Life with an Eating Disorder
Alexandra of the Peace, Love and Hope eating disorders site is our guest tonight. Find out what it's like living with an eating disorder and trying to get through the healing process.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts, the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Life with an Eating Disorder". Our guest is Alexandra, from the Peace, Love and Hope Eating Disorders Site here at HealthyPlace.com. Alexandra is 15 years old and will be a junior in high school this coming August.
Good evening, Alexandra, and thank you for being our guest tonight. On your site, you say signs of having an eating disorder began to appear when you were 8 years old. What were those signs of having an eating disorder and what was going on in your life at that time?
Alexandra: Hello everyone! I hope you're all doing well tonight. :) At that time, there was a lot of family stress and I resorted to eating to make what I was feeling inside of me go away. Purging (eating and throwing up) quickly followed, and looking back on it now, I realize that was the beginning of the battle.
David: When you say family stress, without going into too much detail, can you please describe it so we can better understand what drove you to disordered eating?
Alexandra: Sure. My parents never had a good relationship with one another, and it's a well-known fact in this house that they would have divorced by now had neither of my parents experienced financial troubles. There was constant fighting and bickering. There wasn't a night that went by that I didn't hear someone yelling at someone, or find my mother talking to me about how awful things were. Even being so young, I took it upon myself to relieve both of my parents of stress. I believed that their fighting was my fault, and that it was my job to "fix" them. My parents never expected that of me, though -- I just took it upon myself. The stress from that and constantly feeling "not good enough" is what, I believe, caused me to turn to food for comfort, and when I started purging, that added onto wanting to feel better.
David: That is a lot for an 8 year old to deal with. When you began the purging behavior, (eating and throwing up), how did that come about? Did you read about this, did a friend tell you about it?
Alexandra: Honestly, I still cannot figure that part out! I'm almost positive that I did not read about it or see it on TV, as the only books I read back then involved fairy tales and I almost never watched TV unless The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were on. :) I think, now, that I always knew that if food went in, it had to come out, and went after ways to get it out. When I discovered what to do for purging, it never stopped.
Alexandra: Progressively, over time, the bulimia did become worse, and so did the depression that I also experienced. Around the age of 11, I was in my first year of homeschooling, I believe, so I was more isolated than I was about a year before that. This gave me more time than ever to eat and purge, and then to go days "fasting." I would eat and purge anything that I could find, and that became worse. By the age of 13, I was staying up until 4 a.m. cooking and eating whatever I could. At that time, I was purging almost 15 times a day, and was constantly upset with my moods flying off the handle all the time. I was also always extremely tired and always felt run-down.
David: Did you understand what you were doing? Had it become clear to you that you had an eating disorder at that point?
Alexandra: Amazingly, I did not believe that my disordered eating behaviors were an actual medical problem. I always knew in the back of my head that what I was doing was not natural, even "wrong", but I had never heard of anorexia and bulimia or known of any specific facts about them. It wasn't until about age 12, that while sifting around in my mother's old nursing books (she went back to college to become a nurse), that I came about a chapter on eating disorders in a psychology book. I read over the whole thing and almost fell out of my chair when I saw that what the writers were describing was almost exactly what I was doing. It was then that I knew there was definitely a problem and that it had a name.
David: A lot of times we hear that eating disorders start with an individual's desire to have the "perfect body". But it doesn't sound like that's what was going through your mind at the time.
Alexandra: At age eight, I wasn't all that concerned with my body. I was naturally a little chubby due to genetics and my age, but when I reached elementary school I did want to lose weight. I was teased a lot, and by middle school the teasing was pretty horrendous. That's when I went into home-schooling and fell right into the dark world of an eating disorder. At that point, I remembered every mean comment that was made, weight-related or not, and believed that apart from not even deserving food because I was a failure, that if I just lost some weight and became thinner, I would have no problems and that I would never be teased again. Everything would be "perfect."
David: What has living with an eating disorder (anorexia and bulimia) been like for you?
