Troian Bellisario

Why Troian Bellisario Made 'Feed,' a Different Kind of Eating Disorder Movie

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Eating disorder stories are often told from the outside looking in. You know the tale: girl has body image issues, girl starts restricting food, there is perhaps some intervention and finally, girl starts her journey towards recovery.

When “Pretty Little Liars” star Troian Bellisario started working on a film inspired by her personal experience with eating disorders, she wanted to tell a different story — one from the inside looking out. Her movie, “Feed,” which she both wrote and stars in, is not your stereotypical eating disorder tale but rather a unique attempt to capture what’s actually going on inside the head of someone with an eating disorder.

“When I started to look at characters with eating disorders and the way they were observed from the outside, I was sort of like, ‘Well, this doesn’t help.’ There’s no movie I can point to that will get my father or my brother to understand why when they told me to just eat the sandwich, I just couldn’t,” she told The Mighty. 

Less than one month after her movie’s release (and more than a month after the “Pretty Little Liars” finale) we talked to Bellisario about what inspired her to make a “Feed” and how similar she is to the character she plays, Olivia.

The “Twin Dynamic” of Eating Disorders

Olivia her twin brother, Matthew
Screenshot via “Feed”

“Feed” doesn’t begin with the development of an eating disorder. Instead, we’re introduced to a pair of twins, Olivia Grey (Bellisario) and Matthew Grey (played by Tom Felton) who are starting their first day of high school, senior year. That night, Matthew tragically passes away in an car accident while Olivia, sitting in the passenger’s seat, survives. This trauma is what catalyzes Olivia’s fall into food restriction. The image of her brother appears and talks to her, encouraging her behavior and becoming, we find out, the eating disorder itself.

Growing up, Bellisario’s best friends were a pair of male and female twins. Although she says they’re not the characters who inspired Olivia and Matthew, they’re closeness and twin dynamic resonated with her. When one of them said, “I don’t know who I would be without my twin in my life,” it reminded her of the identity she had built with her eating disorder. She told The Mighty:

Their identity in the world is paired, it’s coupled, and I think that’s something people with mental issues also go through when they start to seek treatment. If you move through the world as somebody who identifies as anorexic, or who identifies as someone struggling with bulimia or with overeating, what happens when you start to forge a new identity? Is there a betrayal to your past self? Are you lying? Or are you getting “better”? Does that ever go away? That’s part of your identity. The way that Olivia is a twin and her twin is not alive anymore, is she not a twin now? For me, that was also something I wanted to explore.

She also hoped representing the eating disorder as a twin would show why disordered behaviors are often so hard to give up. Eating disorders, she said, are not just disorders — they can act as friends. In the movie, Olivia has a hard time giving up her eating disorder because that would mean giving up her brother — who she doesn’t know life without.

What I wanted to do was create a situation in which they could see the physical manifestation of the disease but also how close it is to the person themselves. That’s why it has to be Olivia’s twin brother, Matt, who is her everything in the world. Because I needed them to understand that not only is it a disease. It’s your best friend. It’s your secret. It’s your strength, and it’s your weakness. It’s everything rolled into one, and that’s why it’s so difficult to sever from. 

Where Bellisario’s and Olivia’s Stories Collide

In an early scene, Olivia is talking to the principal, who tells her she has the highest consistent GPA in her class and will most likely be the valedictorian. Instead of sounding excited, Olivia notes there’s still a whole school year left and refuses to celebrate early. He then hands her a long list of colleges to apply for, and she takes it eagerly. Later, when she goes for a run before dinner, her dad questions why she didn’t run more. Before we know anything about an eating disorder, we see Olivia is a perfectionist, an overachiever and has been been put under a certain level of pressure from her upper-class family.

The daughter of two movie producers, Bellisario isn’t stranger to high standards and steep expectations, although she admitted some of it was self-imposed. Still, if there was a Venn diagram of her story and Olivia’s, Bellisario said, perfectionism and overachievement would be the main overlap:

Particularly when my eating disorder really started to manifest in a strong way, it was definitely because I didn’t feel like there was any way out. I felt like I have to hold myself to a certain standard of academic performance, of athletic performance, of being the perfect daughter in the best way that I could, and whether or not those standards were being imposed upon me, or whether I was just self-imposing them because I believed that’s what the world wanted from me.

