by Anya Josephs
You deserve to get better.
Even if your eating disorder isn’t typical. Even if you don’t have symptoms every day, or every week. Even if you aren’t underweight. Even if you haven’t had any physical consequences. Even if your eating disorder has just started. Even if your eating disorder has been going on for years and you’ve lost hope.
You do deserve to get better.
I have a very atypical eating disorder in many ways. But so does everyone. Every person’s eating disorder is different, because every person who has an eating disorder is different and unique. We develop our eating disorders for different reasons, and they affect us in different ways— but the answer is the same for all of us.
The answer is choosing treatment and recovery.
Without it, the consequences can be deadly. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia nervosa has a mortality rate twelve times higher than any other psychiatric illness. And eating disorders are incredibly common. There has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930. Even girls and women without eating disorders struggle with body image and disordered eating. 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls, and 81% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Half of teenaged girls and almost a third of boys have some unhealthy or disordered food behaviors, like skipping meals, smoking cigarettes to stay thin, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
I’m twenty years old, and I’ve had my eating disorder for the last ten years. I never thought I could belong in a professional treatment setting because I’ve been overweight the entire time I’ve had my eating disorder, despite severe calorie restriction and purging symptoms. So, because I wasn’t losing weight, and because no one ever suspected I had an eating disorder, I thought I must not be that sick.
It’s scary to even admit that. I’ve been invalidated by a lot of people, some who I valued very much, some who I loved and cared for, some who I was told to respect and listen to. It’s so hard to talk back to those negative thoughts, especially when my eating disorder is still such a prevalent part of me, and that part of myself is still encouraging me to hold on to it. I’m afraid of talking publicly about my eating disorder, afraid walking into my treatment center for the first time and when there are going to be new people there, afraid someone will tell me I don’t deserve to be there, that I must be lying or exaggerating because I don’t look like someone with an eating disorder.
Luckily, I was able to get help anyway. Asking for it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I realized it was necessary for my health. Still, it was so hard to tell my parents about my eating disorder and to ask them to support me through treatment, to look into different treatment centers, to call and make intake appointments at several different places, to fill out all the paperwork, to detail my painful history of disordered eating to doctor after doctor. I’ve already thought about giving up many times. Maybe, I’ve thought, I’m just not ready. Maybe I need to prepare more for treatment. Maybe I’ll be okay with just therapy. Maybe I’m making the whole thing up. Yet despite these thoughts, I continued to seek out the help I need.
There is no such thing as “just a little eating disorder.” It may seem inconsequential, but it will grow, and sooner or later it would have destroyed my life. It was already dragging down my grades, stealing the energy I otherwise could have devoted to the student theatre groups, LGBTQ club, and part-time work I had to give up on, sapping my creativity, and worst of all destroying my relationships with friends and family.
I am only a month in to the process of recovery. I know that I have a long, long journey ahead of me, and that it may get worse before it gets better.
But I also know that every single person in treatment with me has at some point felt like she doesn’t really have an eating disorder. Like she doesn’t deserve to get better. Like she’s somehow different than everyone else there. I say she because the majority of eating disorders affect women, but people of all genders can be affected. In fact, it’s important to realize that anyone can be suffering from an eating disorder, even if they don’t seem like the person you might expect to be a victim of this disease.
I wish you, if you are reading this and you have ever struggled with disordered eating, could be there in treatment just for a minute, just so we can tell you face to face— as we do for each other every day— that your eating disorder is real. That the pain it causes you is valid. And that you deserve a full and happy life without it.
I can’t do that, and unfortunately I can’t make the path to recovery easier for you or anyone else. But I can say, honestly, that it’s both the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most important choice I’ve ever made for myself.
Now, during , I’m urging us to all be aware for ourselves— to be aware that our disorders exist, and to be aware that hope exists as well. However, even if you don’t suffer from an eating disorder yourself, be aware that someone you know almost certainly does. It may not take a typical form, it may not be obvious, but it is probably there hurting someone you love. If you notice someone suffering from disordered behavior around food or tormenting themselves with obsession around food and weight, encourage them to get real, professional help. Everyone deserves treatment, and recovery is possible for everyone, no matter what your eating disorder looks like.
If your loved one has an eating disorder, you can help them get better. If you are struggling with disordered eating yourself, you deserve to get better.