What I Wish I Knew About My Eating Disorder
Updated: Feb 19, 2018
Blog Post Written By: Zoe Szoke
Photo By: Jesse Volk
At the beginning of each year, most of us find ourselves reflecting on our past year, while making goals and resolutions for the upcoming year. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m celebrating a big birthday this year (time flies before you’re a quarter of a century old) or the ever growing rise of self-love workshops and campaigns, but I found myself reflecting not only on this past year, but specifically on the past ten years of my life battling my eating disorder.
I’ve spent time reflecting, not only on what I wish I could have done differently, but what I wish I could have known throughout the early years of my battle. While there are hundreds of things that fall onto this list, here are five of the most significant things I wish I knew before about my eating disorder:
1. You cannot just make your eating disorder “turn off” or go away.
I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself lying awake at night wishing I could wake up the next morning and be “normal” again- eating foods without a second (or third) thought, enjoying new dishes and tastes without the inevitable guilt that follows.
In the beginning, I genuinely thought I had control over my eating disorder. I thought I could monitor it, make sure it didn’t get too bad. And, if it did, I had a plan to just make myself eat normally again. It quickly became very clear to me that it wasn’t that easy. An eating disorder is an actual mental health disorder. Regions of the brain are imbalanced and altered; brain circuits aren’t functioning effectively. An eating disorder is not just a diet you can control, or a switch you can turn on-and-off. It is an actual medical disease which will ultimately affect you for the rest of your life.
2. It is not as glamorous as society makes it out to be.
I remember the first couple of times I started to lose my hair due to malnutrition. My hair came out in small clumps. I had heard stories from people battling eating disorders of the times they’d lose their hair, but I initially brushed it off thinking the timing of this was just a coincidence. After it happened more and more (eventually every day), I realized it was not in fact just a coincidence- it was a side effect from my anorexia.
An eating disorder not only affects your mental health, it affects your physical health and overall wellness, too. Your hormones start to get all out-of-wack. Your skin becomes dry, sometimes even discolored. Your nails become brittle and discolored. Your hair starts to fall out. Your eyes are constantly glassy and lifeless. The enamel on your teeth starts to wear off faster than it normally would if you continue to purge. Your teeth become yellow, even start to break apart. Your body starts to grow small, fuzzy patches of hair all over to try to keep you warm and insulated since there is little-to-no fat on your frame to help do this. These small patches are called “lanugo” and can usually be found on the lower back, arms, chest, neck, and even your face.
Trust me when I tell you that none of these side effects are cute or fun to discover. You don’t feel like a glamorous star, or the next Paris Hilton. You tend to feel even more broken.
3. It can make you feel extremely isolated.
Some of my loneliest moments in my lifetime were when I was really suffering in my battle with anorexia. I felt even more alone and isolated. I found myself retracting from my friends and from my loved ones. Not only did I feel as though they couldn’t understand what I was struggling with, I started to fear that including myself in plans with them would put me in an uncomfortable position to eat. I started to avoid outings, birthday parties, even casual hangouts. I wanted nothing to do with brunches, dinners, events where there may be tempting snacks and plates. It wasn’t just the social aspect that made me more isolated, it was also the physical act of hanging out. There would be times when I was so weak from starving myself that I literally could not get out of bed and walk around long enough to actually do things with my friends. I will never forget those moments, and they are ones I wish to never experience again.
4. You're doing more irreparable damage to your body than you know.
Eating disorders not only affect your mental health, they also affect your physical health-both internally and externally. Not everyone remembers this, especially when the effects are not available to be seen externally. Eating disorders can cause irreversible health complications which include, but not limited to, infertility, heart disease, cardiac arrest, abnormal blood counts, seizures, elevated liver enzymes, and even death.
In the beginning, all I thought that would happen to my body was I would lose weight. I never in a million years thought it could affect my future health or future family if I chose to have one. Prior to my eating disorder, I was of pretty much perfect health. At the ripe age of 24, I have experienced several seizures, countless black outs, abnormal hormone levels, and higher risks of heart disease solely due to my eating disorder.
5. Recovery is hard, but not impossible.
When you are experiencing your lowest moments while battling an eating disorder, and you try and look for glimmers of hope, it can be very difficult to believe that recovery is possible. How can I recover when my anorexia has such a strong hold on me? I can’t even make it through one “normal” meal, how am I going to make it through the rest of my life trying to recover?
I’m here to tell you that while recovery seems impossible, it is not. Recovery is possible. Recovery is worth it. And, you are worth it. The days may seem excruciatingly long, difficult to process, difficult to navigate through- but I promise you, recovery is possible. We can get through this together. You are not alone.