Eating Disorder Recovery Essay

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Watch and read about outstanding women and men who exemplify substance, character and are shining examples of using their unique gifts and talents to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to a better world. All have battled eating disorders and are doing well in their recovery.

Want to share your story of Inspiration and Hope? Email your story in 700 words or less (word doc format) and also a picture of yourself (jpeg or gif) to: [email protected] We will review your story and be in touch with you shortly thereafter!

Dr. Jennifer Ashton interviews Liana Rosenman of Project HEAL and discusses the organization’s mission and Liana’s personal story. As posted by CBS.


Check out this inspiring recovery story by Author of Overthrow, ED Advocate & Celebrate Recovery Champion: Jennene Eklund!
Overthrow book featured on Eating Disorder Hope Books Page and Jennene’s blog!

Eating Disorder Stories of Hope


Jenna

People often ask me why I left sunny San Diego, my home of eighteen years, to move to Fresno for college. I usually tell them that I got a scholarship, which is true.

But there’s more to my anorexia eating disorder recovery story. Truthfully, I wanted to get as far away as possible from all the places and people that reminded me of anorexia and everything it had taken away from me. Read more…


John

Hi, My name is John. I used to struggle with bulimia and anorexia, but not anymore. Today, I’m doing so much better. Here is my story.

I am so grateful to no longer struggle with bulimia or anorexia. I rely on the support of my family and friends. They are available to me when I need someone to talk to. This really helps me.  Read more…


Charlotte Sandy

At age 13, I decided I wanted to eat less at parties, which turned into a diet, and that spiraled quickly and dangerously into anorexia. For much of the next decade, I shunned my anorexia diagnosis and the idea of “recovery.”

Due to undiagnosed OCD and an invalidating environment, I had spent my entire life feeling shame for who I was and how I acted. My new eating disorder label felt like a scarlet A. It felt like a visible, shameful sign of my inadequacy. Despite accessibility to treatment during the years that followed, I did not find lasting recovery.   Read more…


Katie

I was in 4th grade, and I didn’t have anyone to sit next to on the bus. It was a long ride to Nebraska City when I had no one to sit next to on the bus. It was a long ride when the whispers of classmates floated back to my insecure ears.

What is wrong with me, I asked myself, that no one wants to sit by me? What is wrong with me that they whisper like so? Read more…


Jill

It took a decade but at the age of 22, I can say that I am truly recovering from anorexia. 10 years of missed memories and opportunities and leaving my family distraught and frustrated.

10 years that left me completely miserable but also with insight into life and who I am as a person that some people do not get to experience in a lifetime. Anorexia is a truly awful disorder that I would not wish upon anyone, yet I thank it because it led me to my mat. Read more…


Robyn Baker

When people used to ask me about my eating disorder recovery, I would tell them it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I would share with them all the challenges, setbacks and hardships I faced as I struggled to find a way back to my original “normal,” which is what I used to believe recovery was all about. Read more…


Juliet

After months in the hospital, months of recovering at home, months in a Day Program which changed my life and years of therapy, I am alive. This is my greatest achievement, because so many times, I could have given up, or my body could have given up for me.

I’m glad that all the times I just wanted to leave, I hung on. Because the life that you earn through recovery is a million times better than anything you could have expected, or dreamt of, or imagined for yourself. Read more…


Susan

Recovery…such a complex word that can look very different for each of us recovering from eating disorders, yet is the hope for all of us suffering from eating disorders. However, hope, and thus, recovery, can be hard to find.

For me, my recovery from anorexia would not have looked as hopeful if it wasn’t for one word…, faith. My faith became my cornerstone that I built my recovery on, and what pulled me from the pit into the light. Read more…


Deb

My eating issues started back when I was ten. I always had trouble with bullying, since I was in primary school, and the worst was at age ten. I never considered myself a happy teenager. However, I am much happier now compared to my life with an eating disorder.

There was one incident at school that led me to be suspended for three months. I was depressed and suicidal, I decided that by losing weight people would like me and accept me. Read more…


Sarah

As I begin writing this, it is something that I have kept within me for many years, and I finally feel ready to share my story. If my story can help one other person struggling with the same feelings I felt my story was worth sharing.

As social media begins to become an impact in our society, girls and women with “selfies” are on every Instagram post or Facebook feed that we scroll through each day.  I feel stronger than ever to share my story with the world. Read more…


Jessica Walker

I read somewhere that you can survive without food for three weeks.

