Eating-disorder recovery is not easily definable. Recovery and survival from any trauma, mental illness, addiction, or disembodiment of self looks and feels different to and for everyone.
One thing is certain: Eating disorders do not discriminate. And all too often, they are neither obvious nor visible in presentation. All too often, they are stigmatized, or silenced altogether.
As a writer, performer, and body empowerment advocate, I have spent much of my life sharing my eating-disorder survival story. And still, it feels impossible to perfectly articulate the deadly mental illness that is an eating disorder, as the journey of survival is uniquely personal.
We heard from a diverse array of individuals worldwide who have experienced various eating disorders and experiences with body image, who describe their survival in myriad ways. Here are some of the many stories we received.
As a 12-year-old with full-blown anorexia, I was involuntarily institutionalized after having an eating disorder–induced seizure. The institution was not equipped to deal with eating disorders, and their only plan of action was to watch me eat, shower, and sleep to ensure I didn’t throw up, exercise, or throw my food away. I was treated less as a medical patient and more like a criminal, unable to privately mourn the loss of my innocence and adolescence.
This was my first insight into how our health care system is unprepared to treat eating disorder survivors, a travesty compounded by society’s rigid physical ideals for women. Survivors could best be served by the development of new treatment options targeted at modifying harmful behaviors and by eroding patriarchal visions of the female body. Instead, we are treated like social outliers who are shamed and told we have taken things too far. Denying the existence of sexism is a historically convenient method of the ignorant, and to tell an eating disorder survivor that our plight is of self-creation is to validate the disproportionate and unrealistic physical expectations for women that have permeated every aspect of society.
I will never forget the first time I saw my own reflection without wanting to see less of it. It took years for me to regain control of my life and body, both of which deserved respect and love after having spent years as a battleground. Sharing my story was the first step toward total recovery and remains my personal form of resistance. By speaking out, we can reduce the shame and stigma associated with eating disorders and give courage to millions of survivors.
My story begins at age 4. I was extremely underweight for my height and age; however, my grandmother told I had “arms like ham” and was “getting chubby.” I spent my entire childhood surrounded by weight stigma — whether it was from my grandmother constantly telling me to “go on a diet” or comparing my own body to my friends'.
At 12, I went on what I described as a “very strict diet.” I had no clue what anorexia was. I thought it was when someone literally never ate anything due to some underlying emotional problem, when, in reality, accordingly to my personal understanding and experience, it’s a disease that manifests in the mind; an utter fear of weight gain. It does not have a specific physical appearance. It does not pick particular races or genders. It just is.
My “diet” left me with a failing liver, a problematic heart, hair loss, and osteopenia. I went into treatment for anorexia and fully came to terms with my disease, and began to believe that I did not choose this. Anorexia was like a light switch that lived inside my brain, turned off for most of my life. The stigma surrounding my weight is what turned it on.
For me, I will never turn my anorexia off. It’s always going to be a struggle. I can, however, dim the lights. Now, at 16, I remain recovered without relapse. Although every day I see girls in magazines and in person with tiny waists, I am fighting. I am alive. I almost lost my life, and my life is much more important than my weight. Someday, I think I will 100% believe I am beautiful, and I will do that on my own terms, without the help of a boy or Instagram likes. Until then, I remain a 16-year-old girl still surrounded by weight stigma and slowly, but surely, learning to be comfortable with myself.
My eating disorder was a unicorn in shape. I was never terrified of certain foods. I never truly thought I was fat. While I didn’t use my mathematically inclined mind to count calories, I used it to balance an equation in my head: an equation of worth. Growing up, food was taken away when I was bad. In my mind, I equated it to not being worth food at all. I took that mind-set to college, with a bit of freedom, resulting in a streak of bingeing. Each episode left me with this feeling of worthlessness. One might say it contributed to my leaving college after a violent sexual assault campus police refused to do anything about left me feeling even more worthless.
But I was worth the physical demands of the military. I was worth the possibility of dying. During my time in the Air Force, I was told repeatedly that I was nothing. Things I recited to myself for years were now coming out of the lips of those in charge of me. If there was any doubt I didn’t deserve to be alive, let alone eat, it was eradicated. Ultimately, I was kicked out for having an eating disorder, deemed unable to deploy and unfit for service. As a parting gift, the military paid for my first treatment stint.
