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From Inside An Eating Disorder

When I took over this eating disorder blog, I did so with two purposes in mind. First, to offer support to those who are also in recovery from their own eating disorders and educate them on how to make their recovery stronger. Second, to help the friends and family of those with eating disorders better understand what their loved one is going through. I think to this point, I have done a decent job on the first purpose. However, my own fear of “too much” self-disclosure has kept me from accomplishing the second.

To be honest, it’s hard to put into words just what kind of hell living with an eating disorder is. Especially in the midst of it, when your head is spinning and words seem difficult to grasp. As a result, most of my writings from my worst days of my eating disorder seem to ramble and go off on tangents and almost always ended with the conclusion that I wasn’t really sick, I was just crazy and I should just kill myself for being such an attention-seeker.

So today, and perhaps more often on this blog, I want to give my readers who don’t have eating disorders a glimpse into the life of someone who does. I do so with the hope that it better enables you to help your loved one, to have some idea of what is going on in their head, to have some clue about the constant battle they face.

As a matter of safety, when I post these things, I will block out numbers and other specifics that might trigger my readers who do struggle. Your recovery is important, too.

A Day With An Eating Disorder

April 2010:

I had to choke down most of my food today. Breakfast was fine, if not boring. I set the meal up in stages, a behavior I’ve noticed is becoming more common. I think perhaps I am hoping that if I get a meal out slowly, take long enough, Armageddon will occur, Jesus will return, and I won’t have to eat. It hasn’t happened yet, for the record.
—–

7:15. Breakfast. Measure the cereal. Heat water for tea. Measure the milk. Tidy the kitchen. Cut the banana. Check on steeping tea. Add spices. Fold laundry. Finally, after 10 minutes, it is all together and I have no choice but to eat. I eat half of it, look down, worry about the fact that I both have no desire to finish the cereal and have every desire to eat the rest of the box. I walk to the end of the driveway, get the paper. Return to the table. Sort through the paper. Read Parade magazine as I eat the last of my cereal. Clean up. Try not to think about how many calories I just ate.

9:30. Snack time. I have been looking at the clock every two minutes for 20 minutes, dreading this moment. I wonder if I would be justified in pushing it back. Decide this will be okay, that if I don’t wait a little longer than I’ll have to eat a second snack in order to make it to lunch, which will be far later than usual today. My nutritionist wants me to have two snacks in the morning. When she suggested this last week, my entire body posture changed. I became immediately tense, shoulders at my ears, breathing halted momentarily. “Put your shoulders down”, she said. “Breathe.” Two snacks in the morning is utterly unacceptable. I will wait until 10:00 for snack, eat it as slowly as possible.

1:45. Lunch. Church is long, then I wait for a friend to get out of a meeting. We agreed last week to have lunch together, get something from the food court at the mall where our church makes its home. Originally we said we would split a free meal (coupon!) to save on the cost. I tell her I brought a lunch instead – that I didn’t want her to have to base her meal based on what I would eat. She seems disappointed, asks a few more times if we couldn’t split something, but finally relents. We eat lunch in a park. She is a tenacious friend. We talk about my race this weekend, about my running in general, then the topic turns to food, body, disorder. She asks questions, wanting to understand. She asks how she can help. She tells me what she sees, but acknowledges that I don’t see it at all. She asks how we continue from here – tells me that she wants to be sensitive, but feels that if we never talk about it, it’s like her being eight months pregnant and my never mentioning it. Reminds me that just because I ignore it, it won’t go away. We talk about God, about the power He has to protect and heal and save. I see tears in her eyes as she talks about this in regards to me, now.

4:00. Snack time. I am hungry. I am terrified by this hunger, this wanting. I am grocery shopping. I have written a list before going into the store, terrified that in a moment of weakness I might buy something unsafe. I’ll eat my snack when I get back in the car, I tell myself. Back in the car, I look at this snack, think, But it is so close to dinner time. I have a mint instead. This same argument takes place in my head another three times over the next hour. I get home, put away groceries.

5:30. Dinner. I cook, plate my dinner, clean up. I sit down at the table. My father is watching golf. I am reading the paper, trying to distract myself from the food on my plate. Rules about what to eat first, how fast to eat, how much to drink. Rules I forget I have until I try to break them. I finally finish dinner, put away the leftovers for another night. I sit at the table with my glass of water and the paper. I am still hungry. I want to run upstairs and count how many calories I’ve had today, dosomething to alleviate this anxiety. I stay at the table instead, aware that bolting after I eat would probably give the impression of my going upstairs to puke. And while that’s not the case today, it’s not always not the case, so I’d rather not arouse suspicion. Stay in the kitchen, prepare lunch and snack for tomorrow, tidy pile in the refrigerator. Offer to cook part of my parents’ dinner just to have the satisfaction of being around food, but not eating it.