That’s almost a lie. I know from experience that you can survive for months on nothing but iceberg lettuce, low-fat yogurts, and endless reruns of The Food Network.

But that’s all you’ll be doing: surviving. The existence you’ll be reduced to will be marked by routine and obsession. By scars and self-hatred. Read more…


Candace

The first 18 years of my life I worked to maintain a daily facade, afraid to let anyone see my fragile self. Indeed, it was not until the summer of 2013 that I began to understand I am not broken or defected—I am a warrior, and I am worth it.

The initial foundation of shame, pain, and self-loathing upon which I constructed my sense of self is the product of my childhood, leading to my development of anorexia nervosa at a very young age.

Read more…


Kimberly

My name is Kimberly and I am a survivor. I am no longer a victim of ED and refuse to let him back into my life. My life has been controlled by my eating disorder (ED) for the past twenty years. It wasn’t until just recently that I started living again. I feel like my life has said: “Welcome Back Kimberly!”

I have put in many years of hard work in individual therapy, group therapy, working with a nutritionist and even inpatient therapy. Read More.


Jacquelyn Ekern, EDH Founder

Our brains are not fully developed until about age 25, so imagine the potential for error as I sorted through these painful experiences and tried to make sense of it all. I had not had any counseling at this point, and conventional wisdom at the time was you just “suck it up, get through it, and make the best of it”.

So, this is what I did while also drawing some fundamentally erroneous conclusions about myself and life. Read More.


Kirsten Haglund

Speaking out about anything you’ve struggled with is not easy. There’s the risk of judgment, the fear you’ll be misunderstood, or that people just won’t care. Being vulnerable is hard, but often, openness, honesty, and self-disclosure can lead to strength and empowerment – not only your own but others’ as well.

That is the lesson I learned from sharing my story of recovery from an eating disorder. Read More.


Sparklle Rainne

Recovering from an eating disorder is no easy task. No matter how hard and no matter how long your battle, however, it is worth it.

My name is Sparklle Rainne and I am a singer/songwriter living in Los Angeles, California. I have suffered from an eating disorder for twelve years. Read More.


Kat Watson

Waking up isn’t an obstacle for me to face every morning- it’s sleeping that’s my problem. As if my nights count as sleeping. Tossing, turning, shivering, and slipping in and out of dreams. Not even five blankets and a heating pad can warm my body into a comfortable state.

I slip into my old gymnastics sweatshirt and jeans my mom bought me last month. The waistband is at least two inches too large. Read More.


Dr. Kim Dennis

I started my college career in 1992. As a freshman at the University of Chicago, I was full of fear. I felt like a fraud like I did not deserve to be there because of where I came from.

My peers came from families where their mothers and fathers went to college and were professors, business people, lawyers, and doctors. My mom finished high school. My dad did not, he was a welder, an alcoholic and died when I was 11. None of my five siblings completed college. Read More.


Laura W.

Hope once seemed bleak and distant- a word so impossible that the name wounded my soul. Hope seemed like something so out of reach. Hope was the light at the end of the tunnel, but I felt trapped in the darkness with no way out.

Hope became masked in years of every variation of the eating disorder realm: starving, bingeing, purging, swallowing laxatives and diet pills in hopes that the pain would go away. My hope was focused on and about me. My hope was in myself, and I was drowning. Read More.


Callie C.

My name is Callie C. and my eating disorder started when I was 12. I grew up in Orange County, feeling constantly surrounded by beautiful, thin women on the beach. My mother was always on a diet and she instilled in me from an early age that fat was the enemy and not something that you should show off.

She was always trying to hide what she called fat, even though I thought she looked great. She refused to take me to the beach on days where she felt bloated due to her embarrassment and shame. Read More.


Meg Z

I was just a normal college student filled with the stress of tests, homework, relationships, and expectations. I was away from home living in the unknown trying to find myself. Sports management major, I was very dedicated to my field of work.

Healthy, persistent, and always ready for a workout. Better do them all so I can teach others to love their body and treat it right.

Life gets in the way of itself and sets you on the path you need to follow to become the person you truly are. Read More.


Kira Olson

Will I ever get better? Who am I without the eating disorder? How did you get to where you are today?

These and similar questions are commonly asked by those I mentor, clients I work with, and friends struggling with eating disorders and body image concerns. The beauty of recovery is that everyone’s journey is their own.

