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How 'Healthy' Concealed My Eating Disorder

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I live with anorexia nervosa and struggle daily to choose recovery. The longer an eating disorder goes untreated, the more difficult it is to reverse not only the physical effects, but also the beliefs and behaviors associated with it. Early intervention is crucial, but eating disorders often go unnoticed.

When we think of someone with anorexia, it’s likely that we picture an individual whose bones protrude from their skin, their bodies composed of sharp angles. In essence, they “look” sick. This is all too often the point at which treatment begins. We must change what we think someone with an eating disorder looks like because too many struggle until they develop complications.

For so long, too long, I flew under the radar while I struggled with anorexia. No one thought I could possibly be dealing with disordered eating because I didn’t look like the stereotypical person with anorexia. I was a “healthy” size, a “healthy” weight and had a “healthy” diet. Yet, at some point this was no longer true, and my illness began to show. I began to experience many of the physical complications that come with anorexia.

Physicians monitored me closely with weekly appointments because I had a low heart rate. (If it had fallen any lower, then they would have no choice but to hospitalize me.) Though I hid my eating disorder fairly well, its effects were became increasingly noticeable to those around me. All my energy was devoted to keeping my mental calculator running, keeping track of the numbers that haunted me. My eating rituals and behaviors drew more and more attention as I became a shell of the person I once was. It was then that people began to question whether or not I was truly healthy.

The truth is most of us who live with an eating disorder do not look like what you would imagine. Though some do fit the description of “skin and bones,” many are overweight or within the bounds of what is considered a healthy weight. The thing is, you “look” healthy until you don’t. We don’t start out “looking sick,” but that “ideal” body is often our goal.

We have ultimate goal weights. We count, we restrict and we compensate. We can do all these disordered eating behaviors and still maintain the appearance that we are healthy. This allows us to struggle in silence and continue to suppress our emotional pain. While the manifestation of an eating disorder is a focus on food, that attention only masks what is truly going on. Eating disorders are both about food and entirely not about food.

The more time that passes without recognizing the signs of disordered eating, the more adept we become at hiding our behaviors until it becomes all too obvious that we have moved from “healthy” to sick. This does not occur overnight. Developing an eating disorder is a process, and it is possible to intervene early on if we are educated.

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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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 10, 2017
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