This is the story of Holly’s struggles with food and body image and how she overcame her eating disorder.
My eating issues started when I was dancing in high school. I went through a phase of very restrictive constant dieting, and as I got more and more fed up with ballet and the ballet school environment, I became something of an emotional overeater, as kind of an “eff you” gesture and also as a way of dealing with stress.
Purging was and is the behavior I struggled the most with. My diagnosis was EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified. Aside from being really vague — check out the second definition offered here and add consistent purging to get my ED — it’s actually the most common eating disorder diagnosis. So take note: the “anorexia or bulimia” picture of eating disorders is really popular, but kind of useless.Did those who were close to you know about this?
I told a couple of my very closest friends when the eating disorder was just starting to pick up speed. I was frightened for myself sometimes, and that was my way of trying to set up something that could be a safety net for me if things “got scary.”
Eventually, one of them told my sister, who told my parents. It didn’t really make much of a difference that these people knew, though. Most of them were thousands of miles away from me while I was at college, and I was isolating myself from the ones who weren’t. My parents didn’t try to take me out of school because I swore I’d be miserable if they did.
Not that I wasn’t miserable anyways, but sickness aside, I really wanted the distance and greater independence I had at college.
When did you realize that you had a problem?
I think I knew I had a problem from the beginning. I was almost looking for a way to punish and diminish myself, and it helped me say I AM NOT OKAY, so it’s not like I was thinking that everything was fine and what I was doing was healthy and great.
Strangely, it was only when I was at my sickest that I questioned whether I had a problem, because having a serious problem would have meant I warranted attention and concern, and I didn’t think I was worth that.
The turning point was not realizing I had a problem, but realizing that it might be worth it to overcome it. That happened over Thanksgiving break, when something strange but good took hold of me and I blew my savings on a last-minute solo trip to Iceland. I fell in love with the country, and miraculously, my symptoms left me mostly alone for the first half of the trip.
I had an incredible time, and in that space, I found out that I could be a strong, amazing, independent person, that I could take charge of my life and make wonderful things happen for myself. That was what I needed. (I spent the second half of the trip in my hostel room shivering and not eating. Suck you, ED; thanks for stealing four days of Iceland from me.)
Anyways, I saw that there was something to me and my life that would be worth saving. I wanted to be that crazy, strong, joyful person that Iceland initially brought out in me. And I was willing to see whether that would be worth giving up the ED.
How did you get over this?
Recovery isn’t a finished process, but it’s not a full-time thing anymore. A turning point was when I could see that there really couldn’t be any going back — back to what? Doctors and therapists and months in front of the mirror without being able to work or study, without any movement towards my dreams? Nope.
It’s not something that just ends; for me it got a lot better pretty quickly once I got on antidepressants, though I’ve had my share of relapses since then. But each relapse has been a little easier to bounce back from. Most of the time now I am really happy with myself and my life, and I actually have a healthier attitude toward food, exercise, body image, etc. than I did in pre-ED days.
Any advice for others dealing with this? Or how we can help a friend who’s dealing with this?
For those dealing with disordered eating: You will never reach a point where you might as well keep getting sicker. Recovery is hard and sometimes scary, but a million times better than being sick. Also, relapse does NOT mean you are back where you started. You are still moving forward. Just pick yourself up as soon as you can.
For those with a friend in this situation: Don’t keep the disorder a secret for them. Be patient. Give them love as constantly as you can. And remember that it’s not possible to fix them, only to support them while they work on themselves with professional help. And please feel free to email me if you have any more specific questions. wie.ein.lied at gmail dot com.
Have any of your struggled with food/body issues? Any questions for Holly?