Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, my heart hammering away inside my chest. I felt the aching hunger pains I had grown used to in the past months. The hunger that usually provided me with a feeling of safety only felt unsettling in the darkness of the early morning hour. I was starving and unlike usual, I couldn’t convince myself it was fine and I had it under control. In desperation, I promised myself I would have a big breakfast in the morning. The only problem was I knew it was a lie. Just the thought of eating more than two bites of fat-free yogurt made the voices in my head scream in terror. The sobs started deep in the pit of my starving stomach, and I couldn’t stop myself from choking out tears.
For the first time, I acknowledged I did not have this food thing under control. I had a problem. But I had no idea how to ask for help, especially because I still wasn’t sure I wanted help. For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone.
The food thing started small. I wanted to lose some weight. I wasn’t getting as many compliments about my small figure as I used to, and so I just wanted to be a bit thinner again. I simply switched the Gatorade I drank at my water polo games to water. It wasn’t enough though, so I stopped eating any and all dessert. It started working, and it felt surprisingly good. I felt on top of the world every time I turned down a cookie or ignored my cravings for chocolate. Suddenly, my hatred for water polo didn’t feel so bad and the pressure I put on myself to get a straight-A report card didn’t feel so heavy. I kept going. I cut out chips, then bread, and before I knew it, I wasn’t eating any forms of carbohydrates. I had never been a runner, but I started going on runs when my parents were gone. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it had somehow become something I HAD to do.
I started to lose weight quickly and people started noticing. Every time anyone commented on the changes in my body, I felt a sense of pride. However, some people started expressing concern, especially those closest to me. They would ask why I didn’t finish my lunch or offer me foods I once loved. I reacted with defense, and always had an excuse. ‘Oh, I just ate a really big breakfast.’ Or ‘No, I can’t go out to dinner. My mom said I needed to be home at 4 p.m.’ The lies came easily, and they felt like a relief.
About a month after my middle of the night breakdown, I finally got the helped I felt I couldn’t ask for. I missed my period. I hadn’t even noticed (I was too preoccupied with food) but my mom noticed. She sat me down, she cried, and she told me she thought I had a problem. As usual, my defenses were up, but my mom loved me too much to let them win. She told me, ‘There will be no arguing. You have an eating disorder and we’re going to the doctor to get help.’ I cried. Having to get help felt like my greatest failure yet. Deep down, I felt nothing but relief.
I went to the doctor and he confirmed my diagnosis: Anorexia Nervosa. He recommended a therapist and nutritionist, who my mom made me appointments with. I was going to start recovery. Not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I simply had no other choice. We went home and for the first time in months, I had to eat a real dinner. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember sobbing when my mom placed it in front of me. I was terrified. That relief was present again, deep down. I wasn’t so alone anymore. I had my mom, and she was there to fight with me.
My first therapist appointment felt like I was living a different life. I walked into a small room with a couch and a box of tissues. I remember thinking it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to sit on that couch and talk about my feelings with the smiley professional.
I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life. The first session WAS awkward. However, the more I was forced to eat, the more emotions came up. Before I knew it, I was looking forward to my therapy sessions. It started to feel like I had another person who understood and who was rooting for me. The loneliness disappeared when I was with my therapist. We explored my childhood together and discussed everything that led me to sit on that couch. She told me to be my own best friend and to take time for myself. She taught me to separate the eating disorder voice in my head from my own voice. The more I went, the better I got, and the easier it became for me to acknowledge I COULD live without my eating disorder.
I loved therapy, but I hated nutrition appointments. My nutritionist told me everything I didn’t want to hear. ‘You need to eat more. You need carbohydrates to survive. You do like chocolate and bagels. You’re just scared of them.’ It was all so overwhelming for me. However, the more I worked with my therapist, the better I was able to understand I did not hate my nutritionist. My eating disorder did. With this realization came trust in her. It was scary, but I agreed to start eating more and to challenge myself with the foods I used to love but no longer ate.
Recovery was HARD. I cried more than I ever had before, and I faced more fears than I ever had before. However, it started to pay off for me. My relationships with my friends were improving. I wasn’t feeling so stressed before every test. I had quit water polo. I wasn’t cold all the time anymore. I had the energy to swim again. I was able to stand up for myself. Recovery slowly started to become something I wanted for myself, instead of something I just had to do. It wasn’t always easy, and it didn’t always feel worth it, but I never gave up. I slipped backward sometimes, but my recovery team never let me fall completely.
Months passed, and it slowly got easier to eat. My weight returned to normal and I felt the best I ever had. I met a boy. His name was Jack. He had a cute smile, and even better, he made me smile. We went on a few dates and I decided I liked him, a lot. My therapist told me I should tell him about my eating disorder. I was nervous, but I did it. To my surprise, he told me he already knew. I couldn’t believe he liked me the whole time anyway.
My relationship with food had improved immensely, but my relationship with exercise still needed work. After we’d been dating for a few months, Jack took me with him to the gym. He showed me the ropes in the weight room, and I found I enjoyed myself more than I thought would. Lifting was the first form of exercise I’d tried where the goal wasn’t based on how many calories you could burn, but rather how much weight you could lift. I started going on my own, and I fell in love. The more I learned about lifting, the more I realized my eating disorder would only hold me back from getting stronger. I needed to rest and I needed to eat.
My eating disorder developed during my sophomore year of high school. I am now a junior in college, and I consider myself recovered. I no longer cry when I eat dinner, or fear carbohydrates, or force myself to go on runs. However, I will never forget what that felt like. My eating disorder was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s also the best because it forced me to grow and expanded my empathy more than I ever could have imagined.
I am currently studying psychology with the hopes of becoming a therapist. My therapist saved my life, and I wanted the opportunity to do the same for others. My love for the gym has also continued to grow, and I am now a certified personal trainer. I have the opportunity to help people develop healthy relationships with exercise, and it couldn’t be more rewarding. I am grateful for my eating disorder because it’s made me who I am. And I love the person I am and the person I am becoming.
If you recognize any parts of my journey in someone you love, I encourage you to reach out. Struggling with an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, is extremely lonely, so just simply being there means more than you can imagine. If you’re currently struggling with an eating disorder or your relationship with food or exercise, I encourage you to go to therapy. Even after recovery, I continue to benefit from the tools I learned in therapy. I also encourage you to commit to doing the hard shit. I promise you will never recover if you don’t step out of your comfort zone. Finally, I just want to remind you that you deserve recovery. You are an amazing and unique person, and you deserve a life free from the chains of your ED.
If I can say with the utmost confidence I am recovered, then you can someday too!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Burness. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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