A couple of years passed before I needed treatment again, this time due to a severe heart problem from malnourishment. I have never been so humbled and humiliated as those days I had to go into work with a feeding tube. I think I needed that. I couldn’t hide the fact I had an eating disorder by lying or saying I had a fast metabolism. I had something sticking out of my nose that couldn’t be ignored. After six months in treatment and the best psychiatrist I have ever had, I have been weight restored and behavior-free for two years. I have found balance. I have found that you assign your own worth. By assigning your own worth, you afford and deny yourself opportunities. So set that worth high. Happiness is not a destination, it’s moments. You won’t get moments of happiness if you feel worthless, because you won’t believe you deserve them. I want you to know: You deserve them.
When I was in college, I developed a binge-eating disorder. As a transgender man, my body already caused me a great deal of discomfort and emotional pain, and it seemed almost natural to take my stress and anxiety out on my physical self. The summer after freshman year of college, I was living at home, binge-eating most nights. In my mind, I was weak; I didn’t have the discipline to restrict eating, and I was running to try to counteract the eating. Almost a year later, back at college, I woke up and couldn’t make myself eat. I just sat staring at my kitchen, crying.
The Emily Program in St. Paul, Minnesota, might be the greatest place in the world to learn how to save your own life. My therapist and nutritionist were patient, constantly morphing a treatment plan to fit where I was at. They helped me understand binge eating, and gave me the strength to identify my bingeing as a disorder, not a weakness, and work to relearn healthy habits.
While in recovery, a teacher/mentor suggested I take steps to look into hormone therapy, that maybe making such positive changes might help me have a healthier relationship with my body. I’ve been on testosterone injections for two years and can honestly say testosterone is the reason I’ll never have an eating disorder again. Putting such positive and affirming energy into my body and into making slow and steady changes to how I see myself pushes me to take care of myself in every aspect of life. I no longer see my body as something to fight against. I no longer see food as a weapon or as a punishment. Sometimes, when I am anxious or sad or stressed, I find myself getting a small urge to binge, but now I know I can trust myself to take care of myself.
When I look at myself now, I notice how I finally have a beard growing in, or how my face is sharpening and my hips are narrowing to a more masculine shape. I don’t see a weak binger or someone who is nothing but an eating disorder they’ll never crawl out of. For the first time in my life, without any second thought, I see someone strong who has survived and thrived. I see someone who has taken control of themselves and their body in a healthy, positive way. I see me.
There was no real moment when my recovery began. Where I said, “I’ve decided to get better” or could magically shut off the voice in my head. Simply facing the possibility of recovery was a long process in itself, like a flower sitting in the cold of winter and painfully turning toward the sun. Done so carefully, in fact, it doesn’t even register the movement.
But there was a moment when I felt things shift; I was sprawled out in my college dorm room, workout clothes on, reprimanding myself with the typical shoulds and shouldn’ts, when a part of my mind or body or soul that I didn’t know still existed burst bright and asked, “Why?”
I didn’t have an answer, but my eating disorder had plenty. All the answers I knew so well. The ones that haunted me in my sleep and stole me from the day. The answers that had driven me to destroy myself for years. Somehow, though, while my mind continued relentlessly, I realized my answer didn’t matter just yet because the question itself was strong enough. The place from where it came inside me was strong enough.
When I started my recovery, I had lost so much of who I was that, in order to find myself again, I had to start with what I knew: I love the sound of rain through an open window, I love my dog’s sweet kisses, I love how the sun looks in winter.
In the beginning, that I was all I could recall, but the more I recovered, the more I remembered. What was even more exciting were the things I started to learn about myself for the first time. And even though they might look minuscule — like why I dance while making dinner, why I laugh so loud, why I asked “Why?” that day — I’m pretty sure they’re the only things that really add up in the end.
It was the mid-'60s, the Sexual Revolution was gaining traction, freedom was all around, and Twiggy hit the world stage, revered for her gaunt, skinny look. Suddenly, “thin was in,” and I was an anomaly in a family of tall and rail-thin or short and petite; I was just an ordinary child in an ordinary body.
I am a survivor. I have more early memories of my eating disorder than I do of my siblings and family and school. At no point during the more than four decades following my initial hospitalization at age 6 was I able to get properly diagnosed and treated for my eating disorder, despite numerous attempts and cries for help on my part. This was my survivorship, to continue to excel until a major occupational fall from grace in my late forties found me in the treatment system — a system designed for teens and young women that did not want to hear how my older adult struggles and needs were different.
Now I am a survivor of the “treatment” system, a graduate of inpatient admissions where I learned new methods of self-destruction and hatred, where I was never skinny enough, sick enough, needy enough. I have become an “untouchable,” whose needs exceed the capacity of treatment services, so they offer next to nothing. I am back in a race to the bottom, wondering, perhaps if I get sick enough, will they try to help me again?
