A couple weeks ago, I did an interview with @LNNY on Instagram. They have a new segment on their blog called Cognitive Corner, where they talk about the stories and realities behind eating disorders. You can check out their blog here, and read the original interview here.
I also wanted to post the interview here, because I shared a lot of information, and I want this interview to reach the widest audience possible.
The questions were written by the gals running @LNNY, and the answers are all by me.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Elizabeth, and I am a 21 year old college blogger. I got interested in blogging for a multitude of reasons- I’ve been passionate about writing my entire life, and have long been encouraged to use it as an outlet for grief, stress, anger and anxiety.
I was 14 the first time I got diagnosed with depression, after a close friend committed suicide. I eventually got introduced to therapy and medication, but I initially struggled with making my mom understand that mental health is a greater obstacle than to “stop being sad”.
Throughout my life, I have found that all mental illness is misunderstood to some extent, from depression and anxiety, to EDs, to BPD and Bipolar disorder. Because I know that humans are visual creatures, I have created a fashion blog (@blackdenimchic) in order to get myself noticed, but one of the primary ways I use my blog and my influence is to talk about mental health and recovery. I have called this segment ‘Let’s Get Coffee’, where I like to start conversations about “the things that make us human.”
2. Tell us about your experience with eating disorders.
One common misconception that many people have, is that disordered eating equates to an eating disorder. Most diagnosed eating disorders begin with a mild series of negative body image, an unhealthy relationship with food, and disordered eating.
I began disordered eating in high school, but I did not have an eating disorder yet. When I was 12, our middle school health class taught us how to count calories and look at nutrition labels, and I took this information with me through high school. I went through many periods of dieting, restricting, and obsessively counting calories.
I was a competitive swimmer for 5 years, and I became extremely critical of my body, and how broad and muscular I looked. I quit swimming my senior year, because I wanted to be small again.
It was when I entered college, that my disordered habits turned into an actual disorder. At 18, I finally lived alone, and I didn’t have my mom to cook for me every night. I worked a lot, and I was in school full time, so it was an ideal excuse to skip meals and run on coffee. For all of my freshman year, I starved myself by running around excessively, drinking unhealthy amounts of caffeine, and smoking lots of cigarettes.
It was also at 18 that I entered a very abusive relationship. Two years later (just after we broke up), I finally started talking to a therapist, and they made the observation that the timeline of my eating disorder matched the severity of my abuse perfectly. Eating disorders are about control- I now believe that my eating disorder manifested the way it did, because I felt entirely helpless in my relationship, and I wanted to take back control in some way.
Sophomore year, I discovered purging. I was 19 at this point, and I hadn’t previously realized that I had an eating disorder. So many symptoms of anorexia (restricting, counting calories, dieting, obsessing over body image) are normalized in the media, so it hadn’t occurred to me that I was showing signs of an eating disorder, until I started purging. I also associated eating disorders with 75 pound girls, and I didn’t look like that, so it never occurred to me that I had an ED.
3. Can you describe how it felt for you?
When the anxiety to purge arises, it feels like an absolute panic. Unlike a bulimic, I do not plan my binges and purges. In fact, I don’t binge at all, I purge normal amounts of food. There are times that I go into a meal knowing I am going to purge (Thanksgiving, large family meals, etc…), and when I know I am going to purge, I feel a sense of calm and control. There are other times when I eat a standard meal with the intention of keeping that meal, and the anxiety to purge does not come until the very last bite. In those instances, it’s a full out panic until I get to the bathroom.
Once you purge, there is a momentary sense of relief, and then you just feel sick. I have found myself in the bathroom, crying into my vomit. And aside from the emotional complications, forced purging is physically painful. I shove a toothbrush down my throat- when I’m done, my throat burns, my head throbs from the loss of water and electrolytes, my face hurts from vomiting, and the amount of blood rushing to my head. Purging takes both a physical and emotional toll on the body.
4. How has your eating disorder affected the way you live on a day to day basis? How has it affected your friendships/relationships?
Because of my blog, my ED is no longer a secret to anyone, friend or stranger. I have always done my best to have my ED impact the least amount of people possible.
If my best friend wants to grab half-priced pie, we plan it a little early, so I don’t eat too much during the day, and I have time to mentally prepare. My boyfriend and I have date night every Friday, so I always plan for that.
My ED used to impact my day to day life a lot more than it does now. I’m more than 6 months into recovery now, so many days, my eating disorder doesn’t talk to me at all. I try to ignore it, and live my life normally.
5. Did you ever come to a point in which you realized you might need help from a professional?
For me, it wasn’t some grand, traumatic moment where I realized I needed help. I was just sick of feeling out of control.
I had just left my long term, abusive relationship, and I felt like I was finally taking back control of my life. This was the encouragement I needed to get diagnosed, and enter outpatient treatment.
