eating disorders

Eating disorders exist because they feed your brain with enormous amounts of false beliefs, contradictions and flat-out lies. I have uncovered a few of those.

“You are fat.”

No matter how skinny you are, no matter the size of jeans you wear, your eating disorder will always tell you how fat you are. It doesn’t matter if you can see all your ribs and bones, if the veins on your arms stick out, if your cheeks are hollow, you are fat.

It doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, your eating disorder hardly ever makes sense.

So, NO, you are not fat.

Maybe you cannot see it yet, but listen to your loved ones, the doctors or friends who tell you that you are underweight. They don’t want to harm you, but they want to help you.

And if you are a bit further down on the acceptance path, you know deep inside that you are not fat, but that the opposite is the case. Try to filter these thoughts and compare them with what is real.

“You are worthless.”

Everything that is going wrong in your life has to do with the fact that you are simply worthless. Something about you is not right and this will never change. Only your eating disorder can rescue you from this place of inferiority.

First of all, you are not worthless. Nobody is worthless. We are all born the same and we are all worthy of love, affection, health, fulfillment, joy, happiness and so much more.

 “You are ugly.”

Your face will always be too round, your butt is not formed the way you want it, your nose is too big, your hair not thick enough, you ears too small and even your toes too long.

NO you are NOT. You are beautiful, you are unique, you are exactly the way you are supposed to be. Your eating disorder will always come up with new body parts to hate.

However, if you focus on those parts that you like (or used to like), you will begin to think positive again and you will be able to accept and embrace your body entirely.

“You are nothing but your eating disorder.”

Now, that you are in a relationship with your eating disorder, you finally found something that defines you and gives you a reason to wake up every morning and live your life.

This could not be further from the truth. I would even go so far as to say: You are everything but your eating disorder.

You are wonderful because you are you. You have so many gifts, so many talents and by letting go off your eating disorder, you will be able to engage in them.

“You cannot live without me.”

I occupy your mind 24/7, I give you commands you have to follow, I am the power behind every action you take, you would never be able to function without me.

At first it might seem that way. And I certainly was lost at the beginning of my recovery, but the more I let go off my eating disorder the more I was able to find myself and I discovered hundreds of things I didn’t know before.

The same is true for you, you can live without this vicious illness, you will live a life that is beyond anything you could have dreamt of. You will be free.

“You don’t deserve to be like everybody else.”

You don’t deserve to be happy, you don’t deserve to have lunch with your friends, you don’t deserve to eat a slice of Nutella bread just because you want to, you don’t deserve to eat dinner with your family like everybody else.

Yes, you do. You deserve to live a happy and fulfilled life, enjoying each and every moment. You deserve to eat like your friends and family.

You deserve to enjoy a slice of pizza or ice-cream or even just an apple. You deserve to be part of this world.

 “You show great strength and power by refusing to nourish your body.”

Let’s be honest, who else has such unbreakable willpower? Who else can withhold so many important nutrients to their bodies?

Who else can work out ridiculous amounts of hours without eating? Who else is smart enough to purge after binging? Who else can live like that?

Unfortunately, way too many people can and do. But we can change that. It is not a sign of your strength to engage in these activities that damage your body, it is a sign of your eating disorder’s power over you.

Would you really consciously try to ruin your health, even risking death, if it weren’t for that other person occupying your mind? I don’t think you would.

I think you would treat your body like a temple and give it what it needs on a daily basis to be able to have energy, bear children, grow old or simply have fun.

“You are unworthy of love.”

And who would love you anyway?

This is so wrong, but I believed this lie the most.

Why? We have already said that every person is worthy and so are you. You too, are lovable, compassionate, have a lot to give and are allowed to receive bundles of love.

“You can only hide your flaws by holding on to your eating disorder.”

We have already defined that you are unworthy, so it only makes sense that you need your eating disorder to hide your many flaws.

Every person has flaws. Nobody is perfect and, quite frankly, who wants to be? Flaws and imperfections make you special, they make you unique and interesting. Flaws shape your character. You don’t need to hide them, you need to embrace them.

Otherwise, life would be quite boring, don’t you think?

“Others judge you only by your weight.”

When a person sees you for the very first time, they look at your figure, assume how much you must weigh and then define your worth as a person.

They don’t care about your wittiness, your smile, your character, your brilliance, your sympathy, your emotions, your empathy or your humor. People are super superficial, after all.

I think I said enough.

“If you give in now and eat, you will forever lose control.”

If you give in today and eat at least a tiny bit of something, you will lose control and then you won’t ever be able to stop eating, right?

No, surprisingly not. The more regular you eat, the more nutrients you give your body, the more control you will gain over your eating disorder and over your health and life.

Don’t believe everything your eating disorder tells you. In fact, don’t believe anything it tells you.

Which lies does your eating disorder tell you?

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There are many signs and symptoms that indicate an eating disorder. One of my earliest symptoms (next to dry skin and loss of hair) after developing anorexia was the loss of my menstrual cycle. After a year without it coming back, my mom took me to my first gynecologist’s visit. The usual questions about my being so skinny were, naturally, answered with a by then well-rehearsed excuse. My doctor may have had suspicions, but she didn’t raise any further questions. So, I was given the pill, my cycle returned and everybody was happy.