Growing up in a Jamaican-American household, food was an integral part of my childhood. I remember my grandmother preparing fried dumplings and plantains, church hymns playing in the background. Food was our greatest treasure. Food brought the family together. Food celebrated new beginnings and eased the wounds of life’s untimely endings.
When I was 8, I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a muscle disease that caused me to spend most of my childhood in hospital rooms and wheelchairs, slowly gaining weight whilst swallowing prednisone hidden inside mint chocolate chip ice cream. My mom made it her duty to help me lose the weight through fad dieting. I’ve tried every single one. In fairness, my mother did the best she could. As a single mom, she felt the camaraderie of these shared diets brought us closer. However, as an adult, I began to experience a paralyzing fear of food. My “I’ll start a new diet on Monday” mind-set lasted for 16 years as I compulsively ate and deprived my body. I was worried that I was not attractive enough. So obsessed and afraid no one would hire me as an actor if I didn’t win the battle with the numbers on the scale, in February 2011 I attempted suicide and landed in the hospital for multiple days.
We do extreme things to our bodies because of those numbers. Numbers that cannot talk with us or love us. On March 20, 2014, I threw my scale in the trash, and to ensure I wouldn’t rescue it, I threw chicken stock on it. I have had to practice looking in the mirror and telling myself I am beautiful. I have had to stop judging my belly, stop starving myself, stop getting on the scale and staring at those numbers. It took me years to find the courage to stop pressuring my body. Food is still an integral part of my life, and I still struggle to this day after living a life of “quick fixes.” But, I have come to the realization that my life is more important than those numbers on the scale and that the quality of the life I live is more important than how I look in the mirror.
If the hardest part is recognizing you have a problem, exercise addiction is the hardest problem to recognize. Only when mine descended into an eating disorder did I become fully aware of the power and control this condition had over my life and me. We are bombarded with health and fitness in the media to such an extent that even the most intense, devoted training programs seem acceptable and normal. Even whilst running and weight lifting far more than any man ever should, it wasn’t until my weight started to dip alarmingly that anyone around me recognized I had a dual battle on my hands: exercise addiction and anorexia.
My story with this battle began with a lifelong fight against anxiety and depression. As someone who, excuse the pun, tends to run away from his problems, jogging and the gym became a sanctuary away from the intrusive thoughts, anxieties, and low moods. It was my buffer against the world. As the world became a scarier place, I felt the need to continually strengthen that buffer. No doctor or psychologist would explicitly tell me to stop exercising so much; they were conditioned to believe in the ample mental health benefits of it, even at my extreme end. By the time I decided I needed to take time off, my body was broken. I cried as I ran, hating myself for putting my body through hell. Unfortunately, that’s when the eating disorder took over. If I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’d never experienced such a strong force in my life, and I gave in to it, allowing it to control everything I did, thought, and said.
My life turned around when I was threatened multiple times with inpatient treatment. However, my recovery has been hard-fought. I never lost that eating disorder voice, and it still screams to this day. What has helped most is recognizing life is made up of an infinite number of choices, whether we make them consciously or subconsciously. Eating is one such choice. By recognizing I had control over these choices, I was able to modify my eating and behaviors around exercise so I regained control of my body and life. Every meal, I choose to eat and eat well. If I have to do this for the rest of my life, so be it. Recovery is not an easy path, but it is the right one, and the one that takes the most strength to walk down.
My eating disorder was an evil, manipulative “friend.” One of those mean-girl characters you see from afar kicking others when they’re down. You think, Oh man, thank god that chick’s not in my life — and then all of a sudden you’re holding her bag and buying her lunch and chasing her to hang out. She makes fun of you, tells you you’re worthless. Makes you cry and gets everyone to hate you. But you keep going back. Again and again. You know she’s toxic and ruining your life, but you’ve given her the reins.
The first time I binged I was 7, and for a brief moment nothing else mattered. It made me numb and full and empty and outside of myself all at the same time. I had just been through multiple traumas, and that feeling was all I wanted. For the next 14 years, I chased the dragon. Into pre-diabetes and sleep apnea. Into being unable to fasten the seatbelt in my car. Into two suicide attempts and five hospitals. I chased it until I built my guard up so much I never had to worry about relationships, responsibility, or sex. I chased it until my friends left and my parents sought therapy. I chased it until it became my chosen identity, until the real me was so hidden I had no idea who she was.
