‘I survived off of cigarettes and energy drinks.’: Woman battling eating disorder urges ‘you deserve recovery’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mentions of disordered eating and drug addiction that may be triggering to some.

“I’m Sian, a 24 year old in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. Ever since I was a little girl, I had this unhealthy desire to be tiny. I wanted to fit into the smallest size jeans. I dreaded getting my weight taken at the doctors office… I had this belief ‘average weight’ wasn’t good enough. I wanted to ‘excel.’ I wanted people to look at me and go, ‘Wow she’s just SO petite.’ I wanted to look borderline frail.

My mother also struggles with an eating disorder. Hers is binge eating. It’s not something I can relate to… frankly, it was my worst fear to eat uncontrollably. On top of that, my idea of being ‘out of control’ with food is highly dysmorphic. Growing up, my mom would unintentionally praise me for my petite build, how slow I ate, or how I could leave food on the plate. I know, and knew then, she never meant any harm in those comments.

Growing up, I watched my mom graze on vegetables while I ate lunch, not knowing she had binged the night before. I watched her eat appetizer appropriate salads for a meal and weight watcher desserts as her indulgent treat for the day. My dad has always been a very mindful intuitive eater. He eats to fuel and enjoy. That being said, the normalization of diet culture language still makes its way into my dad’s vocabulary.

woman sitting on park bench
Courtesy of Sian Elizabeth Siska

Calories… oh how I wish I wasn’t so aware of them. After years of restriction and macro tracking, I’m a walking My Fitness Pal. I was 14 when I had my first run-in with bulimia. I liked I could eat like normal still. It’s so sad, but I also found pleasure in the grotesque violence of the act. At the age of 14, I also started using drugs. For a long time I believe my drug addiction distracted me from my obsessive desire to be sickly frail. I loved the high, and I loved the damage it did to me while simultaneously ‘comforting’ me in my darkest state.

Fast forward 4 years. I’m 18, fresh out of high school, a drug relapse, and one of the most emotionally damaging relationships I’d ever, and hopefully will ever experience. I felt sick to my stomach, out of control, lost, and filled with self hatred. I couldn’t sleep, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I was surviving off of cigarettes and energy drinks and could feel the little bit of slack in my jeans, the way my hip bones began to feel so unprotected by fat. I wanted to keep going, so I did. I started working out and ‘eating healthy.’ If I had to go out for a meal to keep up the appearance I was okay, I’d just make myself throw up after and eat less the next day. It didn’t take long before my mind and my life had been completely taken over by anorexia.

I found the fitspo side of Instagram where it seemed like everyone was on a diet. People were weighing out their food by the gram, logging it into My Fitness Pal, tracking their protein, carb, and fat intake every day. It was justification I had been searching for to mute the shame I had as a result of ignoring years of therapy and fully surrender to my eating disorder. I convinced myself it was a bettering lifestyle change, not mental illness… and this lie kept me a prisoner for years. Sometimes I still catch myself falling for its disguise.

I had this genuine belief as long as I was eating, and my doctor wasn’t too concerned with my weight, I didn’t have a problem. I controlled my calories, prepped all my meals and weighed them out by the gram, hardly ever ate out, and worked out 6 days a week. I drank my coffee black because ‘I think it’s better that way.’ I never drank my calories, besides ‘I just preferred the taste of sugar free drinks.’ I no longer liked ice cream, bagels, fries, pizza, and I was lactose intolerant. Candy was too sweet, and I didn’t crave Cheetos. These lies became my reality. I had altered my whole being and sacrificed so many opportunities for new experiences and great memories.

Sometimes I’d start letting go of my need to count any bit of food that entered my body, but it never lasted long. I genuinely believed I had it under control though. I ate enough to maintain a medically healthy weight. Nobody was worried about me. It was just the lifestyle I chose to live. Then that false sense of control came tumbling down on me once again. It happened fast this time, but luckily it ended quickly too. I was eating so little my hunger kept me up at night. It was workout, wait for as long as I could to eat, have just enough to keep me from passing out, and repeat. I was breaking my own heart, but I couldn’t stop.

