Thinking Out Loud: NEDA.

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Hiii there! How’s your Thursday starting off? Today, I’m linking up with Amanda for some Thinking Out Loud action.

Thinking Out Loud

More specifically, I’m joining her in talking Eating Disorders Awareness Week. In Canada, we had our EDAW a few weeks ago, where I spoke about body image activism and looking past what we see in the media. Obviously, eating disorder recovery is an issue that is near and dear to me, so I’m taking this as another opportunity to add to the conversation.

NEDA

This year, the theme for NEDA is “I Had No Idea.” The goal is to get people talking about the misconceptions that are associated with eating disorders, replacing them with real facts about the mental illness.  Because an eating disorder is just that – a mental illness. People have the misconception that it’s simply a diet ‘gone too far’ or it’s a lifestyle choice, but that is not the case. It’s a combination of behavioural, psychological, biological and social factors that cause people to willingly starve themselves, binge, or purge. Before I developed my ED, I had all sorts of false assumptions about it. Only through getting anorexia and coming out recovered on the other side, did I learn some key things about it.

Recovery (img source)

1. I had no idea…that a ‘diet’ could go that far.

I started out with anorexia the way a lot of people do. Simply a desire to ‘lose some weight.’ I had moved home after my first year of university (an experience which I did not enjoy) and a bad breakup, and I simply wanted to feel a little better about myself. I suffered from binge/restriction cycles in high school, which stopped during my first year of college – so I naturally lost some weight. I knew that that felt good, so I wanted to recreate that feeling. This was despite the fact that medically, I was at a perfectly healthy weight (even on the lower end of BMI standards). So I lost 5 pounds. Which turned into 10, then 20….and kept going from there. A desire simply to lose some weight and feel better about my body led to so much more. 

2. I had no idea…that I could be so much in denial.

At the beginning of my eating disorder, I would never, ever tell you that I thought I had a problem…even though deep down, I knew that I did. I was the queen of denying that I had an issue: if anyone gave me a funny look or asked me how or why I had lost so much weight, I’d just tell them that I “just eat really healthy and exercise!” I even wrote a paper for my Sociology of Deviance class in my second year about how being ‘naturally skinny’ (in my case? ya right) could be considered deviant because people would assume you had an eating disorder. Needless to say, it took me a long time to admit that there was something more going on.

3. I had no idea…that it wasn’t normal ‘dieting’ behaviour.

I figured that diets weren’t supposed to be pleasant. But I didn’t realize that constantly being on an extreme ‘diet’ wasn’t normal behaviour. South Beach says that carbs are bad? Fine, I’ll never eat them again. Peanut butter has how many grams of fat? That’s gone too! I didn’t realize that thinking and dreaming about foods I ‘couldn’t’ eat and not being able to sleep at night if I didn’t think I got enough exercise that day just wasn’t normal. Counting down the minutes until my self-imposed ‘meal time’ wasn’t normal, either. I didn’t realize that what I was doing was seriously disordered and not simply ‘the quest for health’ that I presented it as.

4. I had no idea…that food wasn’t the answer. 

When people learn about eating disorders, eat more food seems to be the only solution. I had more than one person tell me “I’ll just take you to McDonald’s and force-feed you some burgers!” Umm, this is helpful how? People seem to think that the only goal of an anorexic is to be skinny or beautiful, but that is so, so false. Eating more food and reaching a physically healthy weight is only part of the solution.

Scale Disclaimer(img source)

5. I had no idea…that my anorexia was caused by such an amalgamation of factors.

Although it started off as a means to lose weight, having that transform from weight loss into a serious eating disorder was caused by so much more than that.

  • Physically, I wanted to be smaller. I wanted to take up less space, because I didn’t think I deserved to be noticed.
  • Emotionally, I had emerged from a psychologically and emotionally abusive relationship, and didn’t know how to get past how he made me feel – useless, broken, and unworthy.
  • Mentally, I had issues with anxiety and depression for years.
  • Genetics could have played a factor. While I can’t say for sure if my eating disorder was influenced by genetics, many studies now suggest that genetics could be a component. I’ll never know, but it’s likely that this could have played a part for me.
  • Personality-wise, I had set impossibly high standards for myself in almost every aspect of my life and needed to control everything around me. When I couldn’t do that, I decided to control my body. My perfectionist personality ran with it, until my health was seriously compromised.