One of the many things people don’t get about an eating disorder is that it takes on a life of its own. It’s bigger than anything you’ve ever seen. Bigger than you, your family, and the things you love. It has nothing to do with food. It is an illness, a disease, an addiction. A way to gain and lose control. To fill a void, mask a pain, punish, self-harm.
Despite all of the darkness, it also gave me a gift. It gave me recovery and the ability to be forced into learning how to love myself. It was survival for me to learn that I’m worthy. That I deserve to see how beautiful I am. That I deserve to let other people see it as well. My recovery allowed me to see how strong and amazing I am, and I’m forever grateful for my disorder. She was a mean bitch who kicked me around, but I stood up to her and gave her a hug and let her know everything was going to be OK. Like all mean girls, she just needed to know she was loved.
For decades I kept my eating disorder a secret. I felt ashamed of the anorexia I developed at 11. The secret was like a bully in my mind. I envied anyone who could eat lunch and not feel guilty about it. I will never forget the awfulness of wanting to be like others, to be carefree, instead of caught in a vicious cycle with the eating disorder, not knowing which way is out.
I waited many years, until I was 55 and feeling recovered and strong within my sense of self, before publicly sharing my story. Throughout my journalism career of more than three decades, I did not disclose my illness to employers, because I wanted to be considered "normal," even though I was functioning on 5% of my brain at times. I also feared discrimination for disclosing a mental illness.
Unlike other serious illnesses that are considered acceptable, an eating disorder continues to face stigmatizing put-downs. Secrecy can seem the easier option. But the cost of trying to keep the illness hidden is that the illness is not dealt with fully and has permanent residence in the brain. To remove the stigma that causes much silent suffering, we need more people who have recovered to stand up and show this illness and the community at large that we are perfectly able to recover and live full and rewarding lives.
Recovery from an eating disorder requires a lot of courage; and for best results, to maintain recovery, it requires openness and acceptance in a village of people who understand and who care. We hear a lot of stories about people who are suffering, anorexia in particular. To counter this we need more people who have recovered, not only from anorexia but from all eating disorders, to share stories of life beyond the illness. By showing they are celebrating life deeply and meaningfully, people who have recovered can inspire and offer empathy and support in a way that those without experience of the illness may never know. Eating disorders need to be acknowledged openly. This is the best way to reduce their impact, the stigma, fear, loneliness, and isolation.
The hardest part about having had an eating disorder was not knowing I had one. As a man and a person of color, I never had the space to be vulnerable and acknowledge my problem. The first thing you think with eating disorders is “white woman with body-image issues.” As a late teen, all I saw were Cosmo covers outside of my community and friends experiencing this issue. I struggled with eating, thinking, I’m not bad… I’m just skipping breakfast and maybe lunch. Plus, minority communities weren’t pushing kale chips, affordable vitamins, and chia-seed drinks. I grew up with quarter-water juices, microwaveable chicken nuggets, and mom’s “clean your plate” mantra with her heavy-handed servings and large decorative plates.
I was chubby in childhood — the side effects of asthma medicines that lasted well after I grew out of severe asthma. My mom called me “husky,” just so I wouldn’t think I was fat. I wanted to be normal, but nothing about looking in the mirror and suffering from depression is normal. I only now realize I was in denial, as I started taking it out on my body from 17 to 22. College didn’t help, but somehow I took control. I did that alone and I’m lucky.
I wish we privileged the safety in masculinity to speak about this stuff, especially in communities of color and neighborhoods where healthy diets are a Catch-22. It’s in no way a privilege to have gone through this as a man. My masculinity is and was constantly challenged by other men to have more bravado or by what women want or expect a man to be. If anything, being a black man makes the isolation worse. It creates a silence that many men haven’t been able to emotionally maneuver. Manhood is often toted as something you need to prove. So men who have felt denied emotional vulnerability try to prove that they are actually hurting, perhaps masked by projecting, drugs or drinking, and being miserably violent to themselves and others. People think it’s failing to achieve “beach body” that affects men in this way. But many roads to depression are brushed off: Be a man; be silent.
I still suffer from being through all that in silence. Being intentional on not eating alone or rewarding myself with particular types of food is how I started to challenge feeling alone in the mental fight. I realized the disorder went hand in hand with other issues. Ultimately, feeling comfortable with giving my all to fight the habits and healthily respond to obstacles — even something as simple as meditating prayer — is what brought me through.