Why Filming the Movie Wasn’t the Hardest Part

Olivia
Screenshot via “Feed”

To prepare for the role, Bellisario had to enter a dark place from her past — both emotionally and physically. And while she did have to follow certain diet restrictions to lose weight, she said restricting again wasn’t the hard part — it was stopping once the film was finished. Because, in her experience, an eating disorder is a coping mechanism to help deal with a deeper problem, she actually found engaging in old habits helped her deal with the stress. But it came with a cost:

I had permission to go back into that world, and the more difficult part was then extricating myself from those habits…. I was doing press and I was talking about it. Then the struggle became, OK, I’m talking about all of these feelings, but I can’t go back to restricting. I’m not filming it right now, I have to continue to make the choice of health. That, for me, that was the challenging part. Actually engaging with these feelings that the movie brought up but not being able to engage with them in a disordered way. 

What Bellisario Hopes You’ll Take Away From It

Olivia
Screenshot via “Feed”

While Bellisario said “Feed” was a reaction to how eating disorders are presented in the media, it was also a reaction to how people in her life treated her eating disorder. “As caring as they were and as much as they wanted to understand what I was going through… it was like they could have sympathy and not empathy,” she said. “They could have sympathy because they were like, ‘I can see that you’re suffering, I can see that it’s painful, I see that you are engaged in a sort of war with your body,’ but there’s not empathy because they can’t fit themselves into your experience, and into your body.”

She hopes the movie will help friends and family recognize when their loved one is struggling. Often, she said, at the beginning states of an eating disorder, some friends and family realize something is wrong but aren’t quite sure what they’re looking at. She also wants those who are struggling to feel understood and see that, just like Olivia, they deserve treatment and to make steps towards recovery. She told The Mighty:

I just want people to see this movie and also have a different expectation of what it might look like to struggle with this, and I think it’s important that I’m not the only voice out there who’s talking about this. I just want to add more to the conversation, and to support the conversation.

Bellisario received support from the National Association of Eating Disorder (NEDA) during the course of making the film, and to give back, she’s selling “Feed” t-shirts featuring the twins with all proceeds going to NEDA. She said the best reaction she’s gotten to the film has been from people with eating disorders — for whom, she said, the film was really made.

I think this film it was important for me because it’s my journey of recovery to take my past experience and to take all of these experiences that I’ve heard about, or listened to, and channel it into my work and my art, in order to feel like I didn’t lose a part of my life. Or a part of me isn’t dead and gone, that it can be something that goes turned into creative and hopefully positive gift that I can give to other people,” she said, laughing. “So, it’s a lot to think about.”

You can watch “Feed” now on Amazon or iTunes.

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.

Lead screenshot via “Feed”

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How Working in the Fitness Industry Affects My Eating Disorder Recovery

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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.

Fitness — you either love it or you hate it, but it doesn’t feel like you can escaping. Health and fitness is very much front and center in today’s society. Weights are getting heavier, exercises are getting weirder and outfits are getting skimpier. In my opinion, it’s becoming a competition that no one can win.

I work in the fitness industry as a lifeguard and class instructor, and every day I overhear people’s conversations about weight loss, new classes, lifting heavier and all the other things that go hand in hand with gyms. But no one is ever satisfied. No one is ever happy with their progress. And I, too, have been sucked up into this world. A world that is seen as healthy and strong — but I think we need to question this: how healthy can something be when it’s causing so much strain and obsession over our bodies?

This is what could have been detrimental to my recovery.

I’ve spent the better part of four years recovering from an eating disorder — the years when you’re meant to be deciding your future and planning your whole life, scary right? I knew I wasn’t in the right place to head off to university, so I decided to give personal training a try. Looking back now, I realize that I became a personal trainer for all the wrong reasons. Even though I was in recovery, it just became another aspect of food and exercise that I could control. It had me obsessing even more over my appearance. I found new ways in which my body “wasn’t quite right” and I started being swallowed up but this new world.

