At eighteen years old, I was diagnosed with my eating disorder and subsequently put into a four-week partial hospitalization program where I ate lunch and dinner with other ED patients, had group therapy twice a day, individual therapy once a week, had blind weigh-ins twice a week, and family group therapy once a week.
Unfortunately despite my strong foundation in recovery, I relapsed this semester. Typing that out is more vulnerable than anyone could possibly know, but it is important. As awful as relapse is, I believe I had to relapse in order to progress in my recovery.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned this semester (outside of the classroom and without the help of my textbooks) was how painful my eating disorder is. To someone without an eating disorder, this probably sounds strange, but while in recovery, I would romanticize the “good ole days” of having three-digit calorie counts and a bonier figure. It isn’t that I think thin is beautiful, per se, but my eating disorder is comfortable. It feels euphoric when people say “You’re so tiny” or “You got so skinny.” When I am struggling with insecurity, I often believe that starving, exercising, and throwing up are the few things I’m “good” at. However, all of these behaviors (yes, even the resulting weight loss) have severe consequences.
Over the course of the semester I had a few miscommunications with friends that led me to believe I was an awful friend. Instead of communicating with them and admitting how I felt, I dove right into my eating disorder. Some of my peers noticed I was looking thinner, and complimented me.
My secret to weight loss, however, isn’t some new fad diet or exercise program; it is a life-threatening illness. My peers did not see the dangerous and oftentimes repulsive effects of my eating disorder. While they noticed my tinier frame, they failed to see the clumps of my hair that fell out, the soreness in my throat from purging, the dizzy spells, the fatigue, the slowed digestion, the obsessive body checking, the lack of concentration in class, the shivering (even with my thermostat set at 70), the lack of glow in my complexion without makeup, or the preoccupation with food and calories.
This semester, I have lost so much more than a few pounds. My grades are not up to their usual standard, I have abandoned friendships, and most importantly, I have lost myself. While diet culture may probe, “What will you gain when you lose?” I only know what I’ve lost when I lost.