This sentence helped take away 8 years and 40lbs of my life – and I’m reposting it here today because in light of NEDA week, I think it’s a reminder to anybody searching for resources on the internet.
“I can’t even tell that you have one.”
Such a simple few words. We say it all the time.
“Oh, you’ve gained weight? Couldn’t tell.”
“You’re hungover? Couldn’t tell.”
“Wait, I don’t see a zit on your chin? What are you talking about?”
“You got a haircut? Sorry, didn’t notice.”
We’re human. Our sensors are overloaded by stigma. We don’t always notice much outside of our peripheral.
It’s okay, and likely for the good of mankind… But, to someone with an eating disorder- that sentence is a trap.
That sentence is what continues to breakdown conversation for someone who may need the professional help that our country can provide.
My entire teen and young adult life I struggled with disordered eating.
I have a great family, loyal friends, and a slew of loving partners mixed in throughout those years, but I could never find the groundwork to tell them the reality of what I was doing behind closed doors.
I was miserable, lonely, isolated, and after 4-5 years, absolutely terrified that my body would never be able to recover … But on I thrashed for another 3 years before someone stepped in.
Because I never felt thin enough.
Because I lived in agony of hearing that exact sentence of which I’m writing about now.
At 5’3, I am a short person. I have never been classified as overweight. The opposite actually, I grew up underweight.
For someone like me, losing weight is never drastic when you hover at being on the thin side anyway.
Naturally, as I hit puberty and started college, I gained 10-15lbs- which signaled the end of the world. In retrospect, I was exactly what a normal weight looks like… But to my body dysmorphia, it was unmanageable.
I had lost my “thin” childhood identity.
I spent 3 years after that weight gain attempting to lose every bloody pound, and failing.
Work out 3x a day- sure. Eat only cereal all day- check. Drink wine instead of eat dinner- done.
Throw up when the roomies are out of the house- you betcha.
But on my weight fluctuated up and down those 10-15lbs despite what I did.
In other words, it was mostly unnoticeable.
Eating disorders are almost always still stereotyped as gaunt, white females… But the reality is that most people with eating disorders fluctuate rapidly- and often.
Think about it… It’s hard to keep off weight for a normal person on a diet.
Now take that and think about someone who is limiting his/her caloric intake to 2 grapes and a slice of cheese.
And likely someone struggling with anorexia will break at times and eat (or overeat) like a regular person would simply because they’re famished or maybe even trying to be “normal”.
There are countless times I can remember going 3-4 days running 10-15 miles and eating like a mouse… But inevitably I’d break and turn around and eat an entire family size bag of Doritos.
Eating disorders are a chore, much like making the bed every morning… And sometimes you don’t make the bed, or make it lazily right? That’s basically how someone with an ED operates.
Some days you’re diligent at your career. Other days you’re bored and clicking around on BuzzFeed.
Eating disorders are a constant regardless, and it wasn’t until 8 years in that I finally had pushed myself to the brink.
At 23 and xx lbs I’d finally “won” … And it was only then that I finally felt validated enough to start sharing my struggle with those closest to me.
Caressing my back bones in the mirror, I’d stare at them in the bathroom and think “you’ve finally done it. You’ve broken the ED cycle. You win.”
But, I began to realize, what was I actually winning?
I was frail, gaunt, hungry, depressed, isolated, and everyone was beginning to take notice.
I was finally validated.
And I was still absolutely bloody miserable.
My friends and family began to step in. At first, I denied it- but the truth is that I just didn’t know how to tell them “my God, you’re just now noticing!? I’ve done this for years.”
Still not sure whether or not my anorexia was “severe enough,” it wasn’t until I went to California to visit a male friend.
My best friend at the time hadn’t seen me in a year, and when he did I remember his face staring at me up and down.
I smiled. I knew I was finally sick enough.
The whole weekend was spent with him frantically texting my other friends (I side-eyed the convos) asking what the hell was going on, and to be honest I remember gleefully seeing a text conversation between he and my friend at home and thinking “YES- now maybe someone will help me.”
I had yet to find my own voice and yet to develop the self respect to reach out for myself.
So on I went after that weekend waiting for someone to put my life back together for me.
It took 6 more months.
6 more months of trying to maintain an underweight frame. 6 more months of struggling and fluctuating. Of 15 mile runs.
And in the end, it was two boxes of cereal that finally got me that help.
Aware of my rapidly deteriorating frame, my parents were watching my food and took heed when they saw I’d cleaned out the pantry of two boxes of cereal in a day.
After 8 years, someone finally said to me:
“I can tell you have an eating disorder.”
And from there my life changed.
Eating disorders are mind games. They are a warped sense of reality.
Be careful what you say to someone. Be gentle. Eating disorders are fragile-
And in turn, they make those struggling fragile.
The sentence “I can’t even tell that you have one” serves no purpose other than to send the message that one must “work harder” in order to really “have” an eating disorder that validates any medical attention.
And that, I’m afraid, is truly the most dangerous game.
*3 years later, I’m still in recovery and I still lost a tooth to my experience with bulimia. And weight didn’t have shit to do with that.