What worked for me might not work for you. But I do know that recovery is possible: in fact, I believe that full restoration and healing is possible. I also believe that we are all in a lifelong process of recovery from something – from compulsions, distorted thinking, emotional dysfunction, addiction, pride, selfishness, codependency. Read More.


Jennifer Gonzalez

My name is Jennifer Gonzalez and I am a recovering compulsive, emotional, and binge eater. I am a work in progress and these days, I am happy to just be that. I have learned that the best thing I can do is to just BE. I have been dealing with my eating disorder since the age of ten.

More recently, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) three years ago and my diagnosis has a played a new role in my eating disorder. A desire to get a handle on my eating disorder led me to explore an online program called The Be Program, designed to guide and assist women with eating disorders. Read More.


Lizabeth Wesley-Casella

There are a wide variety of experiences that you hear about when people describe their life with an eating disorder (ED). For some, they describe the shame, for others they describe the sense of losing control and yet others describe befriending the isolation that comes along with the secrecy of having an ED.

Another difference you’ll hear is whether a person says they are in recovery or recovered. There is a lot of conflict surrounding the use of these words and yet there are so many reasons why one would choose either of them. Read More.


Dani Volk

Those of us in the behavioral health field specializing in the treatment of eating disorders are very aware that eating disorders are lethal. We know that engaging in the behaviors of restricting; binging and or purging along with other compensatory behaviors wreak havoc on one’s body.

The emotional anguish that accompanies these pervasive disorders I believe is the worst part. How many of you reading this right now can relate to never being able to see yourself the way your friends and family see you? Read More.


Brian Cuban

It was a beautiful fall morning as an incoming freshman at Penn State University; that day, my thought process, health and chances of my very survival would take a turn for the worse. As I stared out the window of my dorm at other students beginning their journey into the future, I made eye contact with a pretty browned hair girl talking to friends in the parking lot facing my dorm window.  She smiled. So I thought. It was actually a smirk. She turned to her two friends and said in what seemed like a sonic boom from god, “UGLY! UGLY!”…Read More

Brian Cuban’s Recovery Story & Keynote Speech at the 3rd Annual Media And Mental Health Awards in Pittsburgh. As Posted By Brian Cuban


Crystal Karges

My life has not been anything extraordinary.  I have not done anything worthy of achievement in the eyes of the world.  I have, however, loved deeply, experienced grief and loss that has buried me in the depths of despair, and known hope that has transformed me from the brinks of death to life renewed.  I have experienced the unraveling of an eating disorder.  I have picked up the pieces…Read More


Kathleen MacDonald

When I was around 12 years old, however, something shifted in this enthusiasm. Rather than being encouraged that when a young woman goes through puberty, her body fat needs to increase by a dramatic percentage in order that she can begin menstruating, as a young girl entering puberty, I was encouraged not to get fat.  Up until that time, I had never thought anything negative about my body.  I loved my body because it was me –I was symbiotic with it and it with me; my body and I were one.  Up until that time, I never realized how much the grownups in my life liked my body, not because it was beautifully and uniquely made, not that it allowed me to be alive, not that it allowed me to play piano, swim, play tennis, thrive in school, go to church …Read More


Ashli Roussel

“Have you ever considered trying out for the cross-country team?” my physical education teacher asked me one day after gym class. As a junior-high student who wanted to be good at something but had tried and failed at every other sport, I gave his advice a shot. He saw potential in me, so I gave myself to become the best runner. By my sophomore year of high school, I became strong and successful as a cross-country and track-runner.  I enjoyed the attention that I received, so I continued to work toward being the fittest, the strongest, and the leanest. I exercised more and more and ate less and less. What I considered being healthy was actually triggering an eating disorder.

Read More…


Jack Harper 

Eating disorders.I did not know anyone who had one, and to me, they just seemed a little strange.I would wonder “Well if they do not like doing it, why do they not just stop?”.Little did I know.My name is Jack, and I suffered from Bulimia Nervosa for over 3 years.Today, I am happy to say, I am fully recovered, and I want to give hope and encouragement to other men out there that recovery really is possible.It goes without saying, living with an eating disorder is tough. Although being a man with an eating disorder, I believe adds an extra layer of shame and embarrassment on top. Society’s image of the typical male is someone who is strong, tough, is not prone to mood swings, does not cry, and I am pretty certain, does not stress over the fat content of a rice cake.

