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I Used My Eating Disorder to Get Attention


Let me first say I did not choose to have an eating disorder. I never consciously decided I wanted an eating disorder. Like any other mental illness, an eating disorder is a disorder no one chooses to develop.

When I say my eating disorder was for attention, I mean a strong desire for attention was one of the things that contributed to my development of an eating disorder. Until I was years into my recovery, I never admitted to myself that many of my self-destructive behaviors were attention-seeking by nature. I never admitted it because I felt like needing attention made me a bad person. I now realize it doesn’t make me any less worthy of recovery and it doesn’t make my struggles any less valid. In fact, it makes sense that I wanted attention.

Like many other people struggling with an eating disorder, I had a dysfunctional childhood. It wasn’t terrible, exactly. I was happy for the most part. But it was chaotic, and because of that, I would often act out to gain the attention of my parents, my peers and everyone else around me. I made myself cry, I hit my brothers and I was the pre-school bully. It makes sense that pattern of behavior would carry into adolescence.

My need for validation only grew stronger as I got older. I needed to feel unique and important and good enough. As a result, one of the functions of my eating disorder was to get attention. I secretly loved when my friends asked why I wasn’t eating. I loved when people commented that I’d lost weight. I loved when people expressed concern. It was a way for me to feel special. I viewed my eating disorder as a defining characteristic. I was proud of it.

Of course, that was just one factor, but it was a huge one I was always ashamed to admit. I thought because I liked the attention I got when I was sick, it somehow meant I was less than other people with eating disorders. Our society views wanting attention as something to be ashamed of, but I believe it is only natural. Everyone wants to be recognized at times. Everyone wants to stand out. It’s OK to want that.

Now I get my share of attention from positive things. I’m recognized for my ability to work well with children. I’m praised for my academic abilities. My articles are read and shared by strangers. This kind of attention feels a whole lot better than the kind I used to seek.

If your eating disorder or other mental illness is or was a way to get attention, it’s OK. It makes sense. You do not need to feel ashamed about it. Instead, I encourage you to talk to someone about it to try to figure out where this need comes from and what you can do to fulfill it in a healthy way. You’ll feel a whole lot better once you figure that out.

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 Dreya Novak.