Alexandra: A living hell. People on the "outside" that have not experienced an addiction like this, or those that have just started their battle, tend to not understand how much life an eating disorder, like anorexia and bulimia, can rip from you. I have lost friends because of this addiction; because instead of returning phone calls or going out with them, I am too worried about food being around or that I need to devote more time to exercising.
Because you go through chemical imbalances from purging and starving, I also have gone through long periods of dark depression, where it can be sometimes hard just to get out of bed. Living with an eating disorder stresses you out and breaks you down mentally and physically. And during those small periods of time, where you aren't being degraded by your own mind, you end up too tired and exhausted and stressed out to do much of anything. I've said it so many times to friends and I'll say it here: This is something that I would never wish upon my greatest enemy.
David: Here are some audience questions, Alexandra. Then, we'll talk about your recovery efforts:
Alexandra: Sure :)
gmck: Did your parents know about your problem? If so, what did they have to say about it?
Alexandra: Hmmm. My father, although still living in this house, has never really been a big part of my life, so he never caught on. My mother, on the other hand, she caught me coming out of a bathroom one evening after I had just eaten and she caught on. Another time, shortly after that, I went to her for help, but due to stress and her not understanding about eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, she responded back with yelling and fighting, and I have not spoken to her since about it. Since that time, she has always thought that the purging was just something I was toying with and that I'm "too smart" to still have problems with it.
David: How do you feel about the way your mother has responded?
Alexandra: Well, I became bitter and even more resentful towards her for how she responded. I just felt even more hopeless and unworthy, and naturally the eating disorder became worse because of that. I have grown, I think, and I have let go of a lot of anger and resentment towards my mother. I know now that one day I'll be able to talk to her about this, when she is less stressed out and more capable of just talking about this and understanding.
David: I want to mention here that Alexandra is 15 years old. She'll be a high school junior this coming school year. Her Peace, Love and Hope eating disorders site is here in the HealthyPlace.com Eating Disorders Community. Here's another question:
redrover: Did you maintain the same weight? Did anyone suspect you had an eating disorder? Don't you feel like if you get help for the disorder then you are a failure at the disorder also? I know that's how I feel each time I think about getting help.
Alexandra: In the beginning I lost about ten pounds, but after that, bulimia only caused me to gain a few pounds of water weight, but I never lost anymore actual weight after that. That's when I started "fasting" and I lost some more weight from that. Unfortunately, with eating disorders, especially with bulimia, since those that suffer just from bulimia do not reach a dangerously low weight, it is almost easy to hide the disordered eating behaviors (eating disorder symptoms), so no one suspected there was a problem.
Before starting towards recovery, I definitely did feel that I would be failing my eating disorder and also that I did not deserve help. I had to give it a shot, though, because I knew that I would not survive much longer otherwise.You eventually realize that you have nothing to prove, hon. There is nothing good about being successful at dying. I know how competitive the world of eating disorders is, but you have to learn that nothing good comes from being competitive over something that will wreck your body and mind.
David: Some of the audience questions center around medical advice. And Alexandra really isn't qualified to dispense medical advice.
Alexandra, have you made any efforts towards recovery from bulimia and anorexia?
Alexandra: I can only give my opinion on medical related questions. I am not certified to give actual advice, however. No matter what, and I know this is hard to do for sufferers, see your doctor when in doubt.
About me making any efforts towards recovery, definitely. Every day, I work harder to break free from purging and starving. I think the root of that is learning to accept yourself for you, not a sick person or a "broken" one or one that suffers from an Eating Disorder, but you as yourself as a person. You have to learn over time to accept yourself no matter what, instead of constantly finding flaws and believing that there is one true "perfect" person out there that you must attain.
David: Are you getting professional help...working with a therapist?
Alexandra: Because I am only 15 and still unable to drive, I am not seeing a therapist. I have brought the issue up with my mother, about seeing someone just to "talk," and she was none-too-pleased with the idea. So, currently I am fighting on my own and with the support of friends. I want to make a note here that you really cannot fully recover on your own or just from support from your family and friends. You eventually will need professional help at some point or another, as you are battling against your own mind and are unable to distinguish between what is too much, too little, etc. I realize this myself, and that's why as soon as I turn 16 and get my license, I will attend group therapy meetings regularly and look into meeting with a therapist that goes on a sliding-scale basis (you pay the therapist a set amount depending on how much you earn).
