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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.