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To the People Who Call Me ‘Skinny,’ From Someone in Anorexia 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.

“Oh my god, you’re so skinny!”

“What gym do you go to?”

“Have you been working out?”

“I’m so jealous of how skinny you got.”

“You look so good!”

It’s funny, because the people who say these things to me after they’ve noticed I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight don’t know my “diet” was just simply starving myself. It wasn’t because I wasn’t hungry, but because I didn’t want to eat — there’s a difference.

How do you respond to these “compliments” when you struggle with anorexia? That’s always the struggle I’ve found with having an “invisible illness.”

It started the summer before my senior year of high school,after the death of my grandfather. When I came back to school in the fall, it was noticeable that I had lost weight. So noticeable, in fact, that a classmate of mine brought it to my gym teacher’s attention. This prompted the gym teacher to ask me in front of the entire gym full of kids, including my boyfriend at the time, if I “had a problem.” Then came the big question,“Are you anorexic?” I denied the obvious, which she probably knew, and I proceeded to run out of the gym crying with my best friend in toe.

As a teacher who should be trained in dealing with such situations, I was appalled by her lack of empathy. I was also disappointed in the fact that someone I knew had the nerve to call such public attention to it. Instead of being concerned, they decided to make a charade out of it. But I got over it and the skinny comments stopped. I went to prom, graduated and went to college — I moved on.

Fast forward to now, at the ripe age of 22, I am once again struggling with anorexia. Even after years of being in therapy, I am back to a smaller size after my weight fluctuated throughout my university years. I still fear eating with people other than my parents and boyfriend, and I still get those same “skinny” comments from people. But what more can I do than smile and nod while thanking them for the compliment amidst a shaky and nervous laugh?

I didn’t become anorexic because I thought I was fat, which seems to me, to be a common misconception. I struggle with hypochondria and emetophobia, which literally makes me afraid to eat. I only eat things that I’m comfortable eating, like a routine. I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and more psychological problems than I can begin to name. I may look like a “normal” 22-year-old, but what nobody tells you about being anorexic and suffering from a panic disorder with high-functioning anxiety, is that my mind is always spinning, despite how “normal” and “well-functioning” I might appear.

“What if?”

“I can’t do this.”

“People will notice.”

It’s not easy being skinny when you know how you got that way — because that is your biggest secret. There’s nothing worse than someone pointing out how skinny you are in a public setting. And if there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s don’t point out the obvious because you never know the real reason why someone looks the way they do. No, I’m not on a diet, and yes, I am aware of how skinny I’ve gotten. I am living a life of fear, and unlike going to the gym or doing the latest workout craze, my situation is different.

Life is about learning to adapt, and that’s exactly what I am doing. I go to regular doctor’s appointments to regulate my diet and I talk to a psychologist. The thing that people don’t see is the pain and disappointment that I feel in myself with each “skinny” comment I get. They don’t see the nights that I cry to my boyfriend about how upset I am with myself for struggling. So, the next time you comment on someone’s weight, think before you speak, because behind that shaky laugh could be someone in pain trying to survive every day.

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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Lead image via contributor.

Originally published: July 24, 2017
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