Article Written By: Carrie Minns
What is it like to live every day with an eating disorder controlling your every thought, action, word, breath? On the outside looking in, I’m the picture of health. I’m active. I do yoga, climb, and run. I eat what society deems as “healthy”, and hide my fears related to food.
This is the image I have created of myself.
People would say to me “you look amazing!” while my brother would whisper “you look ill, are you eating enough?” What people see in the moment is my desperate attempt to be “beautiful”, to be thinner, to remain fit and toned, to lose weight….. to be enough. But it was never enough. And eventually, the restriction was too much, and I spiraled into using all sorts of eating disorder behaviors that did not serve me well.
I have been in recovery for over two years, but year one was the heaviest fog. This fog, caused by an intense desire to be thinner and an extremely unhealthy body image, guided every decision in my life, from what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. My eating disorder ruled my life, and demanded compensation for almost everything that I consumed. Doctor’s appointments were confusing and left me with very little clarity. None of the doctors saw that my medical issues were the result of my eating disorder. Looking back on it now, it all makes sense why my body was reacting the way it was. But back then, I had no idea that my pursuit of thinness was causing all of those problems. I thoughts I was healthy! Thin is always a good thing right?! Not always.
The fog only lifted when I felt my body feeling truly “fed” for the first time in 2 years, when my brain felt nourished. I feel physically so much better because of recovery. It took gaining weight and feeling physically better to realize how much I had been destroying my body. And every day I remind myself how good it feels. I get my period regularly. I can concentrate. I can have a conversation with someone. I can focus on other things in life that mean SO MUCH MORE than my appearance. I will admit that I sometimes fall into the trap of using eating disorder behaviors.
I am slowly developing a healthier relationship with food and with my weight. I still have lapses. I still have days when I am unhappy with what I see in the mirror. Some days I don’t like the way my body looks. And thats okay. But because I am feeding my body, my head is more clear, and the fog (although not fully lifted) is lighter.
Over time, I want less and less to feel the way I used to. Even if that means not looking like a supermodel.
I want a body that will help me achieve my goals as a nurse, human, friend, and daughter, one that will allow me to focus on something more than myself.
From reading others’ stories and speaking with warriors in recovery, I am furious and sad to hear similar timelines. Most don’t know that their relationship with food and exercise is unhealthy. In fact, friends and family of us warriors view us as “health nuts” and we feel proud of our lifestyle. There are many crucial moments in our stories when healthcare professionals could have and SHOULD HAVE screened for a life threatening eating disorder (i.e. lack of menstrual cycle, yellowing skin, exhaustion, digestion problems, anemia). The truth is, unless the patient is visibly emaciated, assessments usually go no further. Symptoms are managed, but the underlying cause is not found until the warrior has reached a place in their illness that is so painful that it can no longer go unrecognized. But this pain can be avoided with better education for healthcare providers and to the general public. Eating disorders can be diagnosed much faster and recovery can start sooner. Because lets face it, being diagnosed is the first battle. Recovery is an even harder war. It is SO hard. Finding a treatment team and a support system who you trust takes time. And that is HARD.
My hope for you warriors, in whatever stage of your battle, is to find peace with your body, joy and freedom in food, and true presence in embracing life. But we demand better education for healthcare professionals. We need curriculums in schools to step up to the plate and teach Health at Every Size nutrition and physical education classes. We need nursing programs that focus less on weight as a marker for health and more on bio-psycho-social factors. We need public awareness. We deserve a culture that is stripped of diets, cleanses, and workouts. We hope for a society that no longer has permission to comment on bodies, but one that builds each other up by noticing intelligence, courage, kindness, and creativity. I was extremely lucky to find a therapist who has lived experience with an eating disorder, an incredible support system, and resources to facilitate a successful recovery. But many are not so lucky, and we need more high quality treatment for every eating disorder.
My journey living with an eating disorder is over. My journey in recovery is not. But in this journey I have been able to come back to myself with open arms, compassion, and acceptance.