What started off as being about weight…in the end, was about everything but.

6. I had no idea…how close I was to causing serious, serious damage to myself.

When it became clear that I had a serious, serious issue, I was given a number. I was told that if my weight got below that number, I would be hospitalized. I would also likely end up on a wait-list for inpatient care. Later on when I started therapy, my therapist mentioned that that weight I was told was usually the breaking point for a lot of anorexia patients – they either turned back to health, or they got much, much worse.

My weight settled at 2.5 pounds about that number, where it stayed for several months.

2.5 pounds. A person’s weight can easily fluctuate 2.5 pounds in a day. If I lost that small, seemingly insignificant amount of weight, my life could be very different now…if I still had a life at all. I could have been in the hospital or I could have had to quit school to be sent to get treatment. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but maybe it would have made all the difference in the world. I reached the point where I could either jump off that cliff and surrender myself completely to my eating disorder, or I could turn back and get help. I decided to turn back.

People who suffer from EDs can find themselves with a whole host of medical complications. Osteoporosis. Organ failure. Dangerously low or high blood pressure.  Fertility complications. Depression and suicide. (source)

As far as I know, I managed to escape mine with my health intact. But if I didn’t get help when I did, who knows what could have happened? 

7. I had no idea…that recovery would force me to acknowledge deep, painful truths about my life.

Before I started therapy, I never would have acknowledged that the relationship I mentioned previously was abusive. He didn’t hit me or physically hurt me in any way, so how could that be considered abuse? But of course, it isn’t a loving relationship if you’re manipulated, made to feel unworthy, and controlled by your partner. During therapy for my eating disorder, I had to FEEL things that I had forced down and bottled away. I had to learn to speak up for myself and acknowledge when I was hurting. I had to learn to quiet the parts of my mind that insist on perfection and control, and let myself be comfortable with who I am. All of which took years to really be comfortable with.

8. I had no idea…how much it would be worth it.

Every damn tear that I shed in therapy sessions, every time I wanted to throw a fit when the number on the scale went up, every time I had to buy new pants because the ones I had excitedly bought in my ED wouldn’t fit anymore, every time I looked in the mirror and saw my ‘thigh gap’ and ‘bikini bridge’ disappearing, every time I wanted to throw my dinner across the room because I was terrified of what ingredients were in it…it was worth it.

Every.single uncomfortable moment of recovery was completely, 100% worth it. I can’t ever imagine going back to living like I was with anorexia. I was living a miserable existence – I can’t even really call it a ‘life’, because I didn’t have one outside of food and exercise. Every element of my life suffered, and over the years, I’ve been slowly gaining it all back. My relationships. My self-love. My health. My fertility. Over the last few years it’s all been coming back to me.

Do I wish I could naturally be skinnier? Sure. But I know that recovery and living a life not consumed by food and exercise is so much better than losing a couple of pounds. Right now, I’m taking an ‘eat more, move less’ approach to sorting out some final health issues. Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely – and hard on my body image. But every time I want to stop, I remind myself how much worse living with anorexia was. A bit of bloating and discomfort? I’ll take it over disordered eating behaviours any day.

So if you’re in recovery and ever find yourself asking if it’s worth it…the answer is yes. Things are so much better on the other side. If you’re suffering, remember that help is out there. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I can promise you that years down the line, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.

Accomplishments (img source)

No questions, just your thoughts.

68 Comments

  1. Sam, this was so raw and brave of you to share.

    You phrased your current mind frame perfectly- yeah, it’s uncomfortable- but that, buddy, is temporary- and worth it than even an ounce of the suffering from the past.

    • Thanks Arman! <3 And it’s true…as annoying as it is now, this is what I need to do to get my body working the way it’s supposed to.