David: We have some more audience questions.
desides: Hi, Alexandra. I 'm a recovered anorexic/bulimic. What was the main thing that helped you accept life and enjoy it, rather than giving in to the eating disorder?
Alexandra: Congratulations on your recovery hon! I think that when I started to come out of the extreme purging and fasting behaviors I started to feel more energized, and then, I was able to see life in a different light. I began ever so slowly to see that I did not need to blame myself for everything under the sun, and that if I tried to get rid of my pain by purging and starving, that I was not solving anything and instead just adding onto my problems. It was really a combination of things that helped me to start recovering. I also started to see that doing just daily activities like cleaning, cooking, or doing the laundry, were more enjoyable because I wasn't counting calories in my head as much. When I did eat, it was nice to not immediately think "Dear God, how am I going to get rid of this? Where? When?"
Jennie55: How long did you have an eating disorder before trying to get better?
Alexandra: I began to try and recover about a year and a half ago, when I was 14.=) As you see, it took a long time before I even began to accept the possibility of recovery from anorexia and bulimia. It has to be something the person wants, and at that time I finally started wanting to end this battle.
David: Was there something that happened in your life or thinking that triggered a change in your attitude - making you want to recover? (eating disorders recovery)
Alexandra: Honestly, I think I just became sick of being sick. My throat hurt constantly and I was breaking down crying everyday in my room from what was going on in my head. I always knew deep down that I could not continue on like this. Before I started to recover, I was cutting myself and contemplating suicide, and I knew that I had to do SOMETHING, anything, to help this situation. I had been told always almost the same thing by other people who I had met, that also had suffered or had recovered -- "do whatever you can to try and get better. You are missing out on so much." In the end, it came down to whether I thought I deserved to live and whether I deserved to get better. Although I was unsure of either of those things at the time, I decided to give this recovery gig a shot.
redrover: I think this is one the most embarrassing problems to admit to. You'll be looked at completely different from here on out. I heard you never really recover, that you can always relapse. I don't think I could have my parents look at me each time with fear and concern.
Alexandra: Sweetie, I know that there is a lot of stigma attached to mental health issues from society, but there will always be people that don't understand or are not willing to understand. You have to take your own health as first priority and realize that people will always react as they want to. Personally, I really do believe that you can fully recover. One of my good friends is in her early forties and recently fully recovered from a lifelong addiction to bulimia and alcohol. It took her a long, long time, but she has not relapsed in over a year and has no relapse-related thoughts.
I know it's hard to have people worry about you, because you feel that you do not deserve their attention, but the best thing you can do is try to have your parents understand what is going on in your head. One of the books that I always strongly recommend sufferers and family and friends to read is The Secret Language of Eating Disorders by Peggy Claude-Pierre. That book does a wonderful job of bridging the gap of understanding between sufferers and those that are on the "outside." Recovery is always hard in the beginning, but it DOES get easier eventually. You have to keep thinking about what life will be like if you never get help, though. It's definitely not a life that anyone should have to lead.
sandgirl01: Since it was not your parents, whom did you find the most support from? Was there anyone such as a school counselor that you went to?
Alexandra: I received most of my support from my best friend, Karen, who when I first met her was living with an alcoholic father and step-mother. She experienced almost the same things that I went through, and I found that she was the person that I could most relate to. She's still the first person that I call when I feel that I am relapsing and I have always received unconditional love from her.
David: Here are a couple of audience comments:
emaleigh: I want to recommend a book to the audience if that is possible. It's called Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends by Siegel, Brisman, and Weinshel. I recommend it for everyone who has a friend or parent that just does not understand what they are going through or what eating disorders are really about! The book's only about ten dollars. It's an awesome book to be read by anybody that has a loved one going through an eating disorder problem. It was recommended to my mother by my therapist.
