themighty logo

I Didn't Realize I Had an Eating Disorder

For many years, I didn’t know I had an eating disorder. I knew I had weird eating tendencies and specific preferences. I knew I hated when anyone asked, “Is that really all you’re eating?” or “Wow, you’re sure eating a lot,” or “You ran how far?!”

I never understood why it made me so uncomfortable. I was “normal.” My BMI said so. My doctors said so. My family and friends believed so.

Now I can see I felt shame. I didn’t want their judgment.

I had a seemingly never-ending list of “cute” one-liners. A never-ending list of excuses that allowed me to justify my disordered behaviors. Not just to others but also to myself.

  1. “Sometimes I just don’t eat lunch.”
  2. “Just trying to eat healthy this week”
  3. “This week I’m only eating ___ just to see if I can do it!”
  4. “21-day challenge!”
  5. “I can’t eat that because I haven’t worked out today.”
  6. “I just feel better at a standing desk.”
  7. “New Year – let’s try a juice cleanse. It is on sale.”
  8. “Everyone diets before vacations, weddings, seeing old friends, for swimsuit season, right?”
  9. “I want to be skinnier, but everyone else does too.”
  10. “Sometimes I just can’t stop myself from another cookie.”
  11. “I just like being cold.”
  12. “I’m just fidgety.”
  13. “Exercise is my stress relief.”
  14. “Sometimes I throw up after I eat.”
  15. “I just don’t like cheese.”
  16. “I just don’t like beer.”
  17. “I just don’t like [food I had labeled as “bad”].”
  18. “I’m allergic.”
  19. “I’m a vegetarian.”
  20. “I’m lactose-intolerant.”
  21. “I’m gluten-free.”
  22. “I just don’t like creamy things.”
  23. “It just makes my stomach hurt.”
  24. “I’m just not feeling good today.”
  25. “I already ate.”

I could go on.

Writing these down, it is terrifying how these simple sayings kept me in my eating disorder mindset – my eating disorder “lifestyle.” Deep down I knew something was wrong. I could see my idea of normal was misconstrued. After a while, I could go as far as saying, “I’m stressed right now because of food stuff.” But an eating disorder? No, not me. I was just like every other teenage girl and 20-something.

Finally, the rigidity became too much. After 10 years of accumulating rules and “cute” sayings, every food had been “good” or “bad” at some point. I couldn’t safely go out with friends, go on dates, reunite with old friends, or even shop with friends or family. Getting dressed was hard. Making meals was hard. Focusing at work was hard.

If this sounds familiar to you, know you’re not alone, know you can get help and know a path to recovery exists if you want it to. I’m lucky to have an amazing therapist who is both gentle and understanding while encouraging and challenging me to move forward.

When they first put me on a 20-week program, I couldn’t believe it would take five months. After a year of weekly treatment, my only regret so far is I didn’t go sooner — that I didn’t go before every food became “off limits.” But more than that, I’m proud of myself. I have life back in my eyes. I’m kinder and more understanding of myself and others. I have new hobbies and have better defined my triggers.

Some days are still harder than others, but overall I am hopeful that eventually, I’ll be able to say, “I no longer have an eating disorder.”

Getty image by AaronAmat.