I knew I wasn’t going to quit on my own. I knew I’d let myself wither away until I needed to be sent to the hospital… it’s hard to want to save yourself when you hate yourself, so I went to my parents. They gave me love and hope to recover. They gave me the permission I needed I wouldn’t give myself to eat. I still remember how hard it was to do it. It was about 3 p.m., and I choked down an orange while holding back tears. I felt so weak for getting help. Heck, I felt weak for eating an ORANGE, but it was one of the bravest steps I’ve ever taken for myself.

My time at Emily Program was short-lived. Looking back, I realize I rushed and resisted things out of arrogance and discomfort. That’s not to say I didn’t get what I needed out of my time there. I just know I could have been more patient and made more progress in the safety of a consistent support group opposed to doing it without the in-person support of other women in recovery. The space gave me the permission I needed to eat freely and practice eating wholesome meals and truly healthy and normal eating.

woman holding mug and smiling
Courtesy of Sian Elizabeth Siska

We had breakfast, midmorning snacks, lunch, late afternoon snacks, dinner AND dessert, and bedtime snacks. Sometimes I felt so full, all I wanted to do was skip a snack, but I didn’t. I practiced eating goldfish right out of the bag and sitting with my fullness. I experienced weight gain which was so uncomfortable, but through that regained my fullness and hunger signals. Mindful eating became an attainable practice for me. I started eating out with friends again, and sweet cream in my coffee became a natural habit again. It was freeing.

I won’t lie and say I’m cured. I can’t say I don’t still have days where I body check too much or look at the labels on my food, but I eat it despite anorexia’s tempting whispers to put it back. Just like drug addiction, I’ll never be recovered. It’s a daily choice to stay in recovery, but I make it every day. I don’t regret a single day I make the choice to do so. With this warmer weather and diet culture screaming to submit to unhealthy habits and relationships with food, it can be hard to make that choice. I get that. Sometimes I get jealous seeing people ‘getting bikini ready,’ but I remind myself the goal is not to physically alter my body. The goal is to heal my relationship with it, and that’s mental work, not bodywork.

woman walking outside
Courtesy of Sian Elizabeth Siska

At 24 years old I am relearning my likes and dislikes. Bagels with cream cheese are delicious. Pastries pair so beautifully with an afternoon coffee. Fried chicken is heavenly, and I’m not known for saying no to ice cream. I still ask myself regularly ‘Is this what you really want, or is this the eating disorder talking?’ I don’t overthink it as much anymore. It’s become more like a check-in to maintain personal accountability. I feel like I’m finally getting my life back. Every tear, challenging meal, pound gained, uncomfortable rebellion against eating disorder habits, it’s all worth the coffee dates, dinners with family, brunch with friends, drunken late-night bar food, lazy Sundays in watching Netflix accompanied with pizza and ice cream, and all the memories to still be made.

woman holding railing outside, smiling
Courtesy of Sian Elizabeth Siska

I’m no expert, so I can only speak from experience, but there’s quite a few lessons I’ve learned from my many years battling and recovering from my eating disorder. If I had to focus one specific thing it would be to never stop confiding in the ones who love you about your struggles. You don’t need to act like everything is fine if it’s not. Temptations to fall back into old habits aren’t actions, but they will be if you don’t acknowledge them. You aren’t failing for having a bad day, week, or month. That’s recovery; it’s not linear.

Lastly, don’t let fear and discomfort hold you back from the joyful memories waiting to be made. Those are the experiences that will strengthen your drive to keep going. Keep going, because you deserve to live a life filled with wholesome memories your eating disorder restricted you from having. You deserve recovery just as much as the next person.”

Courtesy of Sian Elizabeth Siska
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