Read more…


Sharon McConville

When I was a child, I thought that thirty was extremely old.  When I was a teenager I thought that I would have life sorted by the time I was thirty.  When I was in my early twenties I didn’t believe that I would ever live to see thirty.  Now that I am thirty, I don’t feel extremely old, I don’t have life sorted, but I can say that I am incredibly happy and fortunate to be alive.In my thirty years, I have had all kinds of life experiences.  At thirteen, I spent a summer working in a vet’s office.  I mixed bright red worming powder into the liquid, I cleaned out the cattery, and I helped out in the doggy grooming parlor.  I knew then I was going to work with animals.  By fifteen, I was less sure.  I spent a summer working on the production line in a factory which made faucets.  By the end of that, I was certain I was going to get a college education.  At eighteen I worked in the newspaper shop at my local hospital and also in McDonald’s.

Read more…


Kim Kerr-Youngker

It was like a scene out of a medical television show. A smiling, happy, 32-year-old woman was driving her young daughter home on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. Suddenly sharp pains start to shoot in her chest and down her arm. She is so weak she has to lie on the steering wheel to hold herself up. Somehow she manages to pull off the road, stumble out of her car and proceeds to pass out on the side of the road. The scene that flashes is all about monitors beeping, doctors shouting and bright lights. The eating disorder she had worked so hard to hide for years had found a way to be the star of the show. It was now a matter of life or death. The eating disorder (ED) had got a taste of fame, attention and was now at a new level of control.Sadly that glimpse of medical drama is not a television show, it was my reality show. It was my life. It was time to change the channel, fire the director and cancel the program. It was time to get well or die.

Read more…


Carolyn Labrie

Eating disorders are hard work. They take discipline, energy, and willpower. Looking back, I don’t know how, at my lowest weight, I was able to find the energy to maintain the illness. You have a strong constitution, one doctor told me. I guess that’s what has kept me alive for the past 19 years because I did not think I’d live to see 30.I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 15. Spread out some pictures from various stages of my life, and you can see the illness evolve right before your eyes. I go from a chubby, happy baby to a smiling, outgoing child to a pale adolescent with a sadness in her eyes that has never left. There are very few pictures from the height of my anorexia.

Read more…


Denise Folcik


Denise Folcik is in recovery from bulimia, anorexia, and OCD. She has done many television, newspaper, blog and magazine interviews, as well as speaking at the Wisconsin state capitol advocating for health insurance changes. She also speaks at libraries, women’s groups, and colleges. She started her own publishing company, Metafly Books, LLC, and published her first book, In ED’s Path, her story of recovering from a midlife eating disorder. Today, Denise spends her days in a healthy balance of work, family, friends and me time. This is her story.My name is Denise. I am 50 years old. I have a supportive husband, four wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren. I had been struggling with anorexia and bulimia for nearly 20 years.

Read more…


Jenni Schaefer

Jenni Schaefer works internationally as a speaker and writer to educate about eating disorders and to provide hope that recovery is possible. After struggling for more than twenty years with food and body image issues, Jenni is fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia. Her life is now devoted to helping all individuals touched by the illness. Her groundbreaking book, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill), introduces a therapeutic technique that has changed the way people view eating disorders: In the introduction of Life Without Ed, Jenni writes:“I have never been married, but I am happily divorced. Ed and I lived together for more than twenty years. He was abusive, controlling and never hesitated to tell me what he thought, how I was doing it wrong, and what I should be doing instead… Ed is not a high school sweetheart. Ed is not some creep that I started dating in college… Ed’s name comes from the initials E.D.-as in eating disorder. Ed is my eating disorder. “

Read more…


Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt & Vicki Kroviak

Former college roommates Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt and Vicki Kroviak are the co-founders of Oliver-Pyatt Centers, comprehensive programs for the treatment of eating disorders. Wendy, a board-certified psychiatrist, founder of Center for Hope of the Sierras, and author of Fed Up! (McGraw-Hill) and Vicki, a television executive, both suffered from bulimia throughout their teen and young adult years.

How did you meet?

Vicki: We met in college. We were both volunteering at a student-run self-help center. Kind of ironic, when you figure that at the time that we were each completely consumed with our eating disorder. Yet, we were immediate soul-mates.

Wendy: Sometimes friends with food issues compete…You know, who can be the thinnest, the sickest, whatever. Fortunately, we were never like that. We tried to help each other get thin because we actually believed that thinness led to happiness. We really thought we were doing the right thing for ourselves and for each other.