Alexandra: Thank you, emaleigh - I will look into that book myself! :)
Nerak: Alexandra, I do not think I have met a 15 year old with your insight. If you have not chosen a career for you future think about counseling. You have a compassion to help that will take you far in life. Keep up the great work in helping yourself and others.
Alexandra: nerak - Wow, thank you so much for your comments. I have looked into a life-long career as a therapist, but I'm still knocking around the idea of becoming a dentist instead. Who knows! :)
desides: Well, congrats to you too for recognizing that you are not the one to blame for everything under the sun. Continue your positive attitude and it'll get you where you want to go.
Alexandra: desides - Thank you for your support. I hope that you, too, will recover. I know that you can do it.
jesse1: I have suffered from anorexia/bulimia, on and off, now for six years. At one time, I was so close to being recovered. I was happy and actually started to like myself, but then I slipped back into the mirror. I was wondering what I can do to get back out? How do I say I deserve it?
Alexandra: Jesse - Look back towards the beginning of your relapse -- what was going on in your life during that time? Was there a lot of stress involved with your parents, friends, school, etc? If you can find out what triggered the relapse, you can start working towards fighting the battle. Along with finding your true self, you also have to learn to deal with any stress or problems in your life through other things that don't involve self-destruction. Instead of purging and starving to regain control and to feel better, you have to develop better coping mechanisms for life. That's a part of breaking free from an eating disorder and a relapse. Jesse, please talk to someone about what you are going through with your recent relapse. You do deserve to recover and so does anyone in here that is still suffering. Everyone deserves to LIVE, no matter what.
David: Were you ever involved with diet pills, laxatives, alcohol or illegal substances?
Alexandra: Yes, I was. I did use diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics during the worst times of my battle with an eating disorder. It was incredibly hard to stop all of those things, and when I did finally stop, I went towards alcohol to feel better. Last year, I started using speed as well, but I realized soon after that, even though I had stopped the diet pills and other abuses, I was not getting any better because I had just reached for something else to cure the pain. It took a lot of willpower to stop the alcohol and drug abuse, but I did thankfully. I think a big part of stopping all the abuses was always knowing inside that I was not helping any kind of pain that I was feeling. I was merely masking it for a short time. When the chemicals would wear off, I'd go back to feeling crappy again, plus I'd be going through withdrawals. I had to finally say, "No!" to any kind of chemical and I've been clean since.
Alexandra: I want to make a quick note here. Drug abuse is very similar to purging and starving in that it helps to mask the pain you are feeling, but only for a certain amount of time. Then, you don't feel so great anymore and you end up doing the behaviors more-and-more to keep feeling just okay with yourself. Even though many in society still don't think it is, an eating disorder is an addiction and anyone can become addicted to the disordered eating behaviors, no matter how little they purge or abuse diet pills.
David: What about feelings of just giving up, saying "I'm already suffering so much. What's the point in trying to recover?" Have you experienced those and how did you deal with that?
Alexandra: I definitely have, and many times! When I would go through relapses, I, so many times, just wanted to throw my hands up in the air and say, "Argh, this is too hard and frustrating! Why even bother?!" It's very common to just want to give up when you are battling such a hard addiction. Depression is also common in almost every single person that suffers, so you also have that to contend with. I think you have to look at life as it is now, and then look at life as it will be in the future if you were to not change anything that you were doing. I'm sure that the outlook wouldn't be the greatest in the world, and that's what I saw with myself. I looked ahead towards the future, and I couldn't even imagine what life would be like if I did not stop what I was doing. I figured I'd be in a hospital for the rest of my life, or dead. I dealt with it mainly by learning to forgive myself. I had to learn that mistakes will happen and that it does me no good to become angry or frustrated with myself.