I’ve always felt like a fraudulent bulimic. Like I wasn’t sick enough on some imaginary eating disorder scale. Like it never happened. The reason I felt this way was because I never sought any help. There is nothing in my medical records to say how many years bulimia took hold of my life. Nothing to show how unhappy I was for so long and how it affected me almost every day throughout my adolescence and twenties. No medication or rehab. No family intervention. Bulimia didn’t even change my body shape. Nobody knew but me.
So I played it down in my head. Like it wasn’t a big deal. In my twenties, being bulimic was just this thing that I did. I knew it was something I needed to deal with, but I still didn’t like or love myself enough to take care of my own body. It was my way of punishing myself.
I often think of all the years I wasted and wish I'd spoke to someone earlier. It’s only now I can acknowledge what I was doing to myself. You don’t have to be on your deathbed to be experiencing those awful thoughts that flood your mind and the dangerous behaviors that go with them. I wonder how many other people are out there like me, who haven’t spoken up.
There is no clear route out of an eating disorder or for pulling yourself out of that dark place. Recovery itself is a process. I am not bingeing and purging anymore, but have to work hard at it some days. Focusing on eating well and choosing good foods to fuel me. Having a support system. Speaking up when I need help. Not leaving it until it's too late.
My treatment, along with a degree in sociology, has taught me I starve, binge, purge — all in an attempt to gain control of something elusive but with the power to defeat me. Like any long-term relationship, negotiating my eating disorder with my body over the past 15 years — or even not having an eating disorder — has ebbed and flowed. There have been times I’ve soothed myself to sleep rubbing my fingers against a protruding hip bone, as if it were an analgesic pumice. At other times, I’ve pinched the excess fat above my hips between those same fingers in self-repulsion.
Then there are times I’m free from all that; I’m in this world, making sense of it, living in it, my body navigating like a trusty companion to the thoughts, feelings, and desires it houses. I’ve been a runner throughout my disease and recovery, and some of my happiest moments are when I’m running uphill in the park smelling honeysuckle and priding myself on feeling strong for pushing through the wind, the incline, and feeling my muscles at work under my skin. Then I’m like, Hey, body, we’re in sync, and I feel present in the world. But what happens when that world is nonsensical? No matter how many sociology courses I’ve taken, or years in treatment I’ve spent, our culture rewards the discipline of dieting/juicing/detoxing and triangulates a relationship between thinness, success, and power. As much as my brain tells me not to read those headlines — to stay away from the Bermuda Triangle, sometimes, it sucks me in.
But then I tell myself that I’m in recovery, and as long as I’m living, I’m recovering. To me, recovery is about being present and feeling powerful because of what my body can do, not what it looks like. Eating disorders are distractions from being present. Everyone manages recovery differently, and I’m making my way, trying my hardest not to damage my body. If I slip up today, I’ll try again tomorrow until I find balance, and I’m not thinking about the size of my body, but rather the scope of the world.
—Jill Di Donato
I always thought my eating disorder started in college. I now see how my thinking was distorted growing up; the behaviors just didn’t manifest until college. I became a binge drinker and used alcohol to feel comfortable around people. When I went home during summer and was no longer drinking, the beginning of my eating-disorder behaviors began. I hid my eating disorder for years, while loved ones only saw my drinking as out of control.
Flipping between eating-disorder behaviors and drinking became my entire existence. I am lucky to be alive. In my late twenties, my parents threatened to drop me off at the county hospital or rehab; I chose rehab. When I went to rehab eight years ago, I left sober, yet incapable of eating without crying. I had no idea how to recover. I had a therapist, but felt alone in my journey, not yet knowing the evidenced-based treatment for eating disorders: It takes a village of therapists, psychiatrists, dietitians/nutritionists, coaches, and mentors. I scrambled alone for a year, relapsing over and over, until one day I had an aha moment driving by the beach: I had everything to lose and everything to gain by fighting for recovery.
What ultimately saved me was finding a voice for myself and being loud with it; by becoming an activist I had to stop hiding and worrying about how I was perceived. I told my parents what support I needed and we learned together. Since I felt alone in my dual diagnosis, I became a “voice in recovery” on social media, documenting my journey to educate myself about eating disorders, addictions, mental illness, mood disorders, and more.
Today, I am seven years booze-free — happy, healthy, and definitely far from perfect. I have days where I may struggle with body image, but I no longer seek to control my feelings through alcohol or food; I utilize healthy coping skills that work for me, and seek to be vulnerable with my activism and voice. It is OK to not be OK, OK to ask for help, OK to fall, fail, crash and burn, and relapse; recovery isn’t a straight line, and it can be a long journey, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am who I am due to all I had to work through. I love and know myself. My life is a gift, and I am forever grateful to live it fully, with love and kindness toward not only myself but in giving toward others who may struggle as well.
