To the Friends Who Don't Understand My Eating Disorder and Chronic Illness Recovery
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.
Before I address my friends, I want to give some back story. I had an active eating disorder (ED) for 13 years. When I was 11 years old, I started engaging in anorexic behaviors. I started with restricting, calorie counting, over-exercising, negative self-talk and negative body-talk. By the time I was thirteen, I began to restrict and purge. Throughout the next 11 years, my eating disorder progressed and changed. By the time I decided to put myself into eating disorder treatment, I was struggling strictly with bulimia. On a daily basis, I engaged in binging, purging, restricting, over-exercising and an abundance of self-loathing.
I’ve faced many physical implications from the extensive damage I did to my body from the behaviors I engaged in for those 13 years. The biggest health issue I encountered was gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a chronic illness where the stomach muscle becomes paralyzed. This prevents food from digesting and the food will literally sit in the stomach. This might cause chronic nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, inability to eat, severe bloating and many more symptoms. I was so ill that I was bedridden by the time I was diagnosed in 2012. I spent the next two years going through almost all treatments available for those with this illness. My eating disorder was still present throughout the time I was sick. My eating disorder progressed during the time I was struggling with gastroparesis. I was unable to recognize this because the symptoms of the illness blended with the symptoms of my ED. I became increasingly more depressed, suicidal and was losing hope.
After about 2 years of failed treatments, my doctor decided that it was time to send me to a surgeon. After a few months of testing, it was concluded that I would need to get a subtotal laparoscopic gastrectomy; this involved removing half of my stomach and repositioning my lower intestines. The recovery from such a surgery was brutal and worsened my ED until I reached the point of rock bottom. I continued to have health issues because I was severely active and engaged in my ED. Finally, I chose to go to treatment to help me recover from my ED in 2015, a year after I had the life-changing surgery. I went through two years of intense therapy at a treatment center, transitioning through all the treatment levels available. I have improved mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually immensely. My ED is not an everyday struggle anymore, as long as I continue to do the work.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
To my friends who just don’t understand, I am writing this with love to educate you on what many do not understand.
1. Please refrain from talking about the diet you are on in my presence.
Although I am strong in my recovery, and have not engaged in eating disorder behaviors for two years, I am faced with threats to my recovery daily. Our society encourages negative food and body talk. To the point that many do not see how damaging it is for those who struggle with an ED. Your diet is not something that needs to be shared with me. You are my friend and I seek solitude with those I surround myself with. I ask you to respect my recovery and the journey of self-love and acceptance that I am on.
2. Please do not comment on my body or weight.
I live a life of deep inner connection, which does not focus on my physical form. Every time you point out the shape of my body, the voices get louder in my head. Trying to guess my weight or asking me what my weight is hurts more than you can imagine. I will be living the rest of my life not knowing my weight. I have given that responsibility to my dietician. I was under the control of a number for most of my life and I never want that to be my focus again. Whether you think it is a compliment or not, it is not helpful and contradicts my recovery. The ripple effect that it causes is extremely damaging. I spend the day working to bring myself back to a healthy state of mind, one that is not obsessing over my body shape or a number. Commenting on how “skinny” or how “good” a shape I am in feeds that ED voice. I don’t need that from the people I hold close to my heart — I get it enough from the outside world.
3. Please don’t comment on the food I eat or how “healthy” I eat.
I do not live my life with food being categorized as “good” or “bad” anymore. Those days are long gone for me. Honestly, it makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. It took me years to be comfortable with eating in front of people. Comments like that bring me back to focusing on the food and not enjoying your company. Food, in my belief, is to nourish your body, to be enjoyed and to feed your soul. I have a balanced meal plan with all food in the life I live now, so please don’t judge that with damaging comments.
4. Please, leave negative body talk at the door.
Using word like “fat” in my presence is harmful. I lived with that word for years, screaming at me in my head, challenging my self-worth and threatening my life. Remember that I was on the brink of death and your words do affect me. Not to mention, it hurts me to hear you saying hurtful words about yourself. It’s not healthy for you or me, just try not to do it in my presence.
5. Respect me and my recovery and I will do the same for you.
When I let you know that something makes me uncomfortable or isn’t allowed in my house, try to understand. If I redirect the conversation or counter the negative talk, please notice that as a clue; a clue that the conversation or what you are saying is inappropriate in my presence. If I don’t always respond right, or come off as rude with my reaction to you, know that damaging talk gets old. I am faced with that every day from people I don’t even know. Damaging talk is literally everywhere! I have to live in a society that is one massive trigger and threatens my recovery. So, if I come off wrong or rude to you, I apologize. I try my best to be polite, but just try to be understanding if I don’t come off right. Remember that this is not easy for me and I am trying to live.
I want all my friends to know that I understand that you may not understand. It may bother you that you need to be more conscious of your words or actions around me. It’s part of being a part of my life and I appreciate you for doing your best. The reality is, my life means more to me than our friendship. Without my life, you and everyone else wouldn’t be in my heart. If you decide you don’t want to try, that’s OK. I have people who do want to try. It may seem harsh, but I will distance myself from anyone who does not respect what I have worked so hard for. I love you all.
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Thinkstock photo via ViewApart