Eating disorders are so common in today’s world that 1 or 2 out of every 100 students will struggle with one. Each year, thousands of teens develop eating disorders or problems with weight, eating or body image.
Eating disorders are more than just going on a diet to lose weight or trying to exercise every day. They represent extremes in eating behavior and ways of thinking about eating — the diet that never ends and gradually gets more restrictive.
The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight and extremely disturbed eating behavior.
Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively; others lose weight by self-induced vomiting or misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas.
Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or are clearly malnourished. Eating, food and weight control become obsessions. A person with anorexia typically weighs herself or himself repeatedly, portions food carefully and eats only very small quantities of only certain foods.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This binge-eating is followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting and/or excessive exercise.
Like people with anorexia, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly, because it is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. The binging and purging cycle usually repeats several times a week. Similar to anorexia, people with bulimia often have coexisting psychological illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse problems.
I, myself am a patient for anorexia and bulimia nervosa. It started around 4 years back. I’ve no idea how it started or why it started as I’ve never been overweight in the first place. All I know is that somehow, something triggered inside me and I had a new obsession. All I could see was numbers. In the calories I ingested, the fats, the sizes I wore and the numbers on the weighing scale. I ate whatever was in my path to calm the anxiety and purged everything, justifying in my head that the net calories would end up being zero.
The net result was that I lost about 12-14 kgs within a month. I didn’t get my periods for almost a year and a half. I looked horribly skinny and my hair had almost stopped growing. I lied about everything and basically I started hating myself for what I had become. Then, to overcome the guilt, I ate more and vomited it all out. It was like a cycle. Vomiting made me feel guilty and depressed and that depression caused me to eat more and vomit it.
In the end, I couldn’t handle the guilt and depression and I attempted suicide. Luckily, I was saved and after that, my life got a whole new meaning. It’s funny how a small incident can change a person so much. I changed from being the spoilt, shy, introvert and basically an unhappy person to being an outgoing and a happy person. Of course, I still am spoilt and pampered, but that is an entirely different thing.
Of course, my eating habits didn’t change overnight and I did not stop purging all of a sudden. I had to undergo psychiatric treatment and counselling. I relapsed many times and I am still extremely weight conscious and eat only limited stuff. But, I have accepted myself for who I am. I have learnt to love myself and my life. The journey to recovery is definitely not easy. I failed countless times and was even on the verge of losing hope a few times, but my family never let me lose hope. One thing I had to remember throughout this journey was that these eating disorders required so much of my will power and discipline to get into and I knew that I had to use that same power and strength to get myself out.
My counsellor would ask me why I felt that I deserved to be punished for gaining a kilo or two. Then she’d point out that, according to my own logic, everyone who gained a few kgs deserved to be punished. “No,” I would say, “it’s only me that deserves to be punished.” But when she asked me to explain, I couldn’t, because I knew it didn’t make any sense. It took a lot of such talks and discussions to unravel all the lies I’d been telling myself.
During recovery, there were days where my determination and willpower were put to the test. Especially during hard or difficult times in my life and I was often tempted to return to the old, familiar, unhealthy ways of coping with those situations and sometimes, I did. But, I accepted that it’s okay to relapse. It is often an inevitable part of recovery. What I learnt from the relapse is what truly matters.
Some things that helped me and should be remembered during recovery are –
● Set small, manageable goals in order to reach your long-term recovery goals. The all or nothing mindset doesn’t usually work well in eating disorder recovery. This journey is completed one step at a time.
● Be gentle with yourself. Learn from your slips and celebrate your victories.
● The hardest step is the first step. That’s the step where you chose recovery. It is a life decision. Understand that after that one step you will have many more to travel. Keep your steps tiny; go one day at a time. Be patient with yourself and believe in yourself. There is life after an eating disorder. You need to believe that recovery is possible and that you absolutely deserve it.
● Eating disorders are not something to get over. They are something to be embraced with love. When we love the parts inside us that hurt, the healing process can begin.
● Telling someone you trust about your recovery process can make you feel accountable to keep going.
● Engage in activities you enjoy to help boost your confidence and self-esteem.
● Keep a journal of your frustrations – write them down so you can look at them objectively. Make small goals and write them down. Write down 5 things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
● Various associations like National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation (IAEDP), Academy for Eating Disorders etc. help in getting out of eating disorders. I personally took online help from NEDA.
In the end, I can only say that getting out from eating disorders is possible. All you have to do is love yourself just as you are.