Read more…


Laurie Glass


Laurie Glass has a Masters degree in Christian Counseling, runs Freedom from Eating Disorders at www.freedomfromed.com, and is the author of Journey to Freedom from Eating Disorders. Through her book and her website, she offers personal and practical advice to males and females, teens and adults, who have eating disorders. She also offers online Christian counseling services to adult women in eating disorder recovery. Reaching out to those with eating disorders is her heart work.Laurie is a recovered anorexic, so she understands how difficult the recovery process is. Here are some of the things she learned through her own journey.

Read more…


Nina Recovery

My Eating Disorder StoryI started my first diet almost a decade ago after seeing a popular singer lose a lot of weight by following the same diet. The good news was that the diet initially worked, the bad news was that I ended up with two problems; trying to maintain the weight loss as well as dealing with the mental obsession and hell that the diet brought me.I became obsessed with losing weight, eating close to nothing and isolating myself completely from the world. I did not want anyone to see what was happening and most importantly I didn’t want anyone to interfere with this new relationship that I had developed with the eating disorder.The years that followed saw me lose the ability to stay on the various strict diets and weight loss techniques that I was attempting.

Read more…


Alicia Nickelson


The Space Between: A Personal Essay of Anorexia

by Cynthia Cruz


The history of anorexia as a phenomenon is unclear, but the term “anorexia” seems to have become popularized in the Western lexicon sometime in the early nineteen eighties, as a result of Karen Carpenter’s death, caused her battle with the illness. There was relatively little information available to the public then. Hilde Bruch, a German-born psychoanalyst, had begun her research into eating disorders in 1937, after fleeing growing anti-Semitism in Europe for the United States, and published the results of her studies on anorexia, The Golden Cage, in 1978. Salvador Minuchin, a family therapist, published his book detailing the causes and possible treatments for the illness, Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context, in 1978 as well. Then the American psychoanalyst Steven Levenkron, who began his research into anorexia around 1970, published a popular novel about a young anorexic woman, The Best Little Girl in the World, in 1981.

For many years, these three books stood alone. There were essentially no other non-academic texts on the market. It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the term anorexia became a household word—albeit one linked, most commonly, to movie stars or teenage girls. These days when I visit the bookstore, I’m amazed at the overwhelming number of eating disorder–related self-help books and memoirs. At the same time, research-based texts seem to have become more difficult to find.

The more recent proliferation of tell-all books, which generally lack much insight into the illness itself, focus on the disorder’s harrowing symptoms. These titles tend to ignore arguments about the origin of anorexia, its treatment, and its subtleties—a strange set of blind spots for a book about a life-threatening illness.

What’s most unsettling, though, is the way these memoirs reinforce stereotypes about anorexia, or worse, propagate harmful myths about the disease. In her 2013 memoir of anorexia, for example, How to Disappear Completely, Kelsey Osgood writes: “Anorexia is contagious, I explain to those with whom I dialogue. It is a behavior that can be learned through stories. It doesn’t necessarily develop organically or rise from the unknowing adolescent like a hysterical religious fervor of the ‘fasting girls’ of yore.”

Osgood argues both that eating disorders are not quote-unquote real maladies and that she is, in fact, the real thing. She places the blame for eating disorders on those who share images of anorexic people in the public domain, including survivors who share their experiences in memoirs. “This is the major difference between memoirs of anorexia and bulimia and memoirs of other addictions,” she writes. “Rarely, if ever, will a heroin addict, sick or recovering, seek out the memoir of a drug addiction in order to learn how to become a better practicing addict.”

The book reads like a series of contradictory blog entries. Osgood spends much of her memoir enacting the clichés of anorexia. Foremost among them: that anorexics come only from white upper/middle class families, and that class pressures trigger or generate the disorder itself. She spends many pages describing her own privileged background:

Where I am from everything is pretty. Driveways lined with perfectly curved trees lead to houses that sit on cushy green lawns. The train station is just far enough away that the houses don’t rattle with each passing freight but close enough that we can hear their faint ramblings in the middle of our darkest nights. In the mornings, these trains carry our fathers, who wear well-tailored suits and read the morning paper, off to the city, returning them back home at night. Our mothers are thinner than our teenagers because they play tennis during the days. […] Even our dogs are handsome, fit and well- groomed with shiny, lustrous coats made for televisions screens.

