In my experience, an eating disorder is:
Feeling like the biggest, ugliest person in any room, even when you’re 20 kilos underweight.
Food phobia. Being reduced to tears because the self-hatred and anxiety you’ll feel from eating something isn’t worth it, even though you know you need food to survive.
Insomnia. Your body waking you up early and not letting you sleep at night, because it wants to go and find food.
Jitteriness and dizziness. Black spots in your vision. Rapid heartbeat.
Being constantly hungry, at least at first. Then, when your body gives up because you’re not listening to its signals, constant fatigue. Feeling like you’re drugged: Sluggish and slow, physically and mentally.
Being cold all the time. No insulation in your body means that even at 30 degrees Celsius, you get goosebumps and want to sit in the sun forever.
Anxiety attacks. Panicking if you’ll have to eat “normal” food for a dinner or birthday, and starving yourself in preparation for days (at least) beforehand. Feeling guilty for the rest of the day/week afterwards. Something as little as a scoop of gelati can trigger that.
Helplessness and frustration. You don’t WANT to be living this way but you feel paralysed and don’t know how you could ever eat or exercise normally again.
Fear. Associating recovery with getting “fat” and feeling worse than you do now.
Self-hatred. Because you aren’t good enough at being “thin”. Because without being thin, you have nothing to offer. Because you are forcing people you know to look at your disgusting, ugly, hideous body while they talk to you. Because you think that this obsession is vain and shallow. Because you don’t think you’ll ever get better. Because part of you doesn’t want to.
Social anxiety. Cancelling dozens upon dozens of social engagements at the last minute because you feel fat, ugly and unworthy. Not enjoying yourself when you do go out because everyone’s prettier, funnier, smarter and overall BETTER than you.
Crying. Lots and lots of crying. Without proper fuel, the brain can’t make serotonin which, in layman’s terms, is necessary for happy-making. Plus, hating yourself 24/7 doesn’t really feel great.
Frustration and loneliness, because no one really seems to GET it. Even if you talk to your best friends about it, they won’t understand if they haven’t been through it or done research. “Why don’t you just eat?” they ask, like it’s the simplest thing in the world. They mean well but it doesn’t help.
In my experience, an eating disorder is NOT:
Dieting, at least not in the conventional sense. Yes, it involves cutting out a LOT of foods, often by group or fat/sugar/salt content. But the motivation isn’t health or fitting into a cute dress. Health is the last thing someone in the grip of an eating disorder cares about.
Vanity. It’s not motivated by an obsession with being beautiful or conforming to ideals about beauty. It’s motivated by self-hatred.
A phase. I’ve been through stages where, because of doctors/employers I’ve been forced to eat a certain amount and keep my weight up. That didn’t mean that the voice in my head telling me how hideous and fat I was went away. A person can look perfectly healthy and still be ravaged by disordered thinking.
Physical. An eating disorder permeates your body, inside and/or out. But it’s not just about that. It’s mental, motivated by how you feel about yourself and not how you look.
Understood. It’s very hard to make people, even those with the best intentions, understand what you’re going through if they haven’t been through it themselves.
Self-indulgence. You don’t WANT to think about how horrible and disgusting you are every waking minute of the day. It’s like having a bad song stuck in your head. Saying, “I don’t want to be thinking this,” doesn’t stop it.
Logical. You know that what you’re thinking and seeing isn’t necessarily real or healthy. You know that you’re not living a happy life. But the absolute fear of food, fat and giving up control of your body (to simplify things greatly) won’t let you stop.
Terminal. Some people die from their eating disorders. Some people never get over them. Some people suffer horrible mental and physical effects for their entire lives. Some people, though, can recover. I did.
I still have my bad patches and my moments of regression, but I know how much happier I am now that I’m eating right and being healthy. The negative effects of giving in to the eating disorder are far worse than any negative effects of recovery. I say that as someone who once cried for twenty minutes because I thought I’d never be able to eat a bite of “real”, normal food again. Now I go out to restaurants, snack on things, take bites of other people’s food as it’s offered and generally eat normally without stressing about it or hating myself.
If I’d told myself five years ago that I’d be able to do any of that stuff, I probably would have burst into tears (I did that a lot back then). It seemed like a completely unattainable goal. It wasn’t easy and it took a LOT of re-conditioning and deliberate effort, but it was so very worth it. I have an awesome life now that food just slots into, as it should.