There isn’t a specific name for what I have. Some use blanket terms like anorexia or bulimia. Professionals call it “EDNOS,” meaning “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” Some people in recovery choose to personify it and call it “Ed.”
Me? I don’t know what to call it. I do know though, that at the end of the day, no matter what you call it, I have it.
It’s hard to put a finger on when my body image issues began. For a majority of my youth, I was overweight and at risk for obesity. There were a lot of factors that went into this: I hated exercising, and like any kid, I had little to no self control. I still don’t. I love to eat. If I could, I’d never stop eating. As a kid, I actively planned my every meal, prayed for my every snack.
I was picked on pretty frequently in elementary school, but I’d always managed to brush it off. But as I grew older, I began to internalize what people were saying.
Things reached a boiling point the summer before 10th grade. A boy I had a crush on prank-called me with his friends and said disgusting things about my weight. For the rest of the summer, I seriously reduced what I was eating. When I eventually mustered the courage to weigh myself, I’d lost weight for the first time in my life. And just like that, my eating disorder manifested.
I want to make one thing clear: I didn’t choose this. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder. It’s not a decision someone makes, and it’s not something many even really recognize until it’s too late. In that way, it’s like quicksand.
I was vulnerable and confused, and I was heavily restricting my diet, obsessively counting calories, weighing myself two to three times a day. In less than a year, I lost about 70 pounds and shrunk from a size 14 to a 00.
I was severely in denial. I was weak and tired and irritable. My hair thinned, my nails got brittle and I’d wake up with random bruises all over my body. I fainted and went to the hospital on multiple occasions.
Still, I saw the side effects of my extreme weight loss as a fair price to pay for acceptance. The less I ate, the less I weighed. And with this weight loss, the more people seemed to like me.
The bullying stopped — people didn’t look at me with disgust or laugh at me or whisper behind my back. And I was more comfortable going out and doing things than before I had lost the weight. My confidence, as superficial as it was, rose substantially.
I can’t begin to describe how deeply unsettling it feels to have an eating disorder — one that formed in the wake of weight-related bullying — positively reinforced once I started looking more like society’s standard of healthy, thin, pretty or whatever you want to call it. This new attention encouraged my dangerously unhealthy and self-destructive habits.
By the time I left for college in Washington, D.C., where I attended school before Temple, I was still recklessly in denial. I convinced myself that somehow I’d be fine, that the eating disorder would just miraculously cure itself.
Unsurprisingly, that isn’t what happened.
The fall semester of my sophomore year, I reached an all-time low: 89 pounds. That was when I broke down and finally told my parents. I immediately took a leave of absence and traveled home to see a slew of doctors and therapists.
The first psychotherapist I met with told me she wouldn’t treat me because I weighed less than 110 pounds. She said I was a liability because I might “stroke out.” She then chastised my mother for being negligent — or at the very least, ignorant.
“You should have known better,” she told my mom.
I had never seen my mom look so defeated, and I had never felt so guilty. My parents were crestfallen, and it was all my fault. Luckily, I eventually found a counselor that helped me bridge the communication gap between my parents and me. And with a lot of therapy, practice and self control, I began to recover.
I know my eating disorder has taken a toll on them, and I know it still does. They still worry — they poke and pinch me and ask me how I’m doing every so often.
But they seem to focus more on the physical — how I look, what I weigh, what I’ve been eating — and they don’t seem to grasp the psychology of it. That said, they’ve admitted to not fully understanding everything I’ve been through — and am still going through — but they tell me that they love me no matter what.
And that’s all I care about.
I’ve never completely “recovered” from my eating disorder the way one might from a cold or a broken bone. I’ve learned to manage it, and maybe if I’m lucky, forget about it for a little while.
But it’s always there, and sometimes I still struggle with my eating disorder. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I only have one shot at life, and I can’t waste it by destroying my mind and body just to appease others.
Courtney Redmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.