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.

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

Thinkstock photo via Dreya Novak.

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Eating Disorders

beautiful woman with natral leafs in her hair

9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Eating Disorder Recovery

Many of my favorite posts on The Mighty and other blogs start with a number. Such as “36 Things People With Anxiety Want Their Friends to Know” Or “40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood” I love them because with a simple copy and paste of the link, I can often communicate things to [...]
Watercolor illustration of swimming teacher with long dark hair and her students behind. Cold weather nature scene. Hand drawn illustration. Watercolor painting

The Biggest Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

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 received a lot of feedback on a post I made on my personal Facebook regarding eating disorders. In my status, I explored the fact that they [...]
girl with big eyes and long hair

5 Things I've Learned in 20 Years of Anorexia Recovery

In June, I had the distinct privilege of sharing my story at the Renfrew Alumni reunion. Speaking to 75 plus alumni and their families was a deeply profound and unforgettable experience. Three years ago this month, I was admitted to residential treatment at the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia. Now, to return strong in mind and body, [...]
Woman holding her daughter up in the air

How My Daughter Helps Me Make Peace With My Body

I look over at my daughter running naked around the apartment. She touches her tummy, giggles then runs to the mirror and exclaims, “Pretty!” She is 2, carefree and has no issues with her body. I can look at my daughter and see her as perfect just the way she is with her pinchable cheeks [...]