It has been argued that eating disorders are not taken seriously by the American public because of the extent to which they have been trivialized in the media. The afflictions are treated as a side-effect of privilege, luxury, and vanity. We’re told only rich white girls and movie stars “get” anorexia; that anorexia and bulimia are just attempts at losing weight; that in the end, eating disorders are nothing but diets and diets are for people who are vain and have no real concerns (i.e. they are not poor, don’t have “real world problems”).

“The first thing is we need to stop touting the anorexic population as misunderstood,” writes Osgood. “Surely, as individuals they often are, but as far as the general myths go, we need to figure out precisely which ones to debunk. The most popular myth has always been the characterization of anorexics as white, upper middle-class and female.” Here as elsewhere in the book, Osgood contradicts herself. Her own upper middle-class background undermines this attempt at social critique, serving instead to reinforce the stereotype, just as her attendance at an Ivy League college does. Osgood continues:

The second thing we need to do is try to cut the between [sic] genius and madness. While I am a white, female, from an upper-middle-class background and attended an Ivy League school, I can attest to the fact that there are most definitely superficial anorectics out there who possess only a paltry understanding of what the word “imagination” even means. Sometimes the ignorance is sweet, a puerile brain overtaken by a disease that belies the organ’s innocence or youth. Sometimes it is archetypal, belonging to a vacuous model or a disciplined, doltish athlete.

This way of thinking about the disease is common enough. Emma Woolf, in her memoir, An Apple a Day, which I reviewed last year for The Los Angeles Review of Books,also believes that eating disorders are contagious. She believes, as Osgood does, that anorexics are highly competitive and argues that this competition is so strong, when one anorexic meets another anorexic they immediately compare bodies, vying to be the thinnest. This competition, which Osgood refers to repeatedly in her book, seems to have got under her skin—in fact, she spends much of her book arguing that she is a “real” anorexic, compared to these others.

In a recent study out of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Eating Disorders Program (EDP), in Montreal, Howard Steiger, Ph.D, head of the department along with Linda Booij, Ph.D, discovered that chronic anorexia can lead to genetic changes. A study forthcoming in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, shows “long-term anorexia nervosa in women is often associated with more pronounced alteration of genes that influence anxiety, social behavior, various brain and nervous system functions, immunity, and the functioning of peripheral organs.” According to Steiger:

These findings help clarify the point that eating disorders are not about superficial body image concerns or the result of bad parenting. They represent real biological effects of environmental impacts in affected people, which then get locked in by too much dieting.

Osgood’s thesis—that eating disorders are contagious, that images of emaciated girls and women will make anyone want to starve—beyond first assuming that anyone would want to suffer, both diminishes the suffering of the anorexic and denies the biological mechanisms that drive and maintain the compulsions.

One is always an anorexic. The disease persists, inscribed in one’s genetic structure and as a method of living, long after the physical component of the illness has been overcome.

For nearly thirty years now, I have lived with anorexia. For me, the disease was triggered by a traumatic event. A man took control over my body, and although I survived, the experience ignited something inside me, a panic, an unraveling, an idea I had never had before was introduced to my conscious: that I was unsafe. It was not safe for me in this world. And the only thing that stopped this panic was control, and I found that control in what I put into my mouth, my body.

The mere experience of control stopped the panic, the unraveling, for me. It was a kind of addiction. I had never read anything about anorexia—or about any eating disorder for that matter. My eating disorder was an organic survival mechanism. It nearly killed me, many times, but it was also the thing that helped me survive. The thought—If I can control my body I will be safe—saved me. I am alive today because the eating disorder grew into me. Thank God for the eating disorder.

But I have now lived with an eating disorder longer than I have not, and over those years the eating disorder or, rather its residue, has mutated. Despite years of therapy, a voice in my head tells me that if I ate less, took up less space, life would be easier, safer.

 

Despite the number of memoirs about anorexia available today, the voices of women who suffer most seriously are typically excluded. Living their lives with a life-long disability, these women often struggle with poverty and social exclusion. They’re often women of color, or white women from working class families. Their voices are marginalized, or simply omitted, from the literature of the disease. According to the National Eating Disorders Association:

Over the past few years, there has been increasing evidence of disordered eating occur ring among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Contrary to the persistent belief that eating disorders affect only young, white women, analysis of the Minnesota Adolescent Health Study found that dieting was associated with weight dissatisfaction, perceived overweight, and low body pride in all ethnic groups.