  2. I think this team is powerful because many EDs started from innocent behaviors or actions that wanted to take. it is tough to look back and see how many factors actually played a roll in it. i also really related to that section where you said there was so many factors internally – physically wanting to be less, smaller, emotionally feeling disconnected. it makes it hard in recovery because like you said, it is way more than just the food that needs to be solved in the puzzle
    Alex @ therunwithin recently posted..Loud Mouth: Go TimeMy Profile

    • that was definitely one of the hardest parts of recovery – accepting that it wasn’t just about being thin, but having so many internal factors going on that were contributing to the disorder.

  3. You are fantabulous lady! So strong.. so inspiring! Everything of course struck a chord within me. And just like you mentioned.. trying to wither away is not a matter of vanity for me – everything but in fact. I’m getting my life back, but it’s a struggle having to deal with the way I feel.. my see-saw of emotions.. instead of numbing out to the world. I know I will never go back to where I was, no matter how tempting it can be to ‘control things’ when I am stressed or depressed.
    Ms.J recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #11 NEDA Awareness Week “I had no idea”My Profile

  4. Wow,
    this post truly hits home with me. I relate to almost everything you told -down to the part where you say it’s all worth it. It truly is. I can’t say I’m 100% recovered yet, but I can feel the obsessive mindset getting further away every day, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose to fight back.
    You were so brave and honest and inspiring in writing this blog.
    Thank you. <3

  5. Thank you as always for sharing your words of wisdom! I really appreciate you bringing attention to the “I had no idea” aspect of EDs for the sufferers. So often it is portrayed as our choice, somethign we are consciously choosing for ourselves, whereas more often than not it starts without the person realizing it. That has been the case for me and I’m staritng to see how that unconscious part leads to the physical changes that affect my thinking and allows the disease to take hold. It starts with just losing a few pounds – often unintentionally – but then once I get below my own “threshold of sanity” shall we call it, my mind becomes even more wacko and unreasonalble and all those disordered thoughts and behaviors take over. Having suffered a few relapses now, I am starting to see patterns and am learning more about my own thresholds. And mine, and I have a feeling for most, begins at a much higher weight than the point that forces hospitalization. For me it seems to begin even in the lower end of the BMI range that is still medically considered “healthy”. But once I get below that point everthing goes down hill quite rapidly. The key for me at least, seems to be becoming aware of it before my mind gets too distorted so I can reverse the situation before it gets too out of control. It’s amazing how we can be so unaware that our behaviors are not “normal”…

    Thanks so much for this great post as always. I really appreciate your willingness to share your struggle with us. It is very much appreciated

    • I think that was the biggest frustration for me in recovery – people thinking that I ‘chose’ to develop anorexia and that I could stop at the drop of a hat if I wanted to…and not the case at all. And that’s definitely true! I know a lot of recover-ers have talked about how they felt the worst with their disorder when they were technically at a healthy weight – just goes to show you how much more ways into it than simply being a matter of body weight. Glad you liked the post Sarah!

  6. It’s really scary to see how innocently a lot of EDs begin. Mine started with a desire to be healthy. I wasn’t actually trying to lose weight at all,I just want to make sure I didn’t gain weight when I got surgery and could no longer exercise. The denial ran really deep in me for two years and when the doctors give you numbers like that, it’s terrifying. I love your last point best. About recovery being worth it. It’s hard and it sucks, but in the end, living a healthier, happier life far outweighs any false ‘benefits’ we might have seen when we were sucked into the disorder. Great post.
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted..Mom’s Here! And winning weekMy Profile

    • Thank you Sarah! It’s true – I don’t think anyone develops an eating disorder with that actually being their goal – I think for most people it starts off as something seemingly innocent and it’s just one big downward spiral from there.

