True Story: I Overcame An Eating Disorder

Can you cure an eating disorder? It is better to consider it something that's overcome rather than cured? Which eating disorder treatment is most effective? Click through for one woman's story.
Can you cure an eating disorder? It is better to consider it something that’s overcome rather than cured? Which eating disorder treatment is most effective? Today, Holly shares her story of overcoming her eating disorder.

Tell us about your relationship with your body when you were growing up.
Body image was really no struggle for me for a long time, because I was naturally skinny up through my late teens. On the other hand, that meant I had invested some of my identity in having that thin, leggy child’s figure, so it was like having the rug pulled out from under me when I started getting fat on me and could no longer eat like I had a hollow leg.
When did you first start to have issues with eating? Was there one certain thing that triggered it?
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.
My metabolism was able to handle that for quite a while without dealing me much weight gain, so I didn’t get the negative feedback to keep that habit from getting ingrained.
Then in my freshman year of college, depression hit me pretty hard. Just on its own, it made me feel terrible about myself, but it also wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule, my eating habits, and my metabolism…all of which resulted in me gaining twenty-five pounds in the space of two months.
How did your eating disorder manifest itself?
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?

P.S. True Story: I have panic attacks

photo credit issara willenskomer // cc

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  1. Alba

    Although I don't have an ED this was a really inspirational story. I love how you took a leap and went to Iceland – it takes strength to just up and leave to a foreign country and get by by yourself – I think it goes to show that these type of experiences really do make you stronger and can be used as a tool to overcome any obstacles in life. I wish you the very best of luck!


  2. meliasaurus

    i had some sort of eating disorder but i never got treatment. it was probably like ednos.

    there are still only a few people that i ever told and i still struggle with my body image.

    i can't afford therapy but i'd like to learn to love myself

  3. LC's Bare Feet

    I'll never forget when my ballet teacher told me I had too much "booty" (seriously? I was like 13) to ever become a professional dancer. I quit ballet after high school and took up hip hop in college (where booty is a good thing).

    Your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing, there are girls all over the world that are reading your story and gaining strength from it.


    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your "booty" sharing! It's good to know we can celebrate out booties! 🙂

  4. Danielle

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story! What made you want to go to Iceland? Do you have any tips for high school students, where image is everything? What's your thoughts on the role media plays in this?

  5. kirsten anneke

    Yes! I have an eating disorder. (Years ago I'd never have been able to type that! whoop whoop for progress!)

    I'm proud of you, Holly! for being able to share! and thanks to Sarah for posting wonderful things like this – awareness is half the battle friends.

    Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
    –Mary Anne Radmacher–

    Again, thanks 🙂

  6. EMLAR

    Thank you Holly, for sharing your story with us!
    "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." <–that is so incredibly true for me, and that's the part I constantly struggle with in trying to deal with depression and anxiety. I've never had an eating disorder, but your story still resonated with me and I found it inspirational!

  7. Marthe

    I have to agree with Alba here, what a courageous thing to do. I'm so happy that you found stenght in yourself.

    I have recently gained control over a depression and anxiety disorder, and I think my personal turning point was when I realized that I can actually control my thoughts. I was so fed up with anxiety when I made the decision never to get another anxiety attack. And I haven't! I still get scared and uneasy at times, but nothin I can't live without.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  8. agoraphob

    Yay for recovery!! I am in recovery from a severe eating disorder and still deal with wicked anxiety and I know recovery isnt easy, but so worth it!

  9. agoraphob

    Yay for recovery!! I am in recovery from a severe eating disorder and still deal with wicked anxiety and I know recovery isnt easy, but so worth it!

  10. Kate

    I was actually diagnosed with an ednos that sounds pretty similar to hers, and I was also a dancer for most of my life. I'm four years into recovery now, and while it's not an everyday, constant thing, it's still definitely helpful to hear from others that when I do falter or get, tired or stressed, that it's worth it to keep going and not give into the feelings a relapse (just in thought or in full) bring back.

    The most ironic thing, for me, was that after being so obsessed with nutrition and my body, I now have a really expansive knowledge of nutrition and am capable of being a lot healthier than I had ever been before.

  11. Holly

    meliasaurus – Oh, that's hard. (I was lucky to have parents who could and would pay for therapy.) You didn't ask for suggestions, but a couple book titles popped into mind (Life Without Ed, Life in the "Thin" Cage, The Diet Survivor's Handbook), as well as this site…there's a really good recovery support community on Twitter, too. Start with @VoiceinRecovery. And best wishes to you.

    LC – Oof, ballet teachers can be brutal! Sounds like you chose an awesome way to turn it around, though.

    Sara – You are welcome. Strength to you.