Before I set foot in the world of fitness, all I wanted was to be thin and delicate. My aim was to be as light as possible. All of a sudden, I was catapulted into unknown territory; I was in awe of these women who appeared strong and stable, with muscles and bronzed skin. Social media sucked me in and I would scroll for hours, picking up tips and new exercises, hitting the gym whenever I could in the hopes of achieving a body just like these women. In my naive mind, I believed that I was recovered, able to lift heavy things and work toward my new “body goal.” I thought that I was making all of these choices in the name of health, but I had stopped listening to my body. I didn’t notice that every time I stepped into the gym, my anxiety would skyrocket. I didn’t pay attention to the fact I was comparing myself more and more to the women who would come to workout. I was slowly but surely returning to that place of self-hate and doubt. Nothing about my mental health was remotely healthy.

It was only until very recently that I started being honest with myself again. I began to notice that this wasn’t a way to live, I wasn’t happy when I forced myself to go and exercise and I wasn’t happy trying to keep up with more unrealistic standards. I was becoming sick.

So, I stopped.

I stopped going to the gym so religiously. It’s been about a month now and I’ve gone to the gym only a few times. I’m done with forcing myself to exercise. Those few times that I went to the gym were all really good workouts, I had energy, I wasn’t anxious and I felt good. But I know this isn’t always the case, I know that more often than not, the gym leaves me feeling worse than when I entered.

What has been hard is continuing to honor my body during the times when I’ve felt bloated or if I’ve eaten a lot, especially with the holiday’s approaching. There have been days when I’ve felt unhappy with how my body looks and it’s taken a lot of strength to not dash off to the gym. I now realize that I had been doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Another difficult aspect of cutting down exercise has been other people’s comments. Yes, this really does happen.

“Oh Lucy, you haven’t been to the gym recently, is everything OK?”

“Not exercising? That’s a bit lazy!”

“Sandwich for lunch? That’s an extra half hour in the gym.”

“You bought your wedding dress already? You’ll have to be good for the next year then.”

All of these comments have been said to me within the last month, wether they were said in jest or not, they still hurt. When did it become OK to judge people on their choices? Why do people feel the need to comment on my choices? Why do I need to justify my choices?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reassure myself that what I’m doing is right for me. A lot of the time I feel like I’m being pulled apart by people’s comments and suggestions. Doubt creeps into my mind and I’m left feeling like a failure, all because people can’t see the ongoing battle I face with exercise and food. For some reason, we’ve been taught to believe that it’s OK to make off the cuff comments about people’s food and exercise habits, when really, it’s none of our business.

I think it’s time to reflect. I’m not saying we should all stop exercising, but maybe we should take a step back and reevaluate our reasonings behind exercise. Are you desperate to get to the gym because it’s what you really want? Because it helps destress you and makes you truly happy? Or is it because part of you is fearful? Fearful of not being seen in the “right body,” fearful because you’ve been “bad” or “fallen off the wagon” and are desperate to “correct” your mistake?

Health and fitness has become such a huge part of our world, but maybe it’s time to stop glorifying it as much. Stop putting so much pressure on individuals to be “perfect” and stop pretending that this charade is always to do with being “fit” and “strong.” Maybe it’s time to see it for what it really is — a new obsession and more unrealistic standards to live up to.

Follow this journey here.

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 h4ckermodify

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How We Met Our 7-Year-Old Daughter's Eating Disorder

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Editor’s note: Daughter’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Laina was always on the move. In utero, she did non-stop backflips, karate kicks and interpretive dances. She started walking at 10 months old, and never looked back. I often joke that she never sat down, not even in the bathroom. And her personality matched! No child has ever been as witty, sharp, determined and curious as Laina. She did not march to the beat of her own drum — she composed her score and played it on instruments of her own invention.

Her full-force zest was the same with food. Toddler Laina ate everything placed near her, including what was on our plates. Only one food was banished from her menu: green beans. She ate spinach, avocados, swiss cheese and everything else under the sun, including a stew I made with tomatillo salsa. Her motto seemed to be the more flavor and variety, the better. Her eating was a parent’s dream.