I, as well, had to learn the great virtue of patience and not expect recovery to come within a couple of weeks or months. I also learned to talk. It's strange to hear that, but when you are in recovery, it is like you're learning to talk all over again. You learn how to talk to others and talk about your feelings, which is something that so many of us find we are unable to do. So, from all of these things, I have always just kept at it with recovery. I've seen good results from breaking free from these demons, and I've also heard many stories of experience from those who have fully recovered, and this is not something that I want to give up on, even during my darker moments.
David: Here are some more audience comments:
jesse1: I know what was triggering me, a lot of family secrets coming out, but I don't want to hurt them by bringing them up.
redrover: We are playing with our destiny. But, this is kind of like what you see on TV extreme sports. They take great risks. For what? A sense of accomplishment, right? Sometimes, we feel we have to follow through.
Alexandra: Jesse - I know how you feel because I have always felt a fear of hurting my parents. You have to understand, though, that they will be even more hurt if you don't tell them and your problem gets worse, until one day you end up hospitalized. Maybe you don't have to tell them everything right away, but you can start by saying something like, "Mom/Dad, I haven't been feeling too great lately and I was wondering if I could talk to a therapist."
David: Here's a question, Alexandra:
Monica Mier y teran: I have a compulsive overeating disorder which I have had for years now. I am 38, and I know it is all emotional, but I can't seem to stop eating every time no one is looking. I've tried to be a bulimic even, and it didn't work. I just don't like throwing up. What I'm doing now is eating once a day, but every time I see food, I just want to dive into it. It is really frustrating and seems like no one understands. Everyone just says to me, just keep your mouth closed, as simple as that.
Although I've lost weight, I look at the mirror and I really hate myself. I don't like myself at all. How do you finally stop this addiction that makes you suffer? I just want to live a normal life and to be able to see food and not want to dive into it.
Alexandra: Are you receiving therapy, Monica? Just like with purging and starving, those that suffer from compulsive overeating overeat to cover up and try to deal with what they are feeling. Part of recovery is learning to talk and actually deal and learn from what you are feeling instead of trying to run away from it. Take it from me, adding one disorder onto another (like starting with overeating and then becoming bulimic) does not help anything. It may make you feel better for a short period of time, but then you have two battles to fight and things are twice as hard. You also want to stay away from fasting. That never works because you always end up going back to eating and then beating yourself up. Instead, you have to learn to eat "normally," and not fly from one extreme to another. I strongly recommend that you talk about how you are feeling to someone hon! Try overeaters anonymous support groups and, definitely, individual therapy. You deserve to get better and to live sweetie. Please believe that.
Monica Mier y teran: No, I'm not in therapy. I should be though. I know it's emotional. Thanks.
David: Monica, in the HealthyPlace Eating Disorders Community, there's a new site called "Triumphant Journey: A Guide to Stop Overeating" that is focusing on compulsive overeating. I hope you'll stop by there and visit that site. We are receiving a lot of positive comments about it and I think you'll find it helpful.
Alexandra: Monica - Please take that step and go into therapy. You can't go on living in pain like this forever. I hope that you do take a step to get help. I know that you CAN recover, no matter what.
David: How is it that you can be so open about your eating disorder, when so many want to keep it a secret?
Alexandra: I wasn't like this always:) I was very secretive and didn't want to open up, even to those that I knew suffered from the same thing. I think that it's a part of the healing process. You learn to open up or else you never get out how you are feeling, and then you never get any help as a result. Most of my friends that are in public school still do not know about my eating disorder, but I still have a support system that I can talk to, regardless. I think another big part about learning to open up also goes along with recovering -- you learn to throw society to the side and say, "Ok, I'm not going to let you make me feel bad about what I'm suffering from, or about my body."
David: I know it's getting late. Thank you Alexandra for coming by tonight and sharing your story and experiences with us. Judging from the audience comments I've received, it's been helpful to many. I also want to thank everyone in the audience for coming and participating tonight.
Alexandra: Thank you for having me as a guest! I hope that all of you in the room are able to one day be at peace with yourself if you aren't already. Hang in there guys, I'm with you in this battle for recovery!
David: Good night everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Tracy, N. (2007, February 26). Life with an Eating Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, January 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/transcripts/life-with-an-eating-disorder