7:00. Upstairs counting calories. And recounting. And trying desperately to figure out how the count is this high when I skipped a snack. Had considered moving the snack to after dinner, but that is out of the question now. Wonder how in the world I will be able to do this again tomorrow, knowing as I do that my afternoon snack is just too much. Plan tomorrow’s meals, snacks, count calories. Re-count.

That was my life every day for years.  At times, it still threatens to be my life.

Fellow eating disorder recovery warriors:  Can you relate?  

Loved ones:  How do you feel about what you’ve read and how might it change your approach in how you deal with your eating disordered loved one?

Also, I’ll do shorter excerpts in the future — but this seemed like a good place to start.

Stay strong.

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19 Responses to From Inside An Eating Disorder

  1. t. says:

    oh wow. thank you SO much for this. I fully know the feeling of losing the words when trying to explain my day to day reality to anyone other than my therapist. Then this loss of words usually turns into desperation and grasping, which just looks like defensiveness and attacking whoever I’m trying to explain to. It’s so hard and it ruins so many days/relationships.
    Hopefully someday soon I’ll feel comfortable printing this out and giving it to them, letting your words speak for me.

  2. T -
    Thanks for your comment! I had a very hard time explaining my eating disorder to friends and family as well and am very familiar with perceived defensiveness you’re referring to. I hope you do get the courage to print this out — or get the courage to share some of your own writings! Helping our loved ones understand our eating disorders makes it a lot easier for them to support us.
    Jess

  3. Cathy Trotter says:

    Jessica — Such powerful writing. I felt your frustration with every word. I have never been able to understand eating disorders, but you have painted a picture that spoke to me. Still don’t fully understand – probably never will – but feeling much more compassion for those who struggle. You are doing an awesome job. Keep fighting!

  4. Thanks, Cathy! It’s true that you can probably never fully understand an eating disorder until you’ve lived it, but I love your comment about feeling more compassion towards those who struggle. That’s all we as sufferers can really ask for — so many people think we should just be able to “snap out of it!” or that we choose this. I can only hope that my writing conveys that neither of those are true. No one would ever choose this hell.
    Jess

  5. Susan says:

    Thanks Jessica for your candidness. I am working toward recovery but still not there yet. Last night my husband and I were talking and he made the comment: I can tell you´re not on “the other side” yet because you´re still measuring your food. Yes, I measure. Yes, I read labels. I can´t stand the anxiety of not knowing or of fearing that I´ve overeaten. I still enjoy (or think I enjoy) having control. Will eating ever be perceived by me as freedom????

  6. Missy says:

    Incredibly brave.

  7. anonymous says:

    I can relate. im struggling to convince myself into recovery. i havent just yet. my friends and family dont understand the life of someone wwith an eating disorder. like you said, you dont fully understand it unless youve lived it. Ive been living this life for almost 2 years & yet they still tell me to snap out of it. im hoping one day theyll realize i cant just “snap out of it”. I want recovery but im not there yet. they keep trying to push it on me. i hope one day i can tell them everything you do in your writing. you speak the words i & a million others who suffer from eating disorders or who have want to say.

  8. Missy says:

    @anonymous…

    Do you have any online vehicles for support at least? HEALTHY forums for people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired?

    It seems as though you are alone in your “real life” and I want you to know that the day you walk into a roomfull of people who getit. (TOTALLY. Been there, done it, t-shirt and EVERYTHING.) You will feel so much weight lifted off your shoulders and I promise you that will bolster your motivation to recover. Sometimes you just have to GO first.

    It is so vital. Please do not let years go by as I have done.

  9. Anon – it was a struggle for me to decide to recover, too. Honestly, my parents forced me into it after my last relapse and made me go to treatment. Even after being in treatment for a month, I still wasn’t convinced! But what Missy said above is so true — finding support (online or in person) is so huge in helping you to recover and gain the motivation to do so. It is refreshing to walk into a room and not have to explain all the stuff that goes on in your head because the others just understand it. They can also be so helpful in brainstorming ideas on how to tell your family and friends what you’re struggling with and in helping you educate them. ANAD runs support groups throughout the country. I’d love to help you find one. Find me on Facebook or Google+ (Jessica Jean Hudgens/Jess Hudgens) and let’s have a conversation!
    Jess

  10. Anon says:

    I went many years with a eating disorder and in fact up to about 2000 approximately, from approximately the time I was about 13 years old. You know when I go out grocery shopping now, I keep an eye on my grocery cart filling up and I cannot wait to get out of the grocery store – so much so that I start having panic attacks sometimes. (this is something my husband does not understand going on with me). Often when he cooks he will put too much food on my plate and I get upset with him about this and he will then tell me to stop fixating on my weight. Yes this is something I seem to even after all these years cannot help myself with. (I have gained a considerable amount of weight cause of medications I am on and this bothers me – so yes I am very much fixated on how much I eat in the day) I will go to a buffet with my husband and will feel guilty about the food I have eaten at the buffet – often when out at a buffet with my husband, I will go into the washroom for about 10 minutes or so, just so I can get away from all of the food …

  11. Anon – Thanks for your comment. I can completely relate to the grocery shopping thing! I think that is something a lot of us struggle with. I might do a future post on it because you’re right — it’s hard.
    Hang in there and keep on fighting the good fight!