When she decided milk was something she didn’t want at every meal, it made sense to me. She’s growing, moving and wants water to quench her thirst. For the next two years, she put a few other foods on that banished list, very slowly. I discussed her preferences with her pediatrician, who assured me toddlers and small children are very adept at modifying their diets intuitively, perhaps doubling up on protein one day, and compensating the next by doubling down on fruit.

It all sounded reasonable, but I had a nagging feeling. I was watching her peers grow taller while she wasn’t. When she stood next to her fellow kindergartners, she looked like a preschool fugitive, a full head and shoulders shorter than the other kids. At her age 5 wellness check, I asked the pediatrician if it was possible that she wasn’t absorbing some nutrient that would allow her to grow. I genuinely believed she’d take a vitamin and then zoom! She’d be the height of the kids in her class. The pediatrician humored me by testing her blood, but she said, “Look, you are short. Your husband is short. I’m sorry to say she’s not going to be a basketball player.” At her wellness check at age 6, I asked again why she had put on such little weight from age 4 to age 6. The pediatrician ordered a bone density scan, with completely normal results. “She’s just petite,” the pediatrician said. Again, my worries about her lack of growth were shelved.

Three weeks after her seventh birthday, I received a call from her first grade teacher that started the engine on the pain train that is our current life. Laina was caught by a lunchroom aide throwing her entire lunch away. I listened to what the teacher said, and then questioned my daughter. She said she did this because she wanted to be healthy. I explained eating is healthy, and provides your body with the energy it needs to grow and play. At bedtime, I asked her about it again, hoping she would shed more light. She said it really wasn’t a big deal because she threw her lunch away many times, pretty much every day of first grade. I kissed her goodnight, and left the room.

So many thoughts were swirling in my head! Countless tiny facts were layering together and creating an arrow that was pointing to something truly terrifying. Her banished food list, two or more years in the making, now included: milk, cheese, peanut butter, cake, potato chips, French fries, donuts, all dairy, all snacks, all desserts. She was constantly asking if a particular food was healthy. She was reading labels and signs in stores and asking what gluten-free, low-fat and paleo meant. She was asking for increasingly smaller portions, and negotiating how much food was acceptable to leave on her plate. She was obsessed with cooking shows. All of these things, in the moments they were occurring, seemed so normal. So mundane. So meaningless. The slow crawl of her eating disorder into our life was invisible.

A dear friend recommended I call an eating disorder center and have her assessed. The ED center confirmed these behaviors were not red flags or things to be cautious about, but were in fact proof that Laina had an eating disorder. However, they declined to diagnose her, saying that at age 7, she was far too young for their program. We were told to come back in five or so years. If I knew what we were in for, I would have acted differently. But I was naïve to the eating disorder — this brute, this evil beast, this kidnapper who was committed to destroying my 7-year-old child and our lives. I took being rejected by the ED center as a positive sign that we could turn this around quickly on our own or with the help of our pediatrician. “Today me” would really like to slap the naïveté out of last year me’s head.

So that’s how I met our eating disorder. Yes, I say “our” because my daughter is not alone in any of this. My battle gear is on, and so long as I can breathe, she will have my help. I have been dedicated to getting my daughter back for more than a year. This is the most difficult experience of my life and wounds me daily, but I will keep fighting. The eating disorder will regret meeting me.

Follow this journey on Elementary EDucation.

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 shironosov.

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What Happened When I Traveled Abroad in Eating Disorder Recovery

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I am on my way back to my California home after a two-week trip to Europe. I had been excited about this trip for a while, and it was actually a big motivator for my eating disorder recovery. The last time I travelled abroad was when I studied in Spain for four months, and during that time I was in the depths of my eating disorder. This trip, unlike Spain, would be different. I am now actively in recovery and haven’t experienced eating disorder symptoms for several months. I worked hard in treatment so when I was abroad I would feel comfortable with things I hadn’t been comfortable with before. Even with my preparation, my trip took me by surprise in several ways.

