I struggled with anorexia in high school. I tried in vain many times to recover on my own, but when it became obvious to doctors and therapists that I needed more help than my outpatient team could provide, I went to an inpatient treatment center the summer before my senior year.
I wish that with that one inpatient stay, I was able to get better and put my eating disorder behind me for good, but that's not the truth. That's not the truth because anorexia was only the beginning of my struggle with an eating disorder. A few years after my anorexia started, I developed another type of eating disorder.
I developed binge eating disorder (BED). And the struggle, and the path to recovery, was far different with BED than it was with anorexia.
I couldn't hide my anorexia when it became severe, but I could hide my BED. And I wanted nothing more than to do so. With anorexia, I praised myself for my willpower and self-control (at the time, I didn't know that my eating disorder actually had control over me). With my BED, I felt swallowed whole by shame, guilt and disgust. I hated myself. I hated the fact that I binged until I felt sick. I hated the fact that I felt out of control. I hated the weight I had gained. When my binges were especially bad, I told myself that I would simply start restricting again, as if bingeing and restricting were switches in my brain that I could turn on and off. It never worked. In fact, restricting only made the binges worse and exacerbated my self-loathing.
I struggled in silence for a long time. With my anorexia, people knew that I was struggling even though I convinced myself that they didn't. This time, there were no concerned looks or comments because I didn't look sick. In fact, family members thought I was healthy because I was at a normal weight. They didn't know that my depression was the worst it had ever been, and I didn't tell them because I was so ashamed of the out-of-control nature of my eating. The few times I was able to tell doctors that I was anxious because "I feel like I may be eating too much," my concerns were brushed off because in their eyes, I was at a healthy weight, and that's much better than where I used to be, right?
But I had simply swapped one eating disorder for another. I felt like a failure not only because I had "failed" at my anorexia, but because I had failed at recovery.
After attempt after attempt to stop bingeing proved futile, I realized something. Living with anorexia was hell. It wasn't rewarding prizing thinness above my family, my friends, my schoolwork and above everything else in my life. If anything was causing me to romanticize my anorexia and long for the days when I thought I had "control," something must be wrong. I also realized that I didn't have just two choices, anorexia or BED. I had a third choice, recovery.
When I was finally able to tell a therapist exactly what was going on, I was terrified that she would judge me for my lack of control.
She didn't, and vocalizing my struggle was the first step in my recovery. It's often said that secrets keep us sick. Sharing my secret and all the feelings of shame that went along with it was a relief in and of itself.
But even after I did so, I still didn't believe that I deserved recovery. I didn't believe I was "sick enough." I fought against those thoughts even while doubting that it was possible for me to get better. With time, I learned that those thoughts weren't accurate, that I was not only worthy of recovery but of a life without an eating disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common type of eating disorder, but 57 percent of people who struggle with it never receive treatment. And it wasn't until 2013 that BED was added to the DSM under its own diagnosis. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, BED affects people of every age, race and socioeconomic status.
One of the biggest things I learned through recovery was that no one who struggles with an eating disorder -- it doesn't matter what kind -- has to struggle in silence. We don't have to wait until we are "sick enough" to get help because our eating disorders will never deem us sick enough.
Everyone's story is different, and one of the best things about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is that we get to hear the powerful stories of recovery from people of different ages, genders, races, religions, ethnicities and more. Through recovery, I've become friends with the strongest, kindest, smartest and most creative women I've ever met. This week, I've been privileged to be inspired by the amazing recovery stories they share. Those voices of recovery are one of the strongest weapons we have in the fight against eating disorders.
When I was in the early stages of recovery and filled with uncertainty on whether I could ever put my eating disorder behind me, these types of stories gave me the confidence that I could get better and that I would get better.
Those stories let those who struggle know they're not alone. They fight stigmas. And they show everyone that recovery is a real, promising possibility through which people can take back their lives from their eating disorders.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.