6. What has helped you in your journey to recovery from your eating disorder?
My blog helps me, every day. Whenever I write about the struggles of recovery, I inevitably reach out to girls who are just like me. They talk to me about their journey, their progress with recovery, their stories… it helps me know that I am not alone.
My relationships have also helped me recover. I only surround myself with positive, encouraging people now. The friends that I have help me through recovery. My current boyfriend is endlessly supportive. I know that the people in my life are rooting for me to succeed, but they are also there if I slip up.
Truly, I am recovering for myself. I don’t want to die. An eating disorder is an ugly way to die.
7. Do you think eating disorders are glamorized by the media?
Absolutely. Glamorized, and misrepresented. They are glamorized in the sense that many people still associate ED’s with being a ‘rich white girl disorder.’ They also tend to be downplayed highly.
The immediately examples that I think of with ED’s in the media are Blair from Gossip Girl and Hanna from Pretty Little Liars. Blair’s struggle with bulimia was talked about mildly for one season, and then brushed off and never talked about again afterwards. Hanna’s history with bulimia was almost insulting, as she was called ‘Hefty Hanna’, and the series never showed her receiving any proper help. Hanna beat her eating disorder by becoming skinny, which is both deceptively inaccurate, and a dangerous misconception as to what recovery can look like.
More recently, there have been attempts to highlight truer representations of ED’s in the media, such as the Netflix movie ‘To the Bone’, but even that primarily focused on a malnourished, teenage White girl from a well-off family. And I am not saying that rich White girls do not struggle with anorexia- I am saying that we only talk about rich White girls who are struggling with anorexia. Olivia from ‘Feed’, Emma from ‘Red Band Society’, Hanna from ‘Pretty Little Liars’, Blair from ‘Gossip Girl’-- If people have misconceptions of what an eating disorder can look like, the media is a pretty good indication for where that misconception comes from.
I also want to say quickly that ‘To the Bone’ was a good movie-- regardless of who played the lead, this movie talked about bulimia, anorexia in males, binging disorder, ED’s in women of color, the difficulties of dealing with an ED while pregnant… I do not want to downplay the remarkable attempt of ED representation in this movie.
But aside from this, the media rarely talks about anything beyond anorexia and bulimia in women- we rarely (if never) see media representation for binging disorder, purging disorder (not the same thing as bulimia), rumination disorder, OSFED, or ED’s in men.
Between the glamorization, the misinformation, and poor representation of ED’s in the media, our collective knowledge of eating disorders is pretty sad.
8. Do you believe social media’s pressure to promote dieting, a perfect body and beauty are contributing to the increase of eating disorders?
Absolutely. As I’ve said earlier, most eating disorders are rooted in a need for control. When someone manifests an eating disorder, it is never a surface level “she’s just shallow and wishes she was skinnier” problem. Eating disorders are mental health disorders, and the triggers are usually much deeper than appearance.
That being said, we all go through traumatic experiences. It is not the media’s fault that humans experience pain and trauma. But it may be an indication as to why eating disorders are such a common manifestation and coping mechanism of that grief.
I was already practicing disordered eating and disorders thoughts in high school, but it was the trigger of an abusive, out-of-control relationship that pushed me into a full blown eating disorder. Why an eating disorder? Why did my brain automatically look to my appearance to gain back the illusion of control? That’s the media.
9. What do you hope to achieve by spreading awareness through your social media/blog?
I want girls who look like me (not necessarily malnourished and underweight) to be able to recognize an eating disorder in themselves if they have one.
I want all people to understand that eating disorders are not vanity disorders, and their origins are much deeper than appearance.
Eating disorders are very isolated disorders-- it can feel very lonely. I want to be a source of comfort and understanding.
I’ve also been on websites where girls glamorize eating disorders and talk about how much they want one. I want people to understand that an eating disorder is not an accessory. There is nothing cute about an eating disorder. They are ugly, they are lonely, and they will kill you.
All mental illness (including eating disorders) are simply not talked about candidly enough. The media is not real life. There are not enough real people talking about their personal experiences with mental illness. Mental illness is not a taboo, it’s real life, and we need to feel comfortable talking about it.
10. What is your best advice/message to someone reading this who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
Surround yourself with people who will help you blossom through recovery. If someone is making your ED / recovery about them, cut them off. If someone is guilting you into recovery, cut them off. You will not recover from pressure, or guilt, or anger. Recovery is not a smooth road- it’s full of bumps, and turns, and cross-roads and construction…the people in your life need to love you, and be ready to love you through your best days, and inevitably your worst. If you slip up (which you will), you need to know the people in your life support you unconditionally.
If you haven't before, definitely check out @LNNY on Instagram, and take a look at their blog, lnnyblog.com- they are doing some really cool things.
For those of you struggling with an ED or going through recovery, I hope this interview helps you feel a little less alone. And for those who don't know anything about EDs, I hope to be a source of new information! EDs and disordered eating are more common than we realize, so it's important that we break down stigmas and understand disorders for what they really are.