This is what I learned:

1. Jet lag is challenging.

Before my trip, I took time to prepare for my travel days, the time change and eating on long flights with my dietician. This preparation was crucial for me, but food still became a challenge when I experienced jet lag. I felt sick and my hunger cues went out the window for a few days. It ending up being helpful for me to eat by the clock.

2. Snacks are the MVP.

When traveling in a new place with a busy schedule, it was easy for my friend and I to lose track of time. Having snacks in my bag was key for both of us when we were stuck on lengthy tours or had to eat on the go. I brought snacks from home I was comfortable with and even bought some fun local snacks at each destination. Having both options allowed me to choose depending on my taste preference and my level of anxiety at any given snack-time.

3. Perfectionism around food will try to creep in.

Before my trip, I was already worried about what I would eat when I arrived — I was going to three new countries after all! My dietician gave me a key piece of advice in our session prior to my trip. She said, “You will never be able to try everything, and that’s OK.” Letting go of that initial expectation helped, but I still struggled with perfectionism when making food choices. My stress lowered tremendously when I accepted that not every meal had to be incredibly adventurous. Sure, it’s awesome that I can try new foods in recovery, but food would not be what singlehandedly defined my travels. When I let go of that pressure, I was able to relax more and actually enjoy my meals.

4. Connecting to support is key.

When I was abroad, emotional challenges came up that I hadn’t experienced at that intensity in a while. I was feeling very distressed and anxious at times — more than what was typical for me. What helped me get through those moments was reaching out for support. I checked in with my therapist and dietician a few times by text, and when I really needed to, I had an emergency phone session with my therapist. Accepting my feelings and accepting I needed support did not ruin my trip like I thought it might. It allowed me to remain recovery focused and eventually get back to enjoying my trip with a clear mind. *Pro tip: many cell phone companies offer call, text, and data plans for people who are traveling. It was absolutely worth it for me to pay a little extra that month to have the safety net of support. Just like packing snacks and sandals, setting up my phone was a necessity on my pre-travel to-do list.

5. There were challenges, and that’s OK.

During my trip I had some American snacks, slept nine hours each night and took breaks from sightseeing for self-care. I also spent time with family I haven’t seen in years, smiled and laughed with friends, tried new cuisines and embraced beautiful sites. Initially when I struggled with anxious, depressed or eating disorder thoughts, I would experience a big setback in my recovery. In reality, this trip was a huge marker of how far I have come. I don’t have many clear memories of the last time I was in Europe because of my eating disorder, but this time I was in charge of the journey; full of joys and challenges, successes and struggles. I am grateful I took this trip, imperfections and all. Prioritizing my well-being in each moment, rather than doing whatever I thought the trip was “supposed to” look like, was the best thing I have done for myself in the past few weeks. I’m leaving Europe feeling connected to recovery and excited for the next adventure.

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.

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What I Want to Tell My Younger Self and Others Struggling With an Eating Disorder

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Heart pounding, lungs straining, legs shaking. I looked up to see my time. I did it. I finally made it.

I was about to be the poster child of the underdog success story. I was going to raise eating disorder awareness through running. I was the sick girl that lived in the hospital down the street for so many years, and now I would be running college track at the school of my dreams.

The acceptance letter came — and so did heart complications. My doctor told me I had to defer a year, so my scholarship went to another athlete. Disheartened, yet determined, I went to plan B. Besides, running in my hometown would be just as sweet.

Then the stress fractures came. And heart complications again. And then a broken bone, an unexplainable illness, torn ligaments, surgery, another broken bone. A broken heart. Shattered dreams. Plan C. Plan D. Frustration. Broken heart. Repeat.

“I need consistency.” The famous last words of every college running coach I spoke to. I had the times. I had the talent. I had the work ethic. I didn’t have the health. Train. Injury. Rehab. Cleared. Repeat.

Today, I was sitting in the doctor’s office six weeks post surgery waiting for the sweet, sweet phrase I’ve been told a million times. But instead of “You’re cleared to run!” I was met with, “Looks like you’re not healing like we had planned. It’s nothing you’ve done, your body just doesn’t heal like I would expect someone your age to heal. You’ll need that same surgery on your other shoulder, too. And about your knee, that’s going to need surgery at some point in the future.”

