This week, February 25th-March 3rd, is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. In an effort to shed light on this struggle that many men, women, and children face, we are sharing this story in hopes to expand the conversation, raise awareness, and provide resources for those struggling with an eating disorder or interested in seeking treatment.
Six years ago, I sat in my new OB’s office, frustrated and discouraged. My husband and I wanted to have a baby, but instead were labeled “infertile.” We’d been to several different doctors and were still without an explanation for my infertility.
I expected another inclonclusive visit. And then my OB said, slowly, “Maybe you should try gaining five pounds.
I broke down, tears flowing.
Most OB’s would have handed me a Kleenex and sent me on my way. But by the grace of God, this OB’s wife was a therapist who specialized in the treatment of people with eating disorders, and was even an eating disorder survivor herself.
My OB knew an eating disorder when he saw one. He quickly referred me to his wife’s practice.
I had struggled with Bulimia for 6 years, but this is where my recovery began.
A few months into treatment, I began to realize I was most likely to binge/purge when I was ignoring a need. I’d turn to food after a long day, when what I really needed was sleep, or after a stressful moment at work, when what I really needed was a break, or after a disagreement with someone, when what I really needed was connection.
In time, I learned to listen to my needs and address them. I began sketching in the evenings to de-stress and keep my hands occupied. If work got too overwhelming, I started going out to my car to call my husband, who was always ready to listen. I learned it was okay to say “no” more often, and I built more downtime into my schedule.
At the time, I felt alone in my struggle. I now know that I wasn’t. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the U.S. up to 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Between 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetic factors.
With treatment, 60-80% of people with an eating disorder make a full recovery or significantly improve, but only one in ten people will seek and receive treatment. Up to 40% of people with eating disorders relapse, usually within the first year after being discharged.
A year into my recovery, we found ourselves expecting a baby girl. She was born the day after Christmas – a healthy baby, who had big brown eyes like her Daddy. Those brown eyes were my motivation to persevere in my recovery journey.
The process took about four years total. After an out-of-state move, I worked with a new therapist to find the root of my uneasiness with sorrow and pain.
I found it in revisiting a memory from age seven. My sister Kathryn had passed away at five months in-utero, and I still had many live emotions and false beliefs from that time. Everyone around me was hurting then, and I decided my feelings would only make them hurt worse. I believed it was safer not to feel and that I was a burden to those around me for having needs and feelings. Working through this memory facilitated my full recovery.
Since then, we’ve had a second daughter—a sweet baby girl with blue eyes like mine. My two daughters are the reason I’ve fully recovered. They’re the reason I can talk openly about my experience, and do, to raise awareness. The reason I can look back now and see the eating disorder without shame and regret, but instead with purpose, and with gratitude for what it’s taught me.
These are a few things I’ve learned from this journey—I share these lessons in hopes of inspiring and encouraging someone who needs to hear them. My life, I pray, transmits these lessons in some way daily, even though I certainly don’t live them out perfectly.
Above all, these are lessons that I plan to teach my daughters.
1. Feel the moment deeply, and trust that all will be okay.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” —St. Julian of Norwich
We are in God’s hands. Always. Life is naturally filled with ups and downs, and God uses them all for our good. I’ve learned to feel deeply whatever emotions come my way — not to suppress or ignore them. To stop what I’m doing, dig in my heels, take a deep breath, and feel.
I know the more difficult emotions won’t last forever, and I remember “this too shall pass.” I now trust that I can stay grounded through anything that comes my way with a sense of confidence that all will be well, because God loves me and makes all things well.
2. Your self-talk is powerful.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely … think about such things.” —Philippians 4:8
How we talk to ourselves matters. Our brains eavesdrop on our self-talk, and our brain chemistry changes accordingly. Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) can pop up in anyone’s mind, robbing us of needed neurotransmitters. I’ve learned these thoughts must be identified and then quickly exterminated with truth statements.
In Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, Healing the Hardware of the Soul, he outlines nine different ANT species in detail. These thoughts are lies and they influence our behavior by activating different parts of our brain. One ANT example is “always thinking.” I’ve realized that my self-talk isn’t true if I’m thinking in absolutes — by using words like “always” or “never” (e.g., “You never listen to me.” Or “I never get a break.”).
I’ve learned to catch these thoughts and replace them with truth statements (e.g., “I will get a break when my husband is home from work.”). Truthful self-talk is vital for a balanced brain and for happiness.
3. Practice mercy, not judgement.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” —Plato
I’ve learned that people can look very put together on the outside (or on social media) and really be struggling on the inside. When the Holy Spirit prompts me to share my story as an eating disorder survivor with someone, I’ve found it’s usually because that person is in need of prayer.
So often if I open up first, before I know it, the person I’m talking to will be sharing a personal struggle with me.
I’ve found that intercessory prayer is one of my God-given gifts, and I know the Lord uses my story to take conversations to a deeper level and encourage prayer requests. I’ve also learned to make frequent excuses for people’s behavior that might bother me (e.g., My neighbor was short with me. She must be tired).
I don’t take things personally very often now because I realize most people have more going on in their lives than what the surface shows.
4. Frequently remind yourself that you are remarkable.
“The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.” —St. John Paul II
God made us with the highest dignity possible: our bodies reflect God’s deep love for us. We women really are God’s masterpiece. In the process of creation, He made woman last: the final and most beautiful of all creation. Only women have the ability to grow another human life, which is truly remarkable!
These aren’t messages our culture communicates. I’ve learned we must spend time getting to know Him and ourselves through prayer to recognize the truth about ourselves. In conversation with Him, we find our dignity and value as His beautiful daughters.
5. Go to Jesus through Mary.
“There is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us…that cannot be solved by the Rosary.” —Sister Lucia
Being a Catholic, my recovery was tremendously impacted by my faith, and certain prayers played a huge role. I prayed the Memorare and the Rosary when I wanted help out of the eating disorder but didn’t know where to find it.
The following lines from the Memorare are so true: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary that, never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.” —Never was it known. Not sometimes. Not usually. Never. Never is there a time that Mary will refuse to bring our requests to her son Jesus if we go to her.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who might be, know that there is hope. No matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. There is always hope.
And if I ever forget this myself, one glance into my daughter’s big brown eyes is my perfect reminder.
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Resources for parents, for further reading:
- Body Affirming Children Books That Teach Kids to Trust & Celebrate Their Bodies
- Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feeling by Dina Zeckhausen
- Children’s Nutrition: Raising Intuitive Eaters
- The Division of Responsibility in Feeding
For more information on National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, please visit: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness.