for making sense of those thoughts. It also led to my blogging, which is leading me to writing. Which I love!

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

6. Mantras and Affirmations: So airy-fairy. So useful. The trick is to say strong, positive statements you believe. Standing naked in front of the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful is great – if you believe it. If you have an ED, you might struggle with body image or self-esteem, but you can say useful and believable affirmations and mantras to help, things like: “My body nourished three pregnancies,” “I will never give up,” “I am good at [insert activity here],” etc. There are always positive things you can say. Not backhanded compliments! Just keep it gentle and believable.

7. Reframing and Visualization: This is new to me and I need to do a lot more. But it’s awesome. We’re all familiar with our inner critics. Reframing takes a negative thought, identifies the origin and turns it into a constructive lesson rather than a humiliating put-down. Life always throws curveballs, but I don’t have to beat myself up every time they head my way. And visualization is just taking time to imagine how my day might pan out, or what my future might look like. Visualizing possible hurdles I’ll be confronted with and healthy ways to cope. These two tools are really difficult – and absolutely essential.

8. Why? I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If I don’t have a reason to recover, why would I bother? It’s a lot of hard work so there’s got to be a pay-off. I have to picture what that pay-off may be. I have to be working towards a goal, not just recovering because other people think it’s a good idea. I have to do all the work – therefore I have to have all the reasons.

9. Hope and Belief: Without these, it would be difficult to motivate yourself to recover. I have to have hope – if I have no hope, I’m not going to put any effort in. If I don’t believe I can recover, I am right. If I do believe I can recover, I am right. This is probably the greatest thing I’ve taken away in the last eight weeks. Hope was consolidated. Belief was found. I am still trudging along a long, dreary road, but now I believe there is something worth traveling towards.

10. Food plans: I messed with these a lot over the years. There’s a really fine line between a food plan and a diet. Yes, we might have a “diet,” but that is different to dieting. Some people leave particular foods out of their nutritional intake for essential reasons (nut allergies, celiac disease, etc.), but regularly leaving out food groups to avoid weight gain isn’t healthy. It’s a type of restriction, and if there’s one thing I have learned, restriction has always led to binging – 100 percent of the time – in my experience. The two most important things I’m putting into food plans at the moment are eating six times a day and scoring at least three out of five from the foods groups.

So there’s my recovery list – the things I’ve collected for my puzzle. We all need lots of pieces; what works for you? It can be easy to feel like you’ve failed when someone recovers and you haven’t, but perhaps it’s just not the right tool or the right time. Keep collecting. Keep going. I’m going to recover. So are you!

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How Sharing My Mental Health Story With the Baristas at Starbucks Helped My Recovery

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I have been going to a Starbucks in my neighborhood a lot. Every day I walk into this Starbucks and order my usual. Some of the employees know me by now. Sometimes I come in with a smile, sometimes I’m in tears. But I always leave feeling better. Whether I sit alone researching on my phone trying to figure out how to get my life together or am running out the door to an appointment — I am thankful. It’s not just a coffee shop. It’s somewhere where I’m not afraid to embrace food, drinks, a social atmosphere and sometimes the quiet moment I need to get my thoughts together.

One day I went in there and broke down sobbing. I had had a horrible therapy session and just couldn’t hold in the tears anymore. Their responses were unforgettable. One grabbed me tissues, another gave me a hug and another wished me a better day. I was in awe of how caring these people could be. They didn’t even know me yet.

As time went on, I continued to come in. One day I saw a sign for Employee Appreciation Week and I thought, This is the time. This is my time to give back. I wrote a letter for them and put it in the box. Not sure what would come over it but I felt the need to express how grateful I was for them.

The amount of support I received is not even measurable. I decided to talk more and opened up a lot. I even talked about my traumas and my eating disorder. They helped me understand what I was going through during a time when I couldn’t see myself. It’s not a one-way street, though. I learned about some of them too. They let me into their personal lives outside of work and I actually made friends — something I didn’t know I was capable of.

I feel so thankful for their responses. Who would have thought a store so many people go into would be a place where the workers would take time for me and truly care for me. And I was able to care back. I know in my heart it was the right decision to talk to them. I will never forget the friendships and bonds I have formed. Maybe it’s not so simple for some to reveal struggles, but I took that chance and I love that I did.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

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

These are the people that give me hope. When I feel I’ve lost the fight, I know there’s one place I can be myself and it’s a place I am not afraid to be in. Words can’t even describe the magnitude of hope that gives me. The day I revealed my eating disorder and traumas to some of the baristas at my local Starbucks, I made the best decision I have ever made. I know getting out of my comfort zone and talking is battle in itself, but it’s possible. It’s possible for others to care and be genuine. I hope others receive the same support.

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 Dmitry Schemelev.

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