OK, I get it. I have some health problems and I can handle that. I’ve dealt with complications from my eating disorder for well over a decade so I know the drill. I rest a bit and then I’m good to hit the road doing what I love more than almost anything in the entire world. Plus, I have some races planned that I really want to do so I’m motivated to do physical therapy.

“Caley, I don’t think you get it. Your body is permanently damaged and that’s very apparent. Your body can’t heal and it’s extremely susceptible to injury and illness. You can’t run. Not now. Not for a long time, if ever. Not the way you want to run, at least.”

I’ve been here too many times. My eating disorder has wreaked havoc on my body and the consequences will continue. I accepted this the hundredth time I was told I couldn’t do something because of my health.

But this time is different. I feel a sense of responsibility. Something is wrong.

There was so much that cultivated the onset of my eating disorder. If I were to blame myself for something I had no control of, my life would be miserable. However, I believe change comes from taking responsibility where it can be given and I admit that I have had many wrongs.

Where did I go wrong? I went wrong by believing thinness equated to faster 10K times. I went wrong by believing a strict diet would help me perform more competitively. I went wrong by comparing myself to others. I went wrong by placing success over happiness. Most importantly, I went wrong by not believing in me.

My niece told me she wants to be a “fast runner” like me. I cringe because I don’t want her to be anything like me. Not the me that was starving to run faster. Not the me that was over training because I thought that would give me an edge. Not the me that has lasting damage on every major organ in my body. Not the me with an eating disorder.

I can’t change my past. I can’t rewrite my story. I can’t change our societal noise that screams thin is better and working to exhaustion is the only way to get ahead. I simply can’t do that.

I didn’t even know what I was doing. How would I have the power to change our cultural script?

I can’t. But I can start a new narrative. I can share my words and hope that my voice is louder than the voices my sweet niece and every other young person is hearing today that says they are inadequate. The voices that lie and say that beauty is something one must work for. I wish I could go back to the young Caley and tell her she is enough just the way she is. I would smile and say she is beautiful and wonderful and deserves to be fed, in every way: spiritually, mentally and physically. I would tell her to not worry about food and exercise, or anything for that matter, because worrying will get her nowhere and she deserves to be at peace. I would warn her that everything she is doing to run faster today is ruining her body forever. Unfortunately, I can’t go back. However, I can tell my niece. I can tell you.

To all the young Caley’s in the world: don’t listen to the voices of the people that know nothing of your worth. You are everything you need to be in the world this very minute. A first place ribbon means nothing of your inherent value. Do what you love the way you love to do it!

I wish you all the happiness. Although, I love you far more than that. I wish you the wisdom to know and understand that beauty is far more than what we see and understand. Beauty isn’t only happiness — it is so much more. So most of all: I wish you experience and change, learning and acceptance, joy and sorrow, appreciation and frustration. I wish you a life full of growth. I believe that beauty is the evolution of all the things that make up living and you will find that one day, too.

My eating disorder ruined a lot of important things to me. It ruined my competitive running career. In contrast, my recovery gave me so much more than I could ever imagine. My body is amazing and so is yours. Perhaps I will defy the odds again and do something amazing with running — my body is like that. And maybe I won’t. Either way, I know I will be fine because there is so much more to love about myself than my ability to run.

Dear young Caley, my sweet niece, and every listening ear: please remember less is not more. You deserve it all.

Follow this journey here. 

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.

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5 Things Anyone Entering Eating Disorder Treatment Should Know

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This isn’t my first time recovering from anorexia. I have relapsed and recovered before, but this relapse was the worst, and it was the first time I ever sought treatment. I have done “recovery” on my own, but this time was different. Here are some things I wish I knew when I started treatment for my eating disorder (ED):

1. Your body needs time to heal.

Your ED didn’t develop overnight, so your body won’t recover overnight either. You’ve put your body through hell, and now it needs time to heal. I have been in recovery for 16 months after a relapse that lasted only three months. My body is still not finished healing. It’s not even close. There’s no telling how long it will take, but I do know that it takes time, and you cannot rush it. And yes, it sucks. My body is struggling to recover, and I know that’s only because I put it through so much for so long. It thinks that at any moment it could starve again, and therefore it’s reacting as if there’s a famine, even though I continue to follow my meal plan and eat three meals and two snacks a day. It’s hard, and to be honest, I avoid mirrors and wear baggy clothes and try to hide. It’s hard. Your body needs time. A lot of time.

