Talking about eating disorders: Part I

In the 2000 movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks’ character becomes stranded on an island after he is the sole survivor of a plane crash.

Hanks’ character was without food, shelter and medical relief. Still, the greatest challenge he faced was dealing with utter solitude.

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Hanks strove for personal connections. With none to be found, he turned to a volleyball named “Wilson” for some degree of solace.

Although this case is extreme, it represents a common, worldwide characteristic of humans: We cling to the support of loved ones even when all else seems to slip away.

I’ve never been on a deserted island. Even still, I can relate to Hanks’ loneliness.

Not so coincidentally, my eating disorder hit its peak at the same time I felt isolated.

Last year, I moved into an off-campus apartment. I was glad to be out of the dorms, but I hadn’t realized my dependence on the built-in social scene of my residence hall.

I had roommates in my new apartment, but we each had our own interests and activities.

Suddenly, I was left to fend for myself in the intimidating world of a large college campus.

I felt as though I was starting all over again. I kept up with a few friends from freshman year, but most of them still lived on campus and had more opportunity to get together.

Instead of meeting for dinner in the dining hall each night, I prepared and ate dinner by myself. Instead of going to the recreation center with friends for a fun game of racquetball, I obsessively used the treadmill in my apartment’s gym. Instead of recapping the day with friends, I looked up new recipes and health information.

There was no one to blame for my actions but myself. Even as the walls moved in around me, the only way I felt I found relief was by restricting. That I could control.

To some extent, my eating disorder began as a subconscious cry for help. Some part of me reasoned that if I were helpless to control my own actions, then someone else would have to help me…

Obviously, my behaviors were really good for no one and good for nothing.

I believed that my eating habits were personal decisions. This wasn’t true.

I controlled what I put in my mouth, but my overall diet affected my friends and family. My parents were worried. My sister was confused. My friends were scared on how to approach me.

I was suffering. They were suffering. But, the voice of the eating disorder said, “At least they are paying attention to you.”

I didn’t know how to explain my actions. What began as an attempt to gain control on my life devolved into a painful, consuming battle for my health.

Like Hanks, I needed help.

Fortunately, I was given the guidance of professionals. They helped me talk with my family about the mental battle I was waging. They also helped my family support my recovery.

The professionals I talked with also helped me recognize that my eating disorder was more about feelings of loneliness than about food.

In hindsight, I see my isolation was self-imposed. I was stressed to be alone in making social connections. So, instead of trying to reach out to new friends, I simply retreated from interaction.

My eating disorder became my only confidant… but it certainly wasn’t a healthy relationship.

I probably did get more attention because of my eating disorder, but it was an unnecessary, painful and anxious kind of attention.

I have grown as a result of my experience. I am now more in touch with my emotions and more communicative with my friends and family.

Even still, I didn’t come to these terms over night. Recovery involved a lot of reflection, discussion and open-mindedness—not only from me, but also from my friends and family.

Getting the conversation going was the one of the most difficult parts of overcoming my eating disorder.

In my next two posts, I will offer advice, based on my experiences, about what is the best way for people with an ED to talk with loved ones. I will also talk about the best way for loved ones to talk with someone they suspect or know has an ED.

Note: I am not a professional and cannot offer any medical advice. My words are only influenced by my own experiences with overcoming an eating disorder.

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2 responses to “Talking about eating disorders: Part I

  • Katelyn

    I love you Emily! I’ve been so proud to see how far you’ve come in the last 6 months!

  • Natalie

    Reading this is like deja-vu! By the way, I’m Natalie (Hi, Emily). This is actually my first time reading your blog (SkinnyRunner sent me!) Your story sounds almost identical to a time period in my life (one that is not completely finished). Everything from the year living in the dorm with new friends and a tight social circle, to living in an apartment and obsessing over exercise and healthful eating, and the concern and struggle of friends and family. Seriously, I cannot believe how strikingly similar our stories are. All I wanted was to lose a few pounds and tone up my thighs! Then it turned into too few calories and too many minutes working out. I am at a point now (older and wiser, more open, new relationships) where I am realistic and aware of poor health habits. I have finally found my happy place. It sounds like you have too and it is great that you are informing people of the complexities of this disorder. Sometimes I wish my family better understood my transition to a healthy lifestyle. It would be great to talk with you more!!

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