I first had what I call “energy” around food after my mother died when I was 13. Undergoing puberty, all of a sudden I lost my original shape, the one that resembled childhood and being with my mom. Bitter breast cancer took my mother’s life, I was sick of uncontrollable things happening, and I craved a sense of control. Food, exercise, and my body were things I could control. I was held captive by my disorder in college and even through culinary school.
By then I had developed osteoporosis, and I honestly was fed up (pun intended) with over-exercising and eating huge meals that left me bloated and tired. I checked myself into inpatient rehab and began recovery. I got my period and boobs back and started to feel somewhat at peace. I gained more than just weight — I felt like I gained back my identity. Although I looked healthy physically, I still had “energy” around food. I’d eat cookies and take days off from exercising, but I still felt guilty. Recovery to me meant I would be free of that guilt.
When my father died a few months after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, I re-evaluated that “energy” I had around food and weight. I was 24 and essentially an orphan. I saw my parents have their lives cut short and realized I was living — for nearly a decade — in a slow suicidal state. More than ever, I want to live. I wanted to be alive. Not just for me, but for my parents. I needed to be alive because they didn’t get the chance to.
Last year, I had a preventative double mastectomy because I carried a high-risk hereditary breast cancer gene. I didn’t exercise for weeks and didn’t feel guilty about it. Being free of the disease that haunted my mother was more important. I finally got a taste (pun sort of intended, again) of real recovery and empowerment. It was a big F-you to cancer, my eating disorder, and my fears. I can’t believe I spent so much of my life wanting there to be less of me. I don’t regret my eating disorder because it shaped who I am today. I’m proud of the woman I am. I plan on being here for a while, and I still have so much more to gain.
I struggled with anorexia as an adolescent and for many years as an adult, after already being well. Many people trying to help me didn’t believe I would have lasting recovery. I am now fully recovered and live free of eating-disorder thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Now, as a counselor, coach, advocate, and storyteller, I draw on my experiences and struggles to be an ally to others.
While people struggling with food, weight, and body issues and their families appreciate my "insider" knowledge and example of recovery, clinical professionals are more reserved, acknowledging my experiences but remaining cautious of my helping others as a "peer." They forget that I am a peer to them, offering a unique ability to bridge the gap between both worlds.
I speak up in places and with people that are receptive while still pushing the envelope. Current ways of understanding and treating people affected by eating disorders need to be challenged and expanded. It is important they hear stories based in strength. That they see a path to recovery focused on all aspects of life and experience, where bodies are not only restored but where lives are reclaimed. Where people are not seen only in light of their struggle but as whole beings able to live the life they choose.
Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” I have recently gathered enough courage to ask: What would be possible if I truly loved every single part of myself unconditionally? Who would I be hurting if I stopped apologizing for the amount of time and space I fill? How explosively liberating could it feel if I stopped believing that my beauty and worth are created only by a man’s desire to see me naked? What would be possible if I allowed myself to deeply, honestly, radically, vulnerably, and unconditionally live these questions?
Every so often, I pause to listen to the way I speak or observe the way my hands move. Every time, I am overwhelmed that my body, exactly how it exists at this moment, is the converging point of all the interactions I have ever had with every person I have ever met. My sense of humor has my sister’s laughter seeping out of it. I peel Fuji apples with the same technique I watched my mother use during her elementary school lunch-packing years.
My story, as I tell it these days, is a moment of gratitude for all of the women throughout my life who have helped to build the spaces in which we can begin to love ourselves. I carry all of them, and all of our sacred spaces, in the deep core of my being. To my mother, grandmother, and sister: You remind me that the skin on my bones was made possible by a long lineage of women who believe that the act of feeding others and sharing food is an intimate act of love and communion. To honor my body is the best way I know how to say thank you.
Here are several resources for seeking help if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder. For clinical definitions of eating disorders, mental illnesses, and addictions, you can visit the DSM-V website.
These organizations have trained support available by phone:
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Helpline: 1-630-577-1330
Binge Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-855-855-BEDA
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
And these organizations are some of the countless others worldwide providing eating disorder prevention and support, and body-positivity resources and education:
Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer, body empowerment advocate, and educator. She tours nationwide performing spoken word poetry and facilitating workshops, and is also a journalist, documentary film producer, and activist.
Contact Caroline Rothstein at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.