2. Inpatient/residential is the easy part.

The hard part is transitioning into the real world. The hard work comes when you step down to partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP) and outpatient. That’s when you take all the skills you’ve learned in treatment and apply it to your life. It’s hard. And it only gets harder.

I know you’ve heard this before, but recovery isn’t linear. And some days you will want to give up. But I’m here to tell you that recovery is worth it. When things get easy, it only means that you aren’t challenging yourself and your ED voice. ED recovery is hard — it’s supposed to be. If you find that you are comfortable in treatment, and if you think it’s easy, then you’re doing something wrong. Challenge yourself and challenge your ED voice every chance you get.

3. You will meet amazing people during your journey to recovery.

You will meet compassionate, intelligent and loving souls, and the bonds that you make in treatment can last a lifetime. My ED always tried to isolate me from my friends and family. In treatment, my ED told me to keep to myself because I thought that everyone was struggling more than I was. I didn’t want to burden others who were also on their path to recovery. But once I learned to open up to a few people, I saw that friendship is far more important than my ED, and that isolation would only lead me deeper into my depression. Reach out to others you meet in treatment. They get it.

4. Weight stabilization is hard, but necessary.

You will be able to think more clearly, love with your whole heart and regain strength with every pound you gain. It’s hard. It’s hard looking in the mirror and seeing someone that you don’t recognize. But refer to point one: your body needs time to heal. Re-feeding is so challenging, and even though it’s necessary, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. I understand. I’ve been there.

The thing is, I knew that when I entered treatment, I would inevitably gain back all the weight that I lost. I hated it. I didn’t want to gain any weight. But I knew that I would get close, or be back at, the weight I was at before my relapse. What I didn’t know was that I would gain much more than I lost. I would actually gain three times what I lost. I don’t say this to scare you or to convince you not to seek treatment for your ED. I’m telling you this because it happens. It happened to me and I had no clue. I didn’t know what to expect. So if this happens to you, it is OK. You are OK. You are beautiful and brave and it will get better. I promise.

5. Even when it feels like too much, don’t turn back.

It will only reset the clock and take your body and mind longer to recover. Your ED has probably made you a lot of promises: “People will like you if you are thin.” “People won’t be annoyed with you if you starve yourself.” “You can finally be pretty if you only lose more weight.” “You will finally be happy if you just reach your goal weight.”

I’m here to tell you that no matter what size you are at, if you are living with your eating disorder, you aren’t living at all. You cannot have your ED and be happy. It’s impossible. What I wish I knew was that even after starting recovery, I wasn’t going to be instantly happy. Just like your body cannot heal overnight, neither can your mind. You’ve put your brain through a lot, and it needs time to heal. You might even be more miserable after starting your journey to recovery. You may gain the weight — and it might go all to your stomach at first, I know, the worst — and your ED voice will get even louder. It doesn’t stop. It keeps telling you that you are a failure, that you are fat and that you will only be happy if you listen to it. Fight through this. It will get easier, but only after time. Lots of time.

So if you are committed to recovery and still find yourself unhappy, keep fighting. It takes your mind time to catch up to your body. Sometimes our bodies even heal faster than our minds. And my body is taking forever, so who knows how long it will take for my mind to heal itself. But whatever you do, don’t turn back. If you’ve started your journey, keep fighting. Stay strong and fight every day. It gets harder before it gets easier, but if you keep pushing through, you will find happiness and contentment.

Overall, what I wish I knew was that recovery is one of the hardest thing I will go through. And it gets harder before it gets easier. But that doesn’t mean you stop fighting. It only means that you need to devote more and more energy to your recovery. I know there’s no turning back now because I am so far into my journey. I don’t want to reset the clock and start all over. I want to keep pushing. I want to keep fighting. I want to recover. And I hope you that you do 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 Splendens

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