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What My Eating Disorder Protects Me From


Shame hits me in the throat, where I am most vulnerable. I know that because when I am ashamed, I lose all ability to speak. I can no longer form words or communicate with others. I’m frozen vocally, and instantly isolate. I turn towards myself. And I turn towards my eating disorder.

My eating disorder has been my greatest protector since I was in middle school. Instead of feeling pain, sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, loneliness and yes, shame… I can turn towards food. I can turn towards exercise. I can turn towards restriction. How do these things protect me? What is it about them that keeps me from being hit in the throat with shame?

Behaviors keep me safe. They restrict my entire world into a little bubble. In this bubble you will find me, some sort of calorie counting app or calculator, an obsession with food and a scale. This simplifies the situation a bit but the point of it is: my eating disorder makes my world very small.

This is appealing because the world has always been a scary place for me. I remember being a young girl and crying because I got a 99 instead of a 100 on a spelling test. My teacher yelled at me, “What is wrong with you? You can’t cry over this!” I got this message over and over again. I am too sensitive. I am too much. I am defective.

I always wanted my emotions to be smaller. The whole experience: the intensity, the duration, the frequency. My eating disorder numbed everything out, until the only emotion I experienced was anxiety over my weight and my food intake. I didn’t have to worry about feeling sad that I was rejected by a boy, afraid that my parents were fighting or lonely because my friends didn’t invite me to a get together.

All I worried about was food. Exercise. Weight. Numbers. Constantly.

And so in that way, my eating disorder is my protector. It keeps my world small, as small as can be, so that I do not have to deal with anything, and the thing I avoid the most is shame. It debilitates me. My eating disorder thrives off of shame because I will do anything to make it go away.

I feel a lot of shame about who I am as a person. I have internalized years of being rejected, being abandoned, being told I wasn’t good enough. I have grown up to believe that if I am not happy, it is not safe to express that. And so I am ashamed that I have emotions. I am ashamed that I am human.

I have to be honest about the fact that my eating disorder protects me. That’s why it’s so hard to give it up. I feel unsafe when I start to eat adequately, when I put away the scale, when I give up the exercise. I feel like the world starts to brighten up again, and it’s overwhelming. I hear things louder and see things clearer. I feel emotions again and I am petrified.

Without my eating disorder, I am a live wire. I am vulnerable. The little girls inside of me, the 7-year-old who was teased and the 15-year-old who was bullied, they don’t know what to do with that pain. They want to be protected. Anorexia has always been the answer.

I wonder, today, if there is another way I can find protection. If I can build it for myself, within myself. If I can find it in opening up to trusted friends. If I can realize that the protection of my eating disorder comes with a million consequences that will only destroy me. It will never keep me safe. My eating disorder is my protector, but it is my destroyer too.

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 pecaphoto77