  7. Thank you for sharing all your experiences Sam. There are so many different aspects of recovery that I truly never really realized. There’s so much to deal with and its so sounds scary on many levels, but I’m so glad that you pulled through, and now are enjoying a happy and healthy life.
    Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat recently posted..Why I Learned to Love to PlankMy Profile

  8. This is honestly one of my favorite posts of yours, ever. First and foremost, I am so glad that you are still here to share these thoughts, and just generally share your amazing self, with us every day. I think it’s really important to note what you said about ED’s being more than just body image based (because that’s what I focus a lot of my conceptions about the disorders on but still I do know that they root deeper mentally). When I’ve talked to some of the people closest to me about people I personally know who’ve had ED’s, they really just think it’s a quick fix, not a mental illness. But it is. I quickly realized that when some of my closest friends were struggling. Anyway, I think this post is so honest and important. Thanks for sharing, Sam.
    Ang @ Nutty for Life recently posted..Body Image: The Way My Stomach Looks [Thinking Out Loud #7]My Profile

    • Thanks Ang <3 And it’s true – a lot of people seem to have the impression that all sufferers have to do in recovery is put some weight on…and it’s so, so much more than that.

  9. #8 is my favourite And I absolutely could not agree more. I think what keeps me on the straight and narrow is the desire to never go back to that darkness again. I’ve tasted freedom, I’ve tasted happiness, and it’s addicting — better than any ‘high’ my ED ever gave me. I may have the occasional bad day now, but my worst day in recovery is absolutely better than my best day in my ED… no question. And it’s gotten so much easier when I really began to realize the things that truly matter in life… and weight and numbers definitely weren’t on that list.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted... thinking out loud #67 .My Profile

    • exactly – even when I know I have a bad day (or a bad week) right now, it’s still so much better than the good days in the ED.

  10. A beautiful post Sam. You and Amanda have changed the HLB game by just being your truthful and honest selves. I’m so happy you can to realize how much it would be worth it.
    Davida @ The Healthy Maven recently posted..{Thinking Out Loud} The Gift of TimeMy Profile

  11. I have been making some big but challenging strides in my recovery from some disordered eating and exercise habits and reading this helps me realize that the freedom will be 100% worth it. Feeling a little bloated and self-conscious are such trivial concerns next to health and happiness. Thanks for this Sam.
    Lindsay recently posted..Sunflower GreensMy Profile

  12. Thank you for sharing your struggles in such a real and honest way. And I love how you frame your healing – as totally worth it.
    HUGS.
    Chelsea recently posted..Thinking Out Loud Thursday : 2/27/2014 – Learning To Love FoodMy Profile

  13. Beautiful writing. Well done. So glad that you were able to turn it around for the better! keep up the good work!
    Katie recently posted..Swim Session 6: On My OwnMy Profile

  14. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

    My anorexia started pretty similarly to your experience.

    And amen on it being worth it to get help, recover, and move on. I’ve learned SO much from that person I used to be, and it’s been an amazing springboard into an incredible life. <3

    • “an amazing springboard into an incredible life” <— I love that. So happy for you Annette! <3 P.S. come to Blend so I can hug you in person?

  15. Beautiful take on Amanda’s prompt today, love. I agree with you/had similar experiences in so much of this. I never imagined all that went into an eating disorder or how hard a true recovery process is…but you are absolutely right. Recovery was worth all the pain because I’ve come out a whole hell of a lot stronger, more self aware, and more willing to speak up for myself. Not the best way to learn such things, but it is what it is and I’d rather find the positives than the negative. I think genetic component is so interesting, too. My drs said that definitely played a role in mine, and I’m glad I’m aware of that now for my future children’s sake
    Caitlin recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #11My Profile

    • I’ve had conversations with my mom which make me think I could have genetically inherited some traits that led to the ED…and I have to admit, it makes me a little scared to have daughters down the line. But at least I know what to watch out for and what conversations to have to prevent any of my future babes from going through what I had to.

  16. I really admire how honest and truthful you were in this post. You wrote about something so personal and made yourself vulnerable. That’s not an easy thing to do. My favorite is #8. I cannot imagine how you must have felt as you wrote this post. You must have been going through many of these emotions. I really appreciate you sharing.

    • Thank you Megan – these posts are always difficult, but they’re always worth it, but because of the support I get and from people telling me that these sorts of posts help them in their own recovery.

