Since opening up about my struggles, I have received more support and strength and prayers than I could have ever imagined, and I am incredibly thankful. I am blessed to have such a strong support system in my life. However, not everyone is as accepting and understanding of eating disorders.
I have been told that I am only starving myself for attention and that I am incredibly selfish for causing so much pain for my loved ones when anorexia is something that I “chose.” People tell me that I should just go eat a cheeseburger, because that will cure my eating disorder. I’ve been told to “just eat” as if I am choosing to suffer this much.
I’ve had friends tell me that they wish they had the same willpower as me so that they could be skinny or run for hours on end. People have asked me what my “secret” is to having a good body, and when they realize that that “secret” is the result of years of starving and malnutrition, they suddenly romanticize anorexia, failing to realize the reality of the illness.
There is a lot more to anorexia than having the “perfect body.” There is a lot hidden behind the fake smiles that we put on in hopes that we can convince people that we are not sick. A lot happens behind closed doors that onlookers don’t notice. The reality of anorexia, or any eating disorder, is horrifying and something that nobody should ever have to go through.
You might tell yourself that you will only give in to the eating disorder’s thoughts and commands until you reach your first goal weight, but once you hit that, you will not be able to stop. You will have to keep going. You will feel that you cannot survive otherwise.
The reality of anorexia is lonely.
Anorexia is being unable to concentrate in class because your mind is racing will thoughts of how the apple you ate for breakfast felt like a binge and now you will have to run 5 extra miles after cross-country practice. It is your grades dropping because your body does not have the nutrition to remember all the things you studied until 3 am the night before. Anorexia is losing all your friends, because you are too afraid to go out because there might be food involved and even being around food will make you fat because you can feel the calories absorbing into you through the air. Anorexia is ignoring your friends when they try to reach out to you and offer support and even pushing them away until you are entirely alone.
In an eating disorder, all you think about is food. Your life revolves around eating food, exercising to make up for food, hiding food, cutting up food, and counting calories of food. You will take boxes of laxatives at a time in hopes that you can rid yourself of the one piece of bread you ate for lunch. In two or three in the morning you will lie awake in your bed scared because your heart is only beating 40 times per minute. You will pray and tell God that this is the last time you will restrict and that tomorrow you will start recovery- but tomorrow keeps getting extended until you forget about recovery. You will faint every morning as you get out of bed because your blood pressure is dangerously low, but this becomes your new normal and when it doesn’t happen, you think that you are failing. Everyday you will have a pounding headache as a lack of nutrition, but instead of eating the food you know will make it better, you pound cups of coffee and diet pills until you are shaking and can’t sit still.
Anorexia makes you fear certain foods. At first you try to eat healthfully and avoid carbohydrates. You go vegan, and you tell people that it’s because of your love and respect for animals, but in reality, you know that this just gives you an excuse to cut out many food groups. Suddenly, you are participating in the whole 30 diet and only eating fruit and vegetables. Anorexia will make you fear some of your favorite foods, even if the rest of the world thinks they are incredibly healthy. Strawberries are suddenly poison and peanut butter cannot be touched.
Eating disorders lead to chronic exhaustion. You will be at the gym until an ungodly hour at night and still wake up early the next morning to go on a run before school. You will be sore because your muscles are wasting away, but you continue to push them anyway. You will constantly measure your body. You will wrap your hands around your waist, knowing that this would be unhealthy for any of your friends, but for you it’s okay because you deserve the punishment of starving and you need to be perfect. You will notice a friend or family member skip a meal and you will tell them how important food is and that it is an essential part of life, but you ignore your own advice because you are terminally unique and can survive off of nothing but coffee and water.
When people around me tell me that they wish that they were anorexic they fail to consider the other side of the illness. They don’t realize how painful and lonely and scary it is. Anorexia is not laughing with your friends all day as you pass up a cookie and buy size 00 jeans. It is not being the pretty, popular girl who is happy and has the perfect life.
Anorexia is dying. It is awful.
Next time you look at someone and wish that you had their body, try to consider all aspects of it. You never know what is going on in their head or what happens when they are alone. It is easy to look at them and assume that they have everything you want, but eating disorders are a lot more than what appears on the surface.
I am not sharing this looking for sympathy or attention, I am writing because in our modern culture, thinness is romanticized and we are taught from a young age that our body determines our worth.
You are your favorite book, and the memories with your best friends at a coffee shop at 2 in the morning. You are your love for cats and your desire to help babies in the NICU. You are your mission trips and church youth group. You are your fascination with biology and skill in calculus.
You are the light you spread to everyone around you. You are the hope and joy you give to the world. You are strong. You are brave. You are loved. You are worthy.
You are so much more than something as insignificant as your body.
You are your soul and your heart and your mind, and you are worthy of so much love, smiles, and adventures.
Alice Doeblin writes of herself…I am a college student who is taking some time off from school to discover who I am and to explore the vast world and everything it has to offer. I am recovering from anorexia, and I hope someday to help others and spread the word to create a society that is accepting, empowering, and recovery focused.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, Alice Doeblin for her kindness, more real and open reflection. We are grateful for her voice and the invitation she offers to engage in a genuine conversation. Oh were we ever to look at ourselves, how, and what we teach.