“If we are ready to tear down the walls that confine us, break the cage that imprisons us, we will discover what our wings are for.” ~Michael Meegan
It’s weird, isn’t it? One day you’re playing hide and seek with friends without a worry beyond the playdate you’re having or dinner options for that night. But in a blink, those carefree days vanish. That’s what happened to me, and my teenage years started ticking away right in front of my eyes. Eleven, thirteen, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen…
And a realization hit me: “It’s still eating me alive.”
Maybe it wasn’t as severe as it was before, and I wasn’t underweight anymore, but I still needed control.
Let me give you a little background about myself to provide you with some context. At the age of ten, I moved to the United States with my family. These big changes caused a lot of insecurity, impostor syndrome, and anxiety within me. I needed a way to become “better,” to “fit in,” and to control what was happening.
It was impossible for me to suddenly turn into a cute, fun, skinny, blonde cheerleader. So I innocently turned to something that made me feel in control. If I could start “eating healthier” and “becoming the best version of myself,” I thought, I would finally fit in. Little did I know that this decision would haunt me for a long time to come.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at twelve. I turned thirteen in the hospital. I even refused to eat my own birthday cake. I moved on to residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program, and then outpatient.
After a year of treatment, I had checked all the boxes and jumped through all the hoops, and I was finally “recovered.”
On the outside, I was a success story—weight restored, eating again, and out of treatment. But inside, the disorder still maintained a relentless grip in subtle ways I couldn’t ignore.
No, I wasn’t crying over a handful of cashews, but I was counting exactly how many went into my mouth. I would go on midnight ice cream runs with my friends, but quickly search for nutritional information and get the flavor with the lowest calories.
Even though I didn’t want sorbet, I got it. Even though I wanted a medium, I got a small. Even though I wanted sprinkles like everyone else, I wouldn’t get them.
You get the point. The carefree joy of picking a flavor based on taste and intuition was gone.
At times I’d think that maybe I was still not fully recovered… then a voice would interrupt, “SNAP OUT OF IT. You are fine. You ate ice cream, so you couldn’t possibly be sick. You are just practicing self-control.”
And just like that, I’d be back in this hypnotic state. I’d repeat the cycle over and over again. Once again, the disorder would take a bite into my enjoyment and precious memories.
I eventually realized that this disorder doesn’t care about what type of hold it has on you. As long as it is still alive and gripping onto you in some manner, it is happy.
Every single time I give in, YOU give in, the disorder is fed and empowered.
Whether that means not putting on the extra bit of sauce you want because it “isn’t necessary” or intermittent fasting because of “digestive issues,” it doesn’t care.
I believe there are so many relapses in recovery for this exact reason. Because it is hard to completely let go.
In time, I became aware of all the different little ways the disorder could manifest itself. I realized that this disease I thought had lasted five years was still present and would continue leeching off me for life if I didn’t do something about it.
I’m going to share with you the process that helped me starve my eating disorder and loosen its grip on every aspect of my life.
If we don’t fully let go and don’t resist all those little temptations we give in to, they start compounding and, like a virus, the disorder spreads and grows.
So how did I finally starve it?
This is the process I followed daily.
Take time to reflect on your past and recognize all the small ways the disorder has shown up in your life. I suggest writing everything that comes to mind. You’ll likely identify scenarios you hadn’t thought twice about at the moment and in hindsight realize the disorder was controlling you. Identifying all the ways it sneaks in will help you recognize the patterns while they are happening.
Write everything down. Even if it seems insignificant. From not adding extra cheese to your spaghetti to ignoring hunger in the morning, write it all down.
One thing that helped me was comparing my present behaviors to my younger self’s. “Would younger Sophi add extra cheese to her pasta?” If she would, then so do I. Sounds silly, but try it out.
Also, reflect on times you may have used food restriction or bingeing behaviors to avoid or “stuff down” difficult emotions like loneliness, anxiety, shame, or disappointment. Instead of facing those feelings, the disorder offered an unhealthy coping mechanism. Now that you have awareness, you can work on identifying the core issues or needs beneath those emotions so you can address them in a healthy manner. Rather than stuffing feelings down or starving yourself, get to the root and nurture yourself properly.
Now that you are conscious of the behaviors, I want you to do something. Each time you recognize the disorder sneaking in, ask yourself “Am I going to feed it? Or myself?” You can’t do both. They are literal opposites.
If you ask this question, it creates friction. Friction gives you the chance to decide consciously rather than engaging in the automatic behavior you are used to.
Keep in mind that feeding yourself may be in a physical and literal way. But other times it simply means choosing to feed a hobby you enjoy, a relationship you want to develop, or a goal you want to achieve. This disorder drains your energy and sucks the life out of you. Energy and life you could be pouring into YOURSELF.
You get to choose. Are you going to engage in conversations with your loved ones? Or think about how you are going to compensate for the dinner you ate?
As much as I would love to tell you this is a one-time thing, it isn’t. You have to constantly repeat this process and not beat yourself up because of slip-ups.
This is like any other habit. If you have been practicing it for years, it is a neuropathway in your brain. So you have to forge another healthy and helpful pathway, which is done through repetition and consistency. Years of reinforcing behavior will take time to change, so be kind to yourself.
While completely eliminating behaviors associated with your disorder may seem impossible, consistently choosing recovery over disorder is the goal. Even if you experience setbacks, make the choice to feed your true self rather than the disorder as often as possible. Keep being resilient and trying again. With time and practice, choosing yourself will become more natural. But you have to keep making that choice, even when it’s difficult. Feed your spirit, feed your dreams, feed your life.
Just like one of my dietitians told me, “Your eating disorder will stay alive as long as you let it.” I know it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, but you are actively choosing. I invite you to choose FULL recovery and destruction of your eating disorder.
I don’t mean to learn how to function and co-exist with it, but to destroy it.
Enjoying every ice cream outing with friends, saying yes to a coffee run, and letting yourself be intuitive and authentic.
I knew a friend years ago whose mom struggled with an eating disorder when she was younger. At the time, the family felt she was recovered like she had overcome the beast. Looking back now, I realize the eating disorder still gripped her life in subtle ways.
She skipped family dinners because cooking made her “full.” She viewed extreme dieting as a hobby, not the unhealthy compulsion it was. All this to say, now I realize, years later, she was still controlled.
Without intentional healing, those ingrained patterns persisted, slowly impacting her family as well.
For example, her daughter began mimicking her mother’s disordered eating habits and extreme dieting rules, developing body image issues and an unhealthy relationship with food at a young age. The mother’s fixation on calorie counting and skipping family meals also disrupted bonding time, as she isolated herself and couldn’t enjoy family dinners or holidays.
I encourage you to write your “why” lists. Why is recovery worth fighting for? What makes you want this? Is it your future family or your goals, or are you simply sick of living under the rules of the disorder?
It takes energy and strength to constantly fight it, but the less you feed it, the weaker it becomes. The weaker it gets, the fuller your life becomes and the stronger and happier you get. You deserve to live freely and fully, without shame or restrictions holding you back.
I believe in you!