Graphic by Michael Lozano.
Story written by a 19-year-old Long Beach student
Note: The following reflection piece contains strong themes that may disturb some readers. Such themes include topics surrounding eating disorders and suicidality. If you need help, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or look at the resources at the bottom of this article.
I have dealt with anorexia nervosa for the past three years. For my whole life, I have also struggled with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Eating disorders do not discriminate; they can affect anyone. Body image and self-esteem issues are more common and more toxic than you know. At least 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
How we view body image does not help individuals with eating disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) states that “By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.”
Eating disorders and other mental illnesses can consume your life, but learning to manage them and enjoy a fulfilling life is possible. Recovery is not linear and there are always steps forward and backward — but it is possible. I work towards recovery every day but still struggle; I am nowhere near “normal” or “fixed.”
My insecurities and horrible body image history go far back, but I remember wanting to take action and lose weight in ninth grade. I started what I thought was a diet that would make me absolutely happy and like myself more. It turned into the most toxic behaviors and thoughts I have ever had.
The diet started small then quickly snowballed into an obsession. I also began to exercise, and all I could think about was about food, body and weight. Eventually, the eating disorder takes over your life; it attaches itself to you and feeds off of you like a parasite.
I do not want to detail my harmful behaviors, but I willingly destroyed my body, slowly killing myself. I had no idea what I was doing.
Even after hospital visits, I was still in deep denial that I had developed an eating disorder and was harming myself. I literally could have died, but I neglected to see the problem I had. That was how sick the disorder makes you — not to mention my brain was not functioning properly due to the malnourishment which made it harder to think clearly.
After spending time in the hospital, I had to go to a residential treatment home with strict rules and 24-hour supervision. The intense care consisted of therapy sessions, therapeutic groups and sessions with a dietitian. I learned so much and met lifelong friends I deeply connected with, but this was the hardest time I had to endure.
In treatment, you are forced to end the eating disorder behaviors, which had been my favorite coping method. Eating disorders are rarely 100% about the food and have much more deep-rooted issues behind them.
Not even a week after my discharge to less intensive care, I relapsed and couldn’t handle life outside of the structure.
A major issue with eating disorders is that insurance companies refuse to see the need for treatment, and despite my whole treatment team of professionals advising me to stay in residential, I was discharged early.
This happened several times as I have relapsed on multiple occasions and ended up in residential treatment four times. I’ve also been to the psychiatric hospital twice — once for suicidal ideation and once because of a suicide attempt.
That was an awful and scary experience, but I did grow from it. I almost lost my life twice to my mental illnesses and that was my rock bottom. According to the NEDA, “Among those who struggle with anorexia, 1 in 5 deaths is by suicide.”
Even though I am in a much better place and the happiest I have been in a long time, that awful self-image sticks with me to this day as I am in recovery. I remember crying in the mirror so upset about how terribly ugly, fat and disgusting I feel.
My eating disorder stole years that I can never get back. It has damaged my relationships, my body, my self-esteem and my self-trust. It was an addiction.
During my years of treatment, I could have been in school and living a normal teenage life. It took everything from me. Nothing made me happy anymore.
I thought a diet would give me happiness and bliss, but it damaged me in so many ways. I continue to constantly think about weight and food every day.
However, I am grateful for the ability to change and get better. Each day I have opportunities to take steps toward recovery.
Recovery isn’t as simple or easy as it may seem to someone without an eating disorder; recovery is painful and exhausting. Sometimes I’ve struggled with even wanting recovery. I now know recovery is possible, and I am working on a healthier me.
I implore anyone struggling with an eating disorder, body image issues or mental illnesses to ignore that awful voice in your head reinforcing negative thoughts.
You are not alone, and you are stronger than you think. You are beautiful. You are resilient.
Below are some resources for anyone struggling with eating disorders or mental illnesses:
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) : Call their hotline at 800-931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741741.
The NEDA Helpline is available Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Contact the Helpline for support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):
Call their helpline at 630-577-1330 Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. Central Standard Time. They have future plans to have a 24-hour helpline.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Call 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours every day)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.