themighty logo

Why I've Used My Eating Disorder to Cope With My Chronic Pain


I have an eating disorder and a chronic illness. I have struggled with food my whole life. It started out as anorexia and bulimia, and then bulimia and binge eating. I always used food to fill a void in my life and to numb the pain that I was feeling.

Several years ago I suddenly started having pain in my hips. I went and saw eight doctors and specialists in nine months, two hospital stays, surgery, and scopes, to find out I have an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis. It was devastating to find out that I had this autoimmune disease. It is hard to fully explain how it feels when you are healthy one moment and the next have extreme chronic pain. I used my eating disorder to cope with the pain I felt. I often felt like I was losing my identity, my personality, the ability to do the things I liked to do. I couldn’t walk to the river and watch the sunset, couldn’t run on the beach, couldn’t do a lot of the physical things and simple things such as walking to the mail box. My eating disorder has used that for fuel since have been diagnosed. All the things I am unable to do have run in my head.

There is a lot of shame I feel about having a chronic illness and an eating disorder. I know what I should do regarding taking care of myself, but sometimes I don’t always do it. I feel shame for hurting my body when I need to take care of it. The shame triggers a cycle that is difficult to come out of.

Lately I have been trying to use the tools I know help me with my eating disorder to help me with my chronic illness. Breathing, meditating, prayer, yoga  , being present in my body, and acceptance. I have often fought being present in my body because I felt like the pain was too much to take. I have noticed, though, that when I breathe and notice what my body actually needs, it helps. I take baths. I stretch. I try to reach out to someone. I am working on acceptance on the things I cannot change, and changing what I can.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I heard once that acceptance doesn’t mean you have to agree with or like the situation. I don’t like my chronic illness or what it has done to my body, but I can accept that I have it and try to change how I take care of my body. It is hard. My recovery from my eating disorder and journey with my chronic illness is a process. I am learning to be gentle with myself and know my limitations. The eating disorder is fueled by shame and negative self-talk. I notice when I try to combat the eating disorder and think positively, I don’t struggle as much with the eating disorder. My mantra lately has been, “I am doing the best I can do.” It has helped me realize that having a chronic illness and being in pain all the time is hard, along with having an eating disorder. I am doing the best I know how to do, and continuing to fight for my health. That’s a victory in my mind.

Getty Image by Staras