I had an eating disorder for five years.
When I sit here and think of how to describe those five years, all I can muster is that I have no way to scream through the computer how terrifying it was.
For five years I was bulimic with anorexic behavior; not eating all day then bingeing at night. I exercised religiously, was an alcoholic, had anxiety and depression and a rock sitting in my solar plexus. I got straight As in college, worked part-time, dated great guys, and had an incredible social life. I was pretty and charming, but I was gravely hurting myself.
No one knew I had a problem, save for my reiki healer.
But something incredible happened in year four of the eating disorder that I truly believe was the breakthrough moment.
It was an epiphany that catalyzed recovery.
What I realized was this: that I had to want to get over the eating disorder more than my fear of gaining weight. I had to genuinely, honestly, extremely terrifyingly be okay with the potential of gaining weight in order to protect and save myself. I had reached a moment where I knew that my problem was deeply psychological and that it wasn’t going to go away on its own. I had to stop what I was doing and start doing behaviors that might lead to initial weight gain, but would give me my life back.
I know what people might think, that the premise of an eating disorder like bulimia and anorexia is the obsession with losing weight, reaching some unattainable number, or simply, a disturbing fear of gaining weight. As someone who held this mindset for years, I get it. I lived this lifestyle. Yet at the same time I was having clear visions that what I was doing couldn’t continue, and that weight gain was less concerning than losing control of my mind. I had ideas and friends and hobbies and books to read that needed my attention; the eating disorder was getting in the way.
So, what happened?
I gained weight, about 15 pounds, and I bought larger jeans without allowing myself time to think about it. When people noticed I gained weight, I took long breathing moments before putting them in the category of people who didn’t know I was undertaking one of the biggest triumphs of my life. I made the decision to gain weight, and even though I didn’t have the strength at the time to reach out for help, something within me was strong enough to keep my eyes looking ahead.
I told myself that the recovery period was accumulative—for all the days I spent with bulimia and anorexia, it would take the same amount of days to truly recover. I began to eliminate major behaviors that were hurting me and reconciled that it was okay to gain weight because it meant not throwing up anymore, it meant eating five meals each day, it meant drinking too much and eating cake at my boyfriend’s house.
The most influential behavior that tested my fear of gaining weight was that when I did binge, when I got into the spiraling momentum of wanting more and more and more, I found myself snapping out of it, telling myself that bingeing will happen during recovery. I said that yes, I may gain weight from this, but it will hurt me far worse if the stomach acid ruins my tooth enamel, if the acne on my cheeks scars over, or that I have to live another year without enjoying Thanksgiving. I wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving.
Each binge during my recovery led me to break the cycle of not purging. I learned to eat food and that weight gain was not a failure, but an indication that something was working.
In the end, it took over eight months to stop bingeing and having occasional purges, another half year to stop bingeing altogether, and then years of releasing guilt and anxiety that built up in my solar plexus. I’ve since returned to my original weight and believe wholeheartedly that not only can eating disorders end, but that they quietly come with soul-inspiring life lessons.
Here’s to our younger selves for walking through these lessons, and for our older selves who are strong enough to tell the story.
Author: Tracey Livingston
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own