  17. This is an amazing post, Sam. I truly admire both you and Amanda for standing up and sharing your stories. You don’t know how much you could be helping someone else out there who might never comment or even let you know that they’re reading!
    Amy @ Long Drive Journey recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #4My Profile

  18. What a beautiful post Sam–this is very brave of you to share, so thank you. I think everyone should read this–people with and without an ED–to get a better understanding of what it’s like. I’m so glad you’re in a better place now.
    Erin @ The Almond Eater recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #6My Profile

  19. Such a great post. I could relate to a lot of this, especially looking at how much better my quality of life is now versus when I was stuck in my eating disorder. I look back and think to myself how did I let it get that bad? But at the end of the day the experience taught me so much about myself and shaped the woman that I am today and if anything I can say that I now know how strong of a person I truly am.
    Barbara recently posted..TGIF.My Profile

  20. WOW. I think I picked a really good day to stumble across your blog. Coming from someone who just admitting to herself that she had an ED 5 days ago, I can really relate to #2 right now. I totally played the “naturally skinny” card.

    Just in these past 5 days, I have uncovered layers of myself that I never even knew existed. And while it’s so difficult sorting through the emotions now, you have given me hope that it will all be worth it in the end. Thank you for writing this and I am looking forward to reading more from you!

    • First of all – I’m so proud of you for admitting to yourself that you had an ED. That’s the first step, and one of the hardest ones. I wish you well on your journey back to health, and I’m an email away if you need someone to talk to about it! I can guarantee you – recovery is 100% worth it.

  21. I asbolutely LOVE this post Sam. You are such a huge inspiration for me, and I love to follow your journey and to read about your strength. It is just amazing and I wish from the bottom of my heart, that as many struggling persons as possible out there read this and get reminded on how wonderful life actually can be.
    Lucie@FitSwissChick recently posted..(Inter-)national Eating Disorders Awareness WeekMy Profile

  22. Amazing, amazing post girl! And one that so many people can relate to, I’m sure – myself included. Especially the part about how awesome being recovered again. Recovering is hard and emotional and it sometimes really sucks, but it means getting your life back which outweighs all the negatives times a million.

    I also just want to say that I love that you use your blog to spread recovery inspiration. I’m sure you’ve helped so many girls already!
    Chelsea @ Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen recently posted..Fig and date oatmealMy Profile

  23. What an honest post, very inspirational to share your story!
    I have never had an ED, but I thought I’d comment about the genetics.. almost every woman in my family on my maternal side has had a serious one to the point of hospitalization/medication. And none of them started with dieting, just with depression and anxiety/control issues. However, my mom is very aware of this and I grew up in a house where scales weren’t allowed and diets/calories were dirty words. I still don’t weigh myself or count calories in/out. I know that I have a natural tendency to become obsessive and so I have known to never try any kind of diet as it wouldn’t be a healthy path for me.. I believe with certainty there is a genetic element.
    On another note, of course as a female I have my obsessive moments about my body and “fat days” and it is to the point that they make me so angry. It is such a Waste of time and distress in this short and awesome life we get, and there are also so many Real concerns we will deal with in life and stressing over being a size 4 or 6 need not be one of them. Love the conversations you start on this blog!

    • That’s definitely interesting Rose, and definitely gives credibility to the idea that there could be genetics involved. And I agree – spending time thinking about our pant size is definitely a waste!

  24. I think you are a force to be reckoned with Sam- this was so beautifully written and so brave of you to share. I can only imagine how many people you’ve inspired and helped through exposing yourself like this. <3
    Gabby @ the veggie nook recently posted..building up to the big one: raw apple sauceMy Profile

  25. I have the same experience. Right now, for example, I’m bloated. My legs and arms look normal but I look pregnant. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one this happens to.

    • from my personal experience and after talking with others, bloating definitely seems to be part of the process. All we can really do is just ride it out.

  26. I have so much love and respect for you Sam, thank you so much for sharing. <3
    Gina @ Health, Love, and Chocolate recently posted..Thinking out Loud #4My Profile

  27. Such a sincere post and very helpful as well. Although I never went through what you’ve gone through, I can learn a lot of things from your experience. Your post helps me tread even more carefully(to avoid the pitfalls) in shedding some lbs off just to fit in my old clothes after gaining some weight during my “idle years” and indulging with… ice creams.

    But so far, I feel healthier. I have more energy throughout the day and have been less sick and I don’t feel my butt jiggling anymore when I jog/run. LOL. I also have been more appreciative of food to the point that I actually do enjoy cooking. Years ago, I just liked to eat, doesn’t matter if it’s unhealthy food or not. Not scared of peanutbutter, not scared of chocolates and I actually prefer chicken thighs over breasts. I hope I’m doing things “the right way”?!

    • It sounds like you’re keeping on top of your behaviours and staying weary of anything iffy, which is great to prevent you from going the disordered route!

  28. Great post, Sam. I had no idea either.
    Suzanne @ hello, veggy! recently posted..The Oh She Glows Cookbook Review + Giveaway! [Virtual Book Tour]My Profile

  29. You’re such a beautiful person inside and out.
    This was so brave of you to write this.
    I fell into so many traps, did some damage, and faced the consequences. I never thought it was harmful and I was in denial.
    I am so happy that you and I both recovered.
    Natalie @ lovenataliemarie recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #8 – NEDA & My ExperienceMy Profile

  30. Great post! I like a lot of these points, especially #2 about denial… it’s crazy how obvious denial is once you’re out of it, but you never realize during the time (for whatever situation) that your refusal to be honest with yourself–your exact defense mechanism–IS that denial. i also like the tie-in with personality, especially perfectionistic personalities and think that denial plays a great role there. i think naturally, there’s a bit of denial that helps to keep life more light-hearted (which is necessary), but at least in those cases you recognize the denial and it’s not tied with any deeper issues. at the end of the day, what matters is whether you are genuinely content with yourself. it took me a long time to realize that being content with myself didn’t mean i saw myself as perfect–even WITH my flaws–it means that i see myself as imperfect, but that’s just the way i am and that’s ohkay. i think theres a big difference there. anyway, enough rambling. happy sunday

  31. Pingback: Rehashing February. |

  32. I’m so glad Annette linked to this post today – fantastic, fantastic writing and SO many truths! I don’t know you, but I’m so glad for your recovery. Your #2 hit me especially hard – years and years of denial because I thought it was “normal” and ED’s voice is a sneaky one.
    Breanne recently posted..Sneak Peek: Sweet Lil Pumpkin [Newborn]My Profile

  33. Even though I was never actually diagnosed with an eating disorder, it scares me sometimes to see just how close I was with my disordered behavior…perhaps I even crossed the line a few times because some of your points REALLY hit close to home.

    Unfortunately, some things did end up staying with me…at the height of my depression during my divorce, I ended up having to get a mouthful of cavities filled thanks to the fact that my body wasn’t taking in enough calcium. I just hope and pray that I didn’t do any long term damage to my bony makeup. I’m still lucky to *knocks on wood* have never broken a bone. And omg, can I just say the whole, “I’ll just take you to McDonald’s and force-feed you some burgers!” would have freaking KILLED me a year ago?! I mean, I had a breakdown once at SUBWAY…of all places…I mean, seriously, it’s bread and cold cuts and vegetables for Christ’s sake!

    Just looking back and thinking about all of the changes that I’ve been through over the years truly helps empower me even more. Like you said, all those struggles, all those meltdowns, they were all so worth it!

    Thank you so much for this post and for the bravery that it takes to write something so emotionally raw! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you are SUCH an inspiration, my friend!
    Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli recently posted..VEGAN Beautifying Beet SmoothieMy Profile

    • I’ve seen you make AMAZING changes ever since I started reading your blog – I know I’ve said it before (multiple times) but I am so proud of you for how far you’ve come in your relationship with food and body image! And it’s true – the struggle suck, but you learn so much. Honestly? If i never had a eating disorder, I seriously doubt I could be as in tune with my body and my emotions as I am these days.
      I’ve never broken a bone either, but with osteoporosis in my family history combined with the ED, i’m seriously concerned for what my bones will be like down the line.

  34. Oh wow, I needed to read this. I recovered from anorexia about a year ago, and this post is so relatable and brave of you to post! Thank you!

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