Similarly, a study conducted by Robinson et al, found that among the leanest 25% of 6th and 7th grade girls, Hispanics and Asians reported significantly more body dissatisfaction than did white girls. In a survey of 6,504 adolescents, Asian, Black, Hispanic and Caucasian youth all reported attempting to lose weight at similar rates, while among of Native American adolescents, 48.1% were attempting weight loss.

The issue is not that eating disorders occur predominantly among young white women, but that non-white women are simply not being diagnosed as the result of this bias.

Osgood’s memoir is an especially egregious case, spreading harmful myths about the nature of the disease, but other recent books have offered a different, more intellectual take on the condition. For instance, in Sarah Gerard’s novel, Binary Star—which tells the tragic story of an anorexic in a complicated relationship with a man who appears to be bipolar—the author explores the idea of “the space between.” On one level, this is the space exists between the main character and her boyfriend. It’s the space between understanding and confusion, between two human beings, and the space resulting from both of their mental illnesses. But anorexics experience another space, a separation.

Like Osgood, Gerard equates anorexia with the media: dropping references to magazines and movie stars throughout the book. The very nature of anorexia is that one is not aware of one’s thinness, hence the desire to lose just a little more weight. So though the wish to weigh 85 pounds might seem insane to a non-anorexic, it makes complete sense to an anorexic who weighs 90 pounds and still sees herself as overweight.

Gerard’s representation of anorexia is abstracted. Much of the prose breaks off into what amount to pages of stream-of-consciousness:

I stand in the diet aisle. Hydroxycut. Lipozene. alli. EAC. Metabolife. Sense. ReNew. Natrol. Zantrex-3. Slim-Quick. QuickTrim. Mega-T. Slim FX. PhytoGeniX. Xenadrine. Dexatrim. Thermonex. NitroVarin. Stacker. Labrada. Irwin Naturals Triple-Tea Fat Burner Softgels. I stand at the counter. Christina Ricci. Nicole Richie. Portia di Rossi. Mary Kate and Ashley. That’ll be twenty. Mischa Barton. Victoria Bechkham. Bethenny Frankel. Allegra Versace. Is that all? Kelly Clarkson. Lily Allen. Keira Knightley. Ginger Spice. Credit or debit. Lindsay Lohan. Lady Gaga. Fiona Apple. Isabelle Caro, who’s dead. Felicty Huffman. Calista Flockhart. Tara Reid.

Anorexia itself, in this context, becomes a concept. The affliction becomes reduced to a fetish—something both titillating and grotesque, something that creates an aspect of suspense while keeping our attention. The topic never becomes entirely explicit, nor does it ever become truly embodied. Though the book is unlike Osgood’s in many ways, both texts purport to navigate the topic while keeping it at arm’s length, simultaneously employing the same old stereotypical tropes.

In Writing Size Zero, Isabelle Meuret writes that starvation can be understood as a kind of writing on the body. She asserts that anorexia is a means to express the pain of the space between themselves and other people, which occurs to those experiencing hybridity:

The narrator’s double identity—French and Algerian—mangles her body. According to Amin Maalouf, the deadly aspect of hybridity is that it is constantly represented as an assemblage of multiple identities and not as one identity fashioned by different elements. The unfortunate consequence of this is that an individual is always urged to choose one of them as predominant or authentic.

“Neither female, nor male, neither from here, nor from there, the anorexic is an in-between creature.” Between genders, between races and classes—this has been my own experience. But though this definition may not fit all sufferers of anorexia, the sense of being outside of, or in-between, I think does. And even when the illness is treated, when the physical manifestations have gone, still this sensation remains—the stain, the place where the illness took root.

Is it possible that there really are two categories of eating disorder in the United States? One form that is, in fact, a mental illness, one that affects people from all class and race backgrounds? And then a second type, the type Osgood writes about, which grow from an understanding of what the anorexic looks like and the attention they imagine looking like that will bring?

I’m not convinced. An eating disorder is a mental illness. It’s neither contagious nor generated by magazines and books. Like all mental illnesses, each day is a reprieve. And like all mental illnesses, it is deadly and serious. Not a competition, not a trend, not an exotic element to be appropriated. It’s a form of speech. A voice. A response.

About Cynthia Cruz

Cynthia Cruz is the author of Wunderkammer (Four Way Books, 2014), The Glimmering Room (Four Way Books, 2012), and Ruin (Alice James, 2006). She has published poems in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, the Boston Review, and elsewhere.

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