    Danielle – Iceland had always enchanted me, and it was doing so badly economically that I was able to afford it all of a sudden (ha). For high school students: fill your time with things you love, that make you feel alive, and know that self-confidence does get easier as you get older. I don't think media is the ultimate cause of body image issues, but I think it is a significant agent. Email me if you want to talk more about any of those questions? wie.ein.lied at gmail dot com.

    Kirsten Anneke – Thank you so much; it was kind of scary. 🙂 I hope *your* journey is going well.

    And thank you to all of you, for sharing parts of your story and simply letting me know that you were reading this (I don't think I've put anything this personal online before!).

  12. Edge

    Thank you for having the courage to post all this. I've never had a diagnosed ED, but I've been immersed in the distance running culture my whole life, the sport towards which the naturally thin gravitate. It took me a long time to be more comfortable with not being a pencil like all the other girls running, because that's not how I was made, and I'm not going to work myself to death or mess with my metabolism to make it happen.

  13. Jen

    Holly, thank you for sharing, and congratulations on beating your disease. I'm glad to hear you're in a good place right now.

    I really wish I had this community 10 years ago when I had two good friends battling EDNOS. I felt I would have been a better friend to them if I had people to talk to about supporting them, people who understood. Even though I amazed myself with the support I mustered.

    One of them is still very sick, but the other seems to be doing MUCH better, and it warms my heart to see her in a better place.

  14. Fiona Place

    Thank for bravely sharing a story of recovery – we need such inspiring stories to get the message out there that recovery is possible.

  15. Anonymous

    Thanks so much for your story!
    I found that the hardest thing about recovery from an ED was the guilt.
    As long as I was still having syptoms I was at least 'trying' to lose fat and thus all the cultural stigmas that go with it (not just being unattracitve, but lower class, lazy, stupid, unmotivated, having poor personal hygene – there is a lot tied up in the idea of fat that has nothing to do with fat itself).
    Recovery felt like 'giving up' in a way, and there is so much shame associated with gaining weight.
    I have heard more than one person tell me that I should never have done the extreme things I did – I should just have 'eaten right and exercised more'. Very easy for the naturally slim to say!
    Just stop being so fat, it's easy!
    ED felt like a pass out of some of the shame associated with my body – at least I was one of the ones who was trying.
    Handing in that pass is tough, but ultimately my own happiness has to be more important than a vague notion of the public perception of my body.

  16. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I've always been a binge eater with a horrible body image. Seriously, I distinctly recall the first day of third grade when the teacher asked us all what we collected, and I said "fat".

    I've recently discovered the idea of HAES (health at every size), and am working toward a healthy body for the first time ever (I'm in my 30's). And you know what? Having taken up running, I've discovered that I don't mind that I'm the big slow girl. I feel proud of myself for using my body in a good way instead of passively thinking bad thoughts about it.

  17. Anonymous

    Holly, I really identified with your story as I went through something very similar. It was not until I was in University that I sought help (in which I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and started taking Effexor). Luckily I was able to deal with some of my eating anxieties through the process of dealing with anxiety in general. I have a very supportive partner now and a healthy relationship with food.

    In highschool as a competative dancer I always felt pressure not directly from my dance teacher or anything but just being in front of a wall of mirrors at time when your body is undergoing enormous change is very difficult. I had issues eating in front of people, I would starve myself for days, and then binge, and when I got to uni my eating became out of control. I gained a lot of weight after I stopped dancing and I just felt really insecure.

    The big thing for me and advice I would give to many other people out there who suffer with disordered eating is to reclaim their bodies and food. I really had to sit down and address issues I had surrounding control. Much of my attitudes toward food was dictated by this need for order and I found I have been able to successfully channel that energy into eating healthy and loving food again as something that nourishes and restores your body. The initial step I took which I found helped was becoming a vegan for a period. I realized the energy I expended on worrying about calories and keeping track of what I could or could not eat was better used in trying to be animal and earth friendly. Furthermore that fullfilled my need for control for I still mentally organized everything entering my body but under a different criteria. I also found yoga practice really helped me focus on strengthing and making peace with my body and myself. I now am a vegetarian and I rarely worry about fat content or what is going to happen if eat this or that. I try to happy and healthy and I find inspirational blogs like yes and yes which I regularily read really help me value the amazing and good things in life.

    Thanks for sharing your story and stay strong!


  18. s.u.h.a

    i dont know whether im having an eating disorder. but last 3 weeks im started to feel scared of food. in my country, we usually eat rice. i quit eating rice. i quit eating protein. i only drink which have milk base cuz it gives me energy. thats what i think. then when i have a full course meal, i will only eat like three spoon. otherwise, i will regret it later and i couldnt sleep just thinking about that. this problem freaks me out.

  19. Holly

    dear s.u.h.a.,
    I don't know if you have an eating disorder either, but it does sound like you should talk to someone who can help you deal with the anxiety and figure out if you need to see someone else. Best of luck.

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