What it’s like to have an eating disorder

By Evelyn

I’ve always struggled to explain what it’s like to have an eating disorder.  Words never seem to do justice to the torment and havoc eating disorders wreak in a person’s mind and belief-system.

Years ago, in the midst of a 10-year battle with an eating disorder, I wrote this as an attempt to explain my twisted, inner reality. It’s my hope, sharing it now, that it will help friends and family, of those suffering from eating disorders, better understand the inner turmoil.

It’s a blessing to be able to say that this isn’t my reality anymore

To any of you still struggling, please know there is hope. It’s not a quick fix and it may be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to overcome, but you CAN do it. Your life depends on it and you deserve to be free.

My eating disorder is a consuming force that takes hold of every facet of my being – my identity, my thoughts, my beliefs, and my perception. The fixation and twisted beliefs have more of a hold on me than anything ever has in my entire life.

It’s a desperate longing and need to be thin that is truly beyond description or words, but it’s not about wanting to look beautiful. It’s an ache deep in my heart that grabs hold of me and won’t let go. I am truly convinced that I will never be free until I am thin enough.

It feels like the eating disorder (and everything that comes with it) is just part of who I am, down to my very core. It’s enslaved me and it’s a voice constantly whispering in my ear- telling me to do better, that I’m a failure, that I’m toxic and worthless and fat.

There is consequence to every piece of food I put in my mouth and every food-related decision I make. If I don’t throw up what I eat, I feel self-loathing, regret, shame, and self-hatred.  If I do throw up, I’ll still be paranoid about calories I didn’t get out in time. It’s like food is a constant and terrifying threat to destroy me.

I am in this so deep; I can’t differentiate between truth and lies. My clarity and rationality is obscured and blocked by the voice of my eating disorder. People tell me that voice is lying to me, but they don’t understand how deeply those lies feel like truths and how intertwined they are within every fiber of my being.

It’s exhausting to think of trying to separate myself from it, and I’m too tired to try.  The energy it takes to always be criticizing and examining my body every time I see my reflection, obsessing over food and my weight, being late to work/school/activities because I can’t find an outfit I feel okay in, debating when or if I should eat, if I should throw it up or not…it’s exhausting.

It leaves little energy for anything else

When I’m really struggling, it’s amazing how incredibly small my world suddenly gets. Everything suddenly revolves around food and weight and body image.

I wish people could understand how it feels to look in the mirror every day and feel so enormous that you don’t deserve to live. There’s immense shame and self-hatred burning deep and fiercely within me. I need people to understand this isn’t just a self-conscious phase, a fad, or dramatized suffering to get attention. It isn’t just wanting to be thin for our society’s ideal of what is beautiful.

These thoughts and obsessions come like fire and they latch on and destroy. The voice of my eating disorder tells me I need to get to [x] amount of pounds, then lower and lower. It tells me I have to do whatever it takes to get there…that I literally don’t deserve to live at the weight I’m at now.

Every single day I’m not losing weight is a day I hate myself and beat myself up. Deep down, there’s a burning assurance and deep conviction that if I change my body, I’ll change my life.

It’s not about having the perfect body, though

It’s not about looking like a model or being attractive to guys. For me, it’s a need to feel clean and empty.  It’s a need to feel like there is nothing in me, or on me, that’s harmful or dirty or gross. It’s about being thin in a way that will reassure others that I am clean and non-toxic.

Yes, it is largely about weight and the number on the scale, but it’s more about the control and the restraint. It’s not some game or weight-loss challenge I’m simply choosing to engage in. 

At their root, eating disorders are a desperate need for, and form of control. No matter how out of control everything feels, food is something I CAN control. Weight is something I can control.  

That’s how it always starts, at least – with me having control. Then, the eating disorder takes on a life of its own and the tables turn, as it strips you of all control you thought you had. And now, it controls me.  All I’m left with is this constant, relentless, and desperate need to get rid of all the fat on me, convinced my happiness and peace is buried somewhere underneath it.

It’s as if my fat is a heavy coat and I know that, once I take that coat off, I’ll be me again and everything will be okay. I’ll be able to breathe again. I’ll be happy. I’ll be free.

When I look back on my life, my eating disorder has been a dark and twisted sort of comfort. It has been the only constant thing I could rely on and the only thing stable and unchanging, regardless of the external stressors, traumatic experiences, tragic losses, and geographical relocations I have been through. My eating disorder was my only certainty – the only thing that was loyal to me throughout every dark and painful experience of my life.

I’ve grown comfortable with it and can rely on it, because it’s never left me. And while it torments me day in and day out, a part of me also clings to it. I’m terrified to let it go. I’m terrified to lose it – to lose the control and comfort it deceptively gives me. I need people to understand that ‘recovery’ is not black and white.

Every ‘victory’ can also feel like a defeat

Every victory of not purging, or of eating when I don’t want to, can also feel discouraging and defeating and sad. It feels like a significant loss. It feels like grief.

My spirit is tired of fighting – of wanting to have freedom but not feeling like I can do what it takes to get there. My eating disorder feels so deeply intertwined in the core of who I am and how I think, that I don’t know where it ends and I begin. It’s difficult to believe that freedom from this is even possible, even though I know it is.

I don’t know how to even begin separating myself from its lies, but I do know that I want to be free from it. I wouldn’t wish this hell on anyone.

2 thoughts on “What it’s like to have an eating disorder”

  1. Evelyn,
    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your battle with a terrible disorder. You describe what it is and isn’t very well. So happy to hear you are no longer suffering. Great example for others to keep fighting and never give up!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Suzie! I hope these words will help people feel understood, but also to know there are people who do recover!

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