When I was quite young, I saw a video of a woman speaking about her eating disorder. Much later, I would learn her name to be Isabelle Caro, a French model. In this video, she told the camera that she ate 5 cornflakes and 2 squares of chocolate a day- I am now 20, and this quote is permanently burned into me.
I am convinced that the only people who truly understand eating disorders are those who have one. Trying to explain an eating disorder to someone without one, is like trying to justify why you are digging your own grave. I didn't skip middle school health class; I understand the general concept of food = energy, and no energy = death (Not all ED's are starvation tactics, but this part is about me.) And I know I am slowly killing myself, but I can't stop. Like all mental illness, it's an incredibly stigmatized disease, and it's highly misunderstood. Many people still associate eating disorders with being "vanity disorders" and "rich white girl disorders." And much of the world still thinks of a woman like Isabelle Caro when they imagine an eating disorder. I spent nearly my whole life believing that eating disorders look like emaciated, malnourished women. It took me a long time to understand that I have an eating disorder, because I don't look like those women.
Eating disorders cannot look like one thing, nor can they be represented by a single image. People (notice how I didn't say women) can have anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, purging disorder, or any combination of disordered behavior under the umbrella term of EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). Many people are a combination of multiple disorders, and some struggle with the thought patterns of disordered thinking without having a full-blown diagnosis. And furthermore, appearance is only a side affect of an eating disorder, it is not the eating disorder itself. An eating disorder is a sickness in the brain; everything else is simply the result of that sickness.
I started (unknowingly) practicing disordered behavior when I was 14 or 15, but in high school, the signs didn't stand out to me. I would eat less, and eat less frequently, but guess what? Our media is riddled with "think skinny" magazine covers, unhealthy weight-loss programs, and magic diet pills that normalize this sort of behavior. Let me tell all of you: there is a BIG difference between healthy weight loss and disordered weight loss. Skipping meals is not okay. Cutting your calories is not okay. Substituting meals with coffee/energy drinks is not okay. Laxative abuse is not okay. Overexercising is not okay. Skipping meals to prepare for a date/event is not okay. This is disordered thinking. Healthy weight loss takes time- it's not about eating less, or not eating at all. It's about choosing healthier foods, and exercising regularly.
Let's return to Isabelle Caro. With her skin-and-bone image branded into my mind, I never identified my eating disorder until it turned into purging. (Too graphic? Sorry, ED's aren't pretty.) While our society has normalized a lot of anorexic thought behavior, purging is still a big no-no. This was the first time I realized that my thoughts were disordered, and it took me a long time to reflect on my behaviors from the last 6 years. I'm not going to spill my whole story here, because this is a series, not a memoir, and we'll get back to this topic. But the primary reason I want to speak about my eating disorder is because I don't look like I have an eating disorder. There are a wide range of eating disorders- the term is more of a spectrum, not a label. And people with ED's can be extremely underweight or they can be extremely overweight. While ED's have physical symptoms, it is a disease of the mind, and you cannot tell how sick someone is based on their size.
If you are in school (specifically in the US), please take advantage of your resources! I know firsthand how expensive it is to see a professional in this country, and most universities offer mental health services under university insurance. And if you're in public school, counselors are available as part of your education. And especially if you live somewhere with free or affordable healthcare, please go see someone. Even if you are just experiencing the beginning thoughts of disordered behavior, talk to someone. Please do not disregard those early warning signs. These seemingly harmless thoughts that society has normalized, like "maybe I'll just skip lunch..." are actually very dangerous, and can be the beginning of a very deadly disorder (look up the statistics if you don't believe me). I am not being overdramatic, I promise. Think of those thoughts as a separate being from you. A lot of people with ED's like to name their disorder in order to separate it from themselves; common names are Ed and Ana (creative, I know.) Ed does not take your health into consideration. Ed does not care about you. And if you ignore Ed and refuse help, he will get louder and louder, until you cannot differentiate your own thoughts from his. Ed will take over you.
I also want to comment that I am not suggesting that everyone who has a disordered thought has an eating disorder, or needs to go see a doctor. But it's important to acknowledge that most eating disorders start out very innocent: skipping a couple meals, pulling back a few hundred calories...this is what I'm asking for anyone who's had a thought like this: check yourself.
It is never too early to seek help! It took me 6 years to realize I needed help because I didn't think I was skinny enough to talk to someone. How fucking sick is that? I kept telling myself "once I look sicker, I will get help. Once I am skinnier, I will get help." You will never feel skinny enough to get help. Your ED will kill you before it decides you are skinny enough.
Here is the line for the National Eating Disorder Association:
Here is the line for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
If any of this is resonating with you, please talk to someone. And please feel free to message me! The whole reason I've started this series is to create conversations and talk about the things that are hard to talk about. Do not hesitate to message me; I will always message you back.