March 1, 2023, noon
When we think of eating disorders, we often focus on how the symptoms appear in obvious ways. We notice someone is eating less than they used to. We notice they are preoccupied with their weight. We choose to follow them to the bathroom after a meal to see if they need support. We notice we never see them eat but then we find wrappers of food under their beds. We notice they don’t join us for lunch anymore because the time interferes with their exercise class. We notice they are withdrawn, depressed, or really outgoing and perfectionistic. We notice the changes but we fear telling them that we are concerned.
What we don’t think about when we think of eating disorders is the way the symptoms transfer to other areas of our lives that are less obvious. We restrict our voice, afraid that what we have to say may evoke judgment or hurt someone unintentionally. We binge on pleasing others so that we are loved and seen. We purge our needs until they appear nonexistent. We restrict our emotions, our desires, our wants. We may make ourselves small to minimize the space we occupy or we take up a lot of space and walk around with shame, wishing no one noticed us or wanting so badly to be noticed, respectively.
I have lived with an eating disorder for over 20 years - I have lived in recovery for 3 and a half years. I know what it is like to not know that you have an eating disorder. To know that you have one but not want to change it. To try to change it but get too scared. To finally cross over to recovery and then to slide back into your eating disorder. To go back to recovery. To ultimately want recovery enough that it becomes the most important thing in your life. Way more important than your eating disorder.
My intention in writing this blog, in addition to sympathizing with those suffering from an eating disorder, is also to support their loved ones. When a family member has an eating disorder, the whole family has an eating disorder. The whole family suffers. I have chosen to share parts of my story that won’t trigger others, or make them compare, or question the validity of their eating disorder. If you are questioning whether you are sick with an eating disorder, you may want to dive deeper into these thoughts. People without eating disorders don’t question if they are sick enough to receive help.
When I was 18, I tried the famous weight watchers. I thought it was so great that an outside source could tell me how to eat to be skinny (trap #1 - seeking external sources to inform our behaviors.) My weight came down fast and as I lived in a small body to begin with, losing a few pounds made a noticeable difference. I started getting complimented, and finally felt seen (trap #2 - receiving compliments that affirm unhealthy behaviors only feed the eating disorder). I moved away to school, isolated myself in a one-bedroom student apartment, and got to know my eating disorder on a very personal level (trap #3 - eating disorders thrive in isolation and secrecy). We became best friends, I didn’t need anyone else (trap #4 - the eating disorder makes you believe it will keep you so safe and you won’t miss your old life). After many months of restricting food, friendships, socializing, emotions, needs, and even school, I decided not to fall for another one of the eating disorders traps. I started to understand that it was a liar and a bully and we needed to break things off!
I received support, I chose recovery, and stayed separated from my eating disorder for 15 years. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a divorce. Every now and then, I would welcome it back into my life. We would hang out for a bit to see if we could make it work again. Then one day, we decided to move back in together. This time, the eating disorder was like a controlling partner - I wasn’t allowed to do anything without its permission (trap #5 - thinking that you are in control when really you aren’t). Eventually, I stopped trying to make my own choices. I was tired, I was drained,I surrendered control to the eating disorder (trap #6 - it wears you down until you don’t want to fight anymore).
It didn’t end there (otherwise, I would have zero strength and insight to write this blog!) I heard a voice inside me, maybe it was my 18-year-old self, telling me I could not give up. I had to take back control. I had to fight for the part of me that never had an opportunity to follow her desires, to connect with her needs, to tolerate discomfort. That voice said, “I am right here with you, be brave”. She was a smart 18-year-old, and I decided to let her guide me.
Almost 4 years later, I still channel that inner adolescent all the time. When my eating disorder started, many parts of me froze so I never really got to know that 18-year-old girl. What did she need that she didn’t have? How can I love her enough today? What does she want to hear from me now?
I continue to work on my recovery everyday. However, I don’t do it in isolation. I have a support team of professionals, yoga teachers, family, friends, fellow sisters in recovery, professionals in recovery and people that I can reach out to on those harder days where the eating disorder says, “I’m baaaaccckk!!!!”. I also have myself. My adult self, my 18-year-old self, my child self, my young adult self. We are a team and we work really hard to check in with each other to see how we can join forces to keep the eating disorder away. It is no longer me and the eating disorder against the world. It is me and my inner team FINALLY against the eating disorder.
Jaclyn is a proud mom of 5 kids between the ages of 7-14. She also shares her home with a dog, cat, bunny and goldfish! Together with her husband, she tries to support the kids in all of their talents and activities while never taking her recovery for granted.
She deeply cherishes her work as a psychotherapist and feels it is a true privilege to accompany other humans on their healing journeys. She has chosen to educate her children on eating disorders and all of their sneaky components so that they can start to get curious about how their own brains work.