28.8 million Americans have or will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. 35-75% of adolescent women struggle with disordered eating. 91% of college girls spend their first independent years hating their bodies, and changing themselves through diet and destruction. Eating disorders–one of the leading causes of suicide, and the very thing that took over my life and changed me forever.
[Before I begin sharing my story, I want to provide a trigger warning including weight, calorie counting, exercise, binging, purging, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm]
It all started in the seventh grade. The year where boys, bodies, and beauty were all the rage. We were all changing in many ways, puberty was heightened and at its peak. My body went from a tiny, twiggy girly to a growing woman. I no longer fit into old clothes, was the biggest girl in my dance classes, and was not desired by the boys in my grade. My best friend at the time was still very skinny and had not developed her curves yet…the start of my comparison. My friend, let’s call her Rose, was one of the prettiest girls I had ever seen. She was popular, attractive, smart, and always had a boy who liked her. She was super skinny and never had acne. I wanted to be her so badly. I remember the days when I would sit next to her and measure our thighs, explaining to her how I was so much fatter than her. In my dance classes, I had always been the smallest girl, which I weirdly took pride in. As I was entering puberty, and my fifth and sixth grade classmates hadn’t started yet, I was growing boobs, a butt, and a tummy pouch to protect my female organs–because, yes, I was getting my period cycles. I was no longer being lifted in dances or wearing a child large; becoming an adult small was my worst nightmare.
To make matters worse, I was in love with a boy who would never love me back–yes, I am aware that this was middle school, but love is love. He and I were best friends, and I thought for sure that we would be together forever. The day he asked me out was the best day of my life…even if it was on FaceTime. I thought for sure that I would now be seen as beautiful because this boy liked me… wow. Well, I found out it was all a joke, and he was dared to like me. Not only did that hurt, but he called me fat and ugly, which added to the flame of my insecure mind. I will remember the day in seventh grade forever, sitting at lunch with my “friend” with him telling me as I was eating my healthy snack of trail mix that I needed to eat less. I guess you could say I spiraled after that.
My eating disorder developed heavily during the summer of 9th grade. I was so scared to go to a new school that I completely disconnected from everyone I knew and decided to be my best self… but I ended up being the complete opposite. I ate maybe 2 meals a day, worked out for 6 hours, and HAD to do a 30-minute ab exercise every night. I also began purging. When I arrived at school, I would skip lunch or eat 6 carrots exactly, and I couldn’t even fit into my own clothes. It was really bad when I began fitting in Rose’s clothes, and then they became too big for me.
When you develop disordered eating habits, your brain begins releasing serotonin that is like a drug. When I would skip a meal, I would feel so good that I accomplished “losing weight” that I felt like I needed to skip more…I became addicted. This is what led to my eating disorder. Anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia are all eating disorders that I have been professionally diagnosed with. Starving, binging, purging, and over-exercising came after I allowed my disordered eating patterns to go on for 2 years. It became my new normal. Unfortunately, social media glamorizes the skinny mini-model, the “what I eat in a day” Tik Tok videos, and the fitness gurus to the extreme. When you really think about it, those “influencers” live unrealistic lives, and they just profit off of their viewer’s insecurities. Who else did the Chloe Ting challenge for 2 years instead of 2 weeks?
My friends and family started noticing my eating disorder, but didn’t know how to help. My parents thought they would be able to help, that maybe this was a small phase? It wasn’t until my 14 year check up that we all knew that this was bad. November 28, 2018… the day I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, anxiety, ocd, and depression. I went from 100 pounds to 80 within 3 months. My 10-year-old brother weighed more. At my appointment, we realized that my cycles had gone away, and I even shrunk an inch. My body was weak, shriveling, and slowly dying. I, of course, ignored it, but couldn’t shake off the words “eating disorder” “anorexia”. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and alone.
Life after my diagnosis was hell. I was so lost and it felt impossible to even think about getting better. My parents tried really hard; they would sneak in extra calories into my food, but it turned into me lying about eating and purging afterwards. I was stuck.
My dance-studio owner, Wanda, began receiving emails after our first competition. Dance was my saving grace, the place I could escape. However, I was getting brain fog, fatigue, and becoming extra sensitive. My dance costumes didn’t fit me, and my hair was falling out. I couldn’t do the proper competition hair, because I simply didn’t have enough. My eyes were sunk in, and my lip grew a cyst out of stress and anxiety. I looked like a ghost. That first competition was awful. I was so sick. My mother told me she wasn’t even able to watch me dance. That evening, Ms. Wanda received texts and emails from parents concerning my health. She helped me find a therapist.