Well, not really. My eating disorder got worse and after hearing rumors of the pill being related to weight gain, I stopped taking it. (Ridiculous, but I was sick.) Months after months went by and nothing happened. No cycle again.
However, at this point I was so weary of life and so caught in my illness that I did not care anymore. So what? It will come back eventually and if it doesn’t, I will move on. What difference would it make, really.
I have come to learn and accept the contradictions of an eating disordered mind. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that despite being so careless, I was constantly dreaming of a life with 4 children. I always knew that it was going to be the number of 4. 2 was always too conventional for me and 3 was never going to happen because I was a middle child and was utterly unhappy in this sandwich position. So, yes 4 was the perfect number for me.

The more energy my eating disorder stole from me, the more active my phantasies about my future family would get. I envisioned it all. I was happy in that future. I was healthy and I was a great mom. There would be no family drama, nothing like the war I grew up in. There would be no brother terrorizing his siblings. This was never going to happen to my future family. Yes, we would have our ups and downs, but in the end, there would always be love. A fairy-tale, if you will.

Fastforward a decade

Still suffering from anorexia, even more so now, I met my husband and this only strengthened feelings.
After Andreas and I got married, all we could think about was having children and starting a family. Now I know how ludicrous this wish was because of the mental and physical state I was in. A pregnancy would have been joyless, a burden even. I don’t think I would have been able to stop obsessing over all the weight I would have had to gain and how quickly it would have come off after the baby was born. A pregnancy during those critical years of starvation would have depleted my system because the baby would have taken vital nourishment from me.

Additionally, a pregnancy would have been extremely dangerous for the child. Delayed fetal-growth, low birth-weight, birth defects, fetal abnormality such as a cleft palate or cleft lip, jaundice, respiratory distress of the baby immediately after birth, higher death possibility to the baby in the last trimester of pregnancy or within 1 month after birth, and low Apgar scores are just a few of the risks of such a pregnancy. Scary, right?

Well, the list goes on and includes miscarriage, Gestational Diabetes, Preeclampsia (toxemia), low amniotic fluid, placental separation, complications during labor (such as a breech birth), incompetent cervix and/or spontaneous abortion, and increased risk to the mother of damage to the kidneys and heart.1
Needless to say, the chances of carrying the baby to term would have been slim at best.

Another point to consider would have been my ability to properly take care of another human being. The answer, I believe, is obvious. Just think of the role model I would have been. And with my energy level being somewhere close to zero, I would have never been able to demand the baby’s needs.

But I longed for a baby.

The desire to fill this whole inside of myself, that not even my husband could diminish, was overwhelmingly strong. However, trying to fill a whole so vast with a baby is dangerous. I realize that now. I was selfish in my wish and my motives were utterly out of whack.

Now I know that this whole was my eating disorder and as I am recovering, it gets smaller and smaller. The inner emptiness that accompanied me for so many years is subsiding. No child could have ever done this job nor would it have been his or her responsibility. I needed a baby, not realizing that it is and should be the other way around. I needed to be needed, I needed to be part of something bigger than myself and I needed a reason to live.

Now I know that it is wrong to start a family having these thoughts in mind.
Now I know that it is a good thing that the miracle I was praying for during those years, never happened.
Now I know that the consequences would have been disastrous.

Yet, as I continue to walk this path of recovery and self-exploration, I am doing a lot of soul-searching and the wish for children is still there. Not right away though. There is still too much to discover about my new life. Too much to learn. Too much opportunities to take before accepting this huge responsibility. Too much healing to do. Too much strength and stability to gain.

I always thought that after starting to eat properly again and giving my body everything it needs, my cycle would start up again. But I was wrong. So very wrong.

Here I am, a year into recovery and nothing has happened.

And I am starting to really, really worry about that fact. Thoughts of a life without my own children creep into my head. A life without the thrill of looking at a pregnancy test and it confirming that a life is growing inside of me. A life without ever looking into my husband’s eyes telling him that he will be a father (again). A life without ever hearing that first scream of a baby I carried for so many months. A life without ever seeing my children’s smiles. A life without every reading bedtime stories to my babies and tucking them in. A life so completely opposite to everything that I have always envisioned.
I may never feel the unconditional love that everybody describes as being part of motherhood. I may never be at the receiving end of one of those baby hugs that just warm your heart. I may never pick up my baby from kindergarten and hear her or him exclaim gleefully: “My mommy!”, as if to claim ownership.

With every passing month of nothingness, this fear becomes more real.

And all I can do is wait and see.

I am putting it out of my mind most of the time though, but there are certain instances when agony peers around the corner.

Every time I hear that another couple of our friends is expecting a child, I feel this thud deep inside. As much as I share their joy, there is always this doubt circling around in my head. Will I ever get to share such a joyful announcement?
Every time we talk to my husband’s daughter, feelings of loss arise. I love this little girl to pieces and I am beyond blessed to be allowed to be part of her life. Yet, I don’t want her to grow up without siblings. I want her to hold her little baby brother right after birth. I want her to play house with her sister. I want to give her the opportunities that a life with siblings provides.

Research suggests that the longer you have suffered from an eating disorder, the less likely it is to regain your menstruation. However, for roughly 80% of anorexic women menstruation will start up again after starting to eat sufficiently again and reaching a healthy weight.2
More very interesting and super frightening facts:
A recent study in Denmark suggests that even eight years after successful ED treatment, the chances of having a high-risk pregnancy are the same as those for women who receive treatment immediately before they conceive.3 It appears that a history of disordered eating may predict reproductive trouble even years after treatment and progress in recovery. In the U.S., about 20 percent of women patients who ask for help at fertility clinics have had an  eating disorder. 3

It is a bitter pill to swallow. But hope always wins. At least for me.

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