  12. Shannon Lackey says:

    Great explanation Jessica. I used to suffer with panic attacks to the point of the only place I could go alone was to work and I think that was only because I needed to work. It is hard to explain to someone how a disorder, any disorder, makes you feel especially when you yourself can’t fully understand it. To this day I still fear that I may have one. Irrational but this is my reality and it is what all disorders have in common. Irrationality becomes reality so we have rules for coping. You are a brave person Jessica. I pray for your strength. Keep up the hard work.

  13. thank you for sharing this Jessica. I know how hard it is to put it all into words, and sometimes when I look back I also think “was I really sick? Did I even really have an eating disorder” Because I can’t remember a lot of details regarding it (even though it consumed 13 years of my life). I do remember though, there was always a routine. And if for some reason that routine got jarred in any way, life was seemingly ruined. and for others to understand why you couldn’t do something so simple as go out to eat with them at lunch was just out of the question. I appreciate you putting your words out there for me to relate to and to also remember how far I have come.

  14. Thanks for your comment, Shannon! I agree that the “irrational” fear of another attack — whether that’s anxiety, an eating disorder, depression or otherwise — is common across many disorders and perhaps not all that “irrational.” I think that with many disorders another attack is a strong reality — but the best we can do is prepare ourselves and surround ourselves with a great support system, which I know you have!

  15. Holly,
    I’m glad you were able to read this and see how far you’ve come! I am “lucky” (?) enough to have a lot of writings from throughout my eating disorder, and it’s interesting to read them and see both how deeply entrenched and “sick” I was (and for so long before I even realized it) and how far I’ve come as well. Based on some of the feedback I’m getting on this post (both from sufferers and loved ones), I’ll probably post some more writings in the future, as I think it could be beneficial to a lot of people.
    Jess

  16. Katia says:

    This is so interesting to read sometimes. Even though my ending diagnosis was “anorexia” this really highlighted the difference between binge/purge type and restrictive. The thing is, even when I was TERRIFIED of food and eating next to nothing,I LOVED FOOD. That was never my issue, I just didn’t like what it DID to me (ie – make me gain weight lol). I really have a hard time relating to ED sufferers that legitimately don’t like food, b/c I walked into treatment saying no trust me, I like it, I just don’t want to gain weight (caused quite the dilemma). I do completely relate to the obsession, though.

  17. Katia,
    Thanks for your comment. My official diagnosis (had my doctor cared to specify) probably would have been binge/purge as well. I did restrict some, especially given my activity level, but I loved food and was very obsessed. But I ate far more than most anorexics, I just purged through pills and overexercise. It actually wasn’t until I had to go through refeeding at my last treatment center that I began to despise food — simply because I got sick of eating so much of it!

    Jess

  18. Mckenna says:

    Oh, I can totally relate to your entry, Jess. While I was at CFC even, I read back some of my old entries and they actually made me very sad. Counting calories and writing ‘I’m going to have [insert small amount here] for dinner. Cheers.’ I know I was just kidding myself, remembering how I was half-assing recovery. My thinking was so irrational and distorted. I still have to redirect my thinking sometimes, but even I have to admit that my more rational thinking probably is partially stemmed from my more healthy BMI.
    Every thought I would have during the day revolved around calories, body image, and thoughts regarding my utter self-loathing. I couldn’t concentrate on schoolwork well enough, and had days where I would literally get out of bed only to eat a little and then go right back to bed. Do that three times a day, and I was miserable.

  19. Oh my gosh…this is totally me…..everything. I have my own routine I have to do with food, too. I don’t want to be like this anymore. I miss my old self two – three years ago….I was fit, thin, in shape, healthy, strong, had nice fuller hair, nicer skin, my hormones were normal and healthy, I had much more muscle and less fat and my meyabolism was strong. Now, I’ve gained weight by trying to recover by myself in secret while trying to lift heavier weights in hopes I could rebuild muscle but instead, I gained pure fat. Now I’m bigger than when I first began this fitness and diet obsession. I look back at older pictures of myself and see a skinny, strong, healthy, happier, prettier me. I never realized how thin and how strong I really was. My joints are also messed up, and my hips are uneven and so are my shoulders from lifting weights too much and or inproperly. My period has stopped completely and I haven’t gotten it in a very long time. I’ve always had a little bit of facial hair, but it’s gotten worse. Now it’s starting to get longer, darker, and growing in more places on my upper lip and I hate it. I’vr lost so much hair, too….My breasts are sagging prematurly and it’s gross….My hips and thighs and stomach are huge now. Even back fat, arm fat, armpit folds of fat and lose skin, saddy and somewhat flat butt, saddlebags, love handles, more cellulite, ect. I hate my new body….I want my old one back…

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