Recovery… Recovery was the hardest part of it all. I wanted to recover, I wanted to continue dancing. I wanted my hair, parents’ approval, friends, and life back. Something held me back though– I knew every single macro and calorie for every piece of food. When I was deep in my anorexia, I would spend my free time watching food videos and hanging out in the pantry. Not eating, of course, but reading nutrition facts. I could tell you what every ingredient in that bag of Doritos is and the exact serving size. It was bad. I had this constant calculator in my mind, and I couldn’t get it out. How was I supposed to recover if my brain physically denied it? Therapy… lots and lots of therapy. Weekly therapy visits and weekly dietitian visits. My mom would drive 30 minutes, 4 times a week to get me the help I needed. It took almost 4 years for me to recover, but I can now say that 6 years later, I am recovered from my eating disorder.
It is important to seek help when you are in the lowest of lows. With eating disorders, the secretive darkness that overcomes you almost prohibits you from even thinking about interacting with others. “What if there’s food at the party? If I don’t go, I can stay home and take more steps. She eats healthy, she’s going to judge me for what I eat.” Those were only 3 out of the millions of thoughts that would go on in my head. Post anorexia, I experienced a lot of anxiety. I was so used to the constant calculations and specifics that it was hard to begin living normally. Most normal people don’t plan out their exact meals for the next 2 months, or cry over a brownie. Even when I was eating, I still was over exercising and purging. I actually found comfort in eating food again, knowing that my body was still underweight. I began eating whatever I wanted because I knew it was hard for me to gain weight at the time. Well, I would also purge or exercise immediately after to make up for the extra calories. Eating disorders go beyond just starving yourself, they change your mind. No matter how much help I was getting, I could not turn my brain off. Yes, I was eating, but I was thinking too much about it, and eating became more harmful than good.
When the pandemic hit, everyone’s mental health suffered, and the voices in my head grew louder and louder, I couldn’t turn them off! I began thinking about ending them… ending me. I wanted to be gone, I was done. My eating disorder was not as bad as it was in 9th grade, but I was still a bag of bones. My head was spinning, and I was drained mentally and physically. Therapy wasn’t working, especially being online. After months of debating, my mom scheduled an appointment for a psychiatrist. I immediately began taking antidepressants, and all I can say is–wow.
Medication has been what feels like the biggest switch in my journey. When I would begin to improve, the voices would defeat me. After starting medication, the voices began to slow down, going away even. It’s almost been a year on medication, and I feel the most normal I’ve ever felt! I really feel passionate about getting help in whatever situation you’re in. I tried it all, truly. Yoga, journaling, bible study, women’s groups, therapy, dietitians, OB-GYN, everything. It wasn’t until I was put on medicine that the switch flicked on.
I am 4 years post-anorexia, and I have to say that I have learned so much from it. As awful as it was, I am thankful to have gotten the love and support from my family that I needed. I was a goner, I really was. But the hardships weren’t hard enough to break my family’s bond. They stuck with me all the way. I now feel the need to be there for other young girls who have gone through my same struggles. I want to be a living example of recovery, and I feel passionate about advocating for eating disorder awareness. While this week is National Eating Disorder Week, it doesn’t mean that next week it’s all over. We must continue to share our stories and advocate for this deadly illness that causes 10,200 deaths a year.
I hope my story has been a symbol of hope–that it gets better. Through recovery, I have gone to NYC, been given multiple dance scholarships, been accepted into my dream college, worked my dream job, and have made the best friends I could ever ask for. I found myself when I worked on myself. No matter the struggles, no matter how loud the voices get, there is hope and purpose for you and your life. Your losses become your biggest wins, maybe even the highlight of your story. We shouldn’t feel ashamed of the hardships we face; it’s time to break down the barriers behind eating disorders and mental health, and build up a community of support.
I did write this article based on my own personal experiences, but I also added some information from articles I read online regarding statistics. https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/ and https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week/ were helpful sources. I also want to include hotlines because advocating for and finding help is so important.
Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
National Alliance on Mental Illness Hotline: 1-800-950-6264
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 800-662-4357