It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so I want to talk about the realities of what it’s like to have an eating disorder. There seems to be this misconception among many people–young women especially–that an eating disorder is a quick, easy way to drop a few pounds and look great by bikini season (which is about to start for my fellow Floridians and me). People seem to think that restrictive eating disorders like anorexia are about willpower and strength, and that binge/purge-type eating disorders like bulimia are gross.
The truth is, whether you have anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge-eating disorder, or any other type of disordered eating, it is not glamorous, strong, or easy. When I was first diagnosed with anorexia, I believed that starvation brought be closer to God. I felt “pure” and “holy” when I was hungry. My journal was filled with senseless scribblings like, “Experience hunger as euphoria; experience hunger as nothingness; become nothing, become holy, become clean.”
But the more I starved, cut, and purged, the unhappier I became. I didn’t feel closer to God. In fact, going to synagogue with my family became an eating disorder nightmare. Choosing something to wear that I didn’t feel fat in could take hours, and after the service, the oneg (basically the Jewish equivalent of fellowship) was a minefield of ED thoughts. I couldn’t even enjoy the service because I was too busy doing frantic calculations of whether I “deserved” a slice of challah during Kiddush.
It’s easy to buy into the “fantasy of being thin,” the idea that once you hit that certain number on a scale, that certain dress size, or your “ultimate goal weight,” your life will be perfect. That cute person in your physics lecture will ask you out, your boss will give you a raise, and you’ll gain seven billion followers on Instagram because they’ll all worship your bikini body selfies. I’m being silly here, but once you put your faith in the fantasy of being thin, nothing else seems to matter. Your life is on hold while you put all your energy into losing weight so that you and your life will become perfect.
I tried to tell myself that my anorexia made me a better person, when, in fact, it turned me into a monster. I threw away the lunches my mom made for me every day. I ignored my boyfriend who begged me to eat. I screamed at my parents when they told me I couldn’t get up from the table until I’d finished my dinner. I believed my parents wanted me to be fat, when all they wanted was for me to stop torturing myself and be healthy and happy again. I thought everyone was against me and my quest to become holy through starvation.
When I was in treatment at the Creek, there was a woman named Sara there who’d had her eating disorder for a few decades. She was a devoted wife and mother with a great sense of humor, but at times, we couldn’t stand each other. One day, I made a (hilarious) remark to her that was a little too sarcastic for her taste, and we got into a screaming match that upset another patient who was very afraid of loud noises. The next day, that patient checked herself out of the Creek, and I blamed myself for it. When, Sara and I were talking about our argument, and she said I wasn’t at fault because, “Eating disorders are nasty. There’s nothing nice or tame about them.” I was still pretty peeved at her, and I desperately wanted her to be wrong, and–more importantly–I wanted to be right. I dredged through my brain for evidence to support my claim that eating disorders made us better people. I imagined myself sweetly baking cookies for all my friends and not touching a crumb. Not only was that untrue, but it was sad. Had I not been too terrified of food to bake a batch of cookies, I would have wanted to be able to enjoy them with my friends.
I’m happy to say that these days, I do bake cookies, and I have friends to share them with. Though I may not have always liked Sara, she was right on that count. Eating disorders do not make you a better person. They do not make you holier, happier, or healthier. Anorexia brought me to my knees and could have killed me had I not chosen recovery. I am grateful for the amazing women I met at the Creek, including Sara, for my treatment team there, and for my family whose unfailing support helped me on the path to recovery. This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, take some time to educate yourselves on the realities of eating disorders. It’s not about strength or willpower. Eating disorders are a desperate grab for control when you have no sense of control in other aspects of your life. But the truth is, only by choosing recovery can you truly regain control of your life once and for all.