She cannot stop running. Her legs feel heavy, like wooden logs, and her heart is pounding so hard she feels like it will explode.
She starts to feel the familiar dizziness. The edges of her vision are becoming hazy, and her knees are painfully throbbing.
Her friends applaud her dedication and say they wish that they could be so disciplined. But it is not discipline that causes her to run for miles down this winding dirt road at sunrise.
The voice of anorexia is screaming in her head and demands that she keep running. She is a prisoner to her own mind. Eating disorders are not a choice.
No one chooses to lose all of their friends, because they cannot go anywhere where there will be food. No one chooses to watch in terror as their hair falls out, to binge eat until they feel that their stomach is going to burst or to exercise despite physical pain and injuries.
Eating disorders are one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses.
People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. An eating disorder is a maladaptive coping skill that people use to numb themselves from painful emotions, to escape from the trauma that they may have experienced or to feel a false sense of control.
Eating disorders are not a choice—but recovery is.
Keep in mind that it is normal to feel ambivalent about wanting to recover. After all, one’s eating disorder is serving them in some way. Otherwise, they would have chosen recovery a long time ago. I would argue that there are much healthier ways to meet the needs that one’s eating disorder is currently fulfilling.
The following are common reasons I’ve heard people use, about why they do not want to recover (and my counter-arguments):
I am not sick enough to recover.
That eating disorder voice will desperately try to convince us that we are not sick enough to recover. It will demand that we scour the Internet for stories about women and men who are deeper into their eating disorders than we are. Just because one is not underweight, does not mean that one does not deserve recovery. Further, it is important to note that someone can be malnourished, and can suffer from health complications, at any weight. In addition, just because one’s blood work came back normal, does not mean that they do not deserve recovery. No one would say that their cancer is “only stage I,” so they want to wait for it to progress to stage IV before seeking treatment. Everyone who struggles with an eating disorder deserves to seek help. Further, an eating disorder is a mental illness and one does not need to be experiencing physical symptoms to seek treatment. If you are struggling with this thought, I would recommend making a list of what your life could look like 10 years from now if you choose recovery, and what your life could look like if you stay sick.
I will become overweight.
One of the goals of eating disorder recovery (if you are not currently at your set-point) is to find your set-point weight and maintain there. Your set point weight is defined as, “the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.” Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are working on mindfully attuning to your hunger cues—and eliminating restricting, purging and binging behaviors—it is very likely that your body will be guided towards it’s set point. Further, your eating disorder thinks in “black and white” terms and will try to convince you that if you recover from your eating disorder, you will be miserably unhappy with your body. I have yet to meet someone who is in the midst of struggling with an eating disorder and is happy with his or her body. However, I have met many people in recovery, who feel much more accepting of their bodies than when they were struggling severely with their eating disorders.
I am bothered by the whole idea of defining an individual as “overweight.” There are many flaws in the logic surrounding defining someone as “overweight” according to their BMI. It is important to note is that BMI is not based on body composition. Therefore, it fails to take into account how much of one’s weight is from bone, water or muscle—as opposed to fat. In addition, The Center for Disease Control does not recommend the use of BMI as a diagnostic tool. For arguments sake, let’s say that you happen to fall into society’s definition of what it means to be overweight. Think about the people who you would list as role models in your life. Then take a moment and list some of the qualities that you admire about those people. I would be surprised if the fact that they were “thin” was at the top of your list. Ultimately, a number on a scale does not define your worth as a person.
My eating disorder makes me feel special and unique.
The truth is that the deeper one is in their eating disorder, the more one becomes a carbon copy of everyone else who is struggling with an eating disorder. An eating disorder hijacks your true sense of self and identity and replaces it with an illness. I guarantee that there are other traits or qualities about yourself that make you special and unique, which the eating disorder is currently masking. If you have struggled with your eating disorder for a long time, it might be hard to remember what you were like before it began. Try to think back to childhood about what your passions were and what you enjoyed doing. If your eating disorder began in childhood, now is the time to truly discover your passions and interests, outside of food and exercise. Think about the amazing contributions we could make in the world if we utilized all of the time that we spend obsessing about calories and exercise for a different purpose.
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible.
Choosing recovery each and every day will enable you to discover your true self and to reclaim your life. You should not have to suffer in silence.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, it is a sign of strength to seek help by opening up to a friend or family member—or by reaching out to a therapist or dietitian.
Developing an eating disorder is not a choice, but it is never too late to choose recovery.
Author: Jennifer Rollin
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina