I Can’t Write About My Eating Disorder

I can’t write about my eating disorder. I thought I could. I have been in recovery since 2001. I eat pizza and cake and three meals a day plus snacks. I don’t hate how I look. I don’t wish I was thinner. I like my weight and have stayed within five pound for the past nine years except during my pregnancies and postpartum periods. And I only know my weight because I go for yearly physicals.

I wanted to write about my struggle and triumph over anorexia. Because I think that the worst part of an eating disorder is the isolation. Me and my head and my food and my WILL. Falling asleep in the middle of the day because I don’t have enough calories to stay awake. Counting ribs to calm my anxiety. My pseudo-recovery back then consisted of hiding in stalls on other floors of my college dormitory until the bathroom was empty so I could vomit. The string of therapists and medications and diagnoses. The inpatient treatment facility that kept extending my stay.

I wanted to write about crying during my first yoga class in treatment because connecting my mind and body in a way I had denied for five years was overwhelming. So was giving away my “skinny” clothes a year after finding recovery. I spent days and hours praying to a God I did not understand to help me to eat and love my body until I did. And I have spent my days since then reaching out to others at different points of their recovery to give and get support.

I wanted to write about my immense disappointment in the recovery field for not giving a solid community to the eating disordered. That those who are still active in their disease have more forums to discuss staying sick than those who are well. But I also remember that the only reason I could stay at my treatment facility beyond 30 days was because a lone insurance operator took pity on my story and added my treatment center to their network. Because otherwise the insurance company had not a single inpatient facility covered. That most doctors weigh us and hug us but don’t really know how to help us.

I wanted to write about how disheartened I am by the media’s portrayal of eating disorders as a symptom of a magazine instead of as a disease. My desire for bigger breasts may be a symptom of what sells. My desire to not eat for years until I was so underweight people thought I had cancer. That is not from the magazines. Crossing that line did not make me pretty or trendy.  And who saw me? I hardly left my house.

Because when I was in the throes of my disorder, all I wanted was to not feel. To not deal. I hated how much life hurt. And I was looking to stop it. To control it. So I chose my body for my “it.” And I tortured it forgetting that it was my body. I was hurting myself to hurt myself to hurt myself. And sometimes to hurt you. To show you how hard it was to live in all this crazy in my head.

I wanted to write about how I believe that it is easier to blame society for eating disorders than it is to help the eating disordered. We are so frustrating and stubborn and crazy. And while I currently don’t buy the magazines stuffed with stories about how I am not good enough, I could have never made the choice had I not begun eating and living and feeling again.

I believe in changing our society’s warped view of women and of bodies and of health. But I don’t believe that will save a single woman already in the grips of an eating disorder. I pray that the pediatricians and internists and psychiatrists can do that. I pray that the few treatment centers and support groups available can do that.  I pray that my story can do that.

Because today I am beautiful and whole. I love the shake of my butt when I dance. I love that my nails grow and my periods are regular. And I love that I rarely sucked in during a photo. Because I can even love the curve of my belly.

I know, deep down in my soul, that the thinner I crave is not even the thinner I see. It is deep and dark. My thinner is about disappearing.

And I want to take up space today. I have things to say and do and feel and write.

I have people to love. I can’t do that if I’m not here.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

77 thoughts to “I Can’t Write About My Eating Disorder”

  1. Oh, Alex, it takes bravery to be this naked. I think it’s easy to see the effects of eating disorders and write off the causes, make believe it’s about the food. Your writing here exposes that lie so well.
    Your strength also resounds through the whole piece. Bravo.
    And I wish I could give you a hug.

  2. I just want to first stand up and clap for you. I can’t begin to tell you how brave you are to write your story down for the world to see. I agree with you there is not much out there for people in recovery. Seems like every other disease has support groups and what not. But I feel that the world just looks down on eating disorders. But the fact is every woman has a small form of eating disorder. We all struggle to keep that balance of loving ourselves and not trying to compare our body to another woman’s body. I never dealt with eating disorder. But I have at one point or another wished I was smaller or could fit in that small dress. Now I try to remind myself that my body is special and one of a kind. And to love it and shake and dance and be proud I am a full figure woman! For God created this body and he was glad and rejoiced so why shouldn’t I!

    1. Thank you. I think that so many people suffer from body image and disordered eating habits. I am glad that you remember that God gave you that beautiful dancing loving body! SHAKE YOUR BOOTY! (seriously, right now… you should)

  3. Good for you! It’s such a hard issue to talk about–to admit–and yet so many women have struggled. In college, the girls’ bathrooms were more vomitoriums than anything involving showers or pee. It was just accepted.

    I’m sure this was a bitch too write. I haven’t owned a scale for years and years, and when I went to the gyno last week, I saw that scale and just had this visceral, gut-wrenching reaction. In little ways, it’s always with you.

    1. When I was pregnant the first time, I turned my back to the scale like I had to do in treatment. I felt like the number made me enjoy my pregnancy less and less. And I told my midwife to just let me know if I was gaining too much or not enough.

      It is so overlooked. And misunderstood. I’m glad I wrote this but I hope to not have anymore gut-wrenchers for awhile.

  4. Oh, Alex. I can’t even imagine how hard this was to write. I had an entirely different form of self punishment and I still can’t even talk to people about it let alone write it down.

    You are very brave. And I’m so glad you got well…and I’m very grateful to that insurance carrier. Normally I loathe them with a passion so that’s saying a lot for me.

    1. I normally loathe insurance carriers too. This was such a miracle. Seriously.

      And I never thought I’d write about this until I was asked to be a part of the calendar. And even then I debated whether to write about body image or get into my own experiences. (hence the EIGHT DRAFTS) Maybe someday it will be time to write about yours. Or maybe not. I seemed to enjoy self-punishment a lot so who knows? we may have more in common than just BEING AWESOME!

  5. Good job writing this. Must have been hard.

    You know a lot of what I believe already, but I’ll say it again. It takes a courageous soul to have opted for a life plan that choose something like an eating disorder and all that goes with it. You are here to learn and teach great things in this world Alex. Keep it up.

    1. This line: “You are here to learn and teach great things in this world Alex” Really carried me through the day on Monday as I knew more and more people were reading this. Thank you Susie.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. Your courage is evident. Although I don’t struggle with the same eating disorder, I struggle with an eating disorder. It’s a great reminder to know others struggle as well, that we aren’t in the dark.

    Thank you!

    1. You are welcome. And thank you for letting me know that I am not alone. It’s amazing how the same root can manifest it’s self in so many different ways. I hope that you find recovery when you are ready. If you want to email me for more details on what I’ve done, please do.

  7. Thank you, Alex.

    I’m in awe of your willingness and courage.

    Scared, too, of what I have not yet written about myself. You inspire me.

    Love. Much, much love.

  8. Can I just say thank you for this? I’ve been struggling to write my own Body Blogger post, for weeks now. I’m really struggling to be that honest about body image. I might just sit down and write some day, and whatever comes out, is what I will send.

  9. I love your guts. Your continual willingness to be open and share things that most of us don’t like to think about at all let alone revisit, is absolutely amazing. I hope someday I can be as brave as you and be of service the way I see you operating. You’re amazing.
    Love Me

    1. Thank you for saying that you see me as being of service. I’m so grateful that my blog can help others. And you my friend ARE brave. Bravery takes many forms. Yours is there. I see and hear of it all the time.

  10. This is quite an amazing piece of writing, Alex. Thank you for being brave enough to share it. Thank you for such honest and true insights. (And you should seriously publish this further.)

  11. Alex, you put into words what I cannot. That’s what great writers do. Thanks so much for your honesty and your courage.

  12. Alex – this was so moving, so beautifully, honestly written. Thank you for sharing this.
    I can relate on a few levels… but don’t want to write you a novel 🙂
    You’re doing such an incredible thing, giving a voice to this important topic.
    Hugs to you, you brave lady.

  13. I’ll admit that anorexia is something I’ve never really understood. I know it is a psychological condition. A disease. I know a lot of it is about control. But I’ll admit to being one of those that really thought it was about image. I never really understood it was about self-loathing (not to put words in your mouth).

    I have dealt with forms of anxiety and depression on and off and I remember my husband telling me, “If you know you are depressed, why don’t you just be happy?” It takes a lot to understand that it’s not just a choice to pick up a donut and eat.

    If you’re goal is to share and educate, you’ve helped me to understand. And I so admire everything you are doing today to keep yourself healthy, mentally and physically. (P.S. I’m also a big fan of yoga).

    1. I am really glad that you read this with an open heart. It’s amazing how much more we have in common with each other when we do. Because it is a HUGE gift to hear that this helped you to understand more.

      And I remember being yelled at: JUST EAT. And I started crying and whimpered: I would if I could.

      While I believe that we can CONTRIBUTE to our disease by not seeking help. I don’t think that we can just decide not to have them. (which is too bad because I would’ve opted out month two of my ED)

  14. I takes so much courage and determination to write of our inner demons. To come out is to say “I promise to always know this about myself.”

    It is an acknowledgement and a risk, it says we’re not perfect, will you still love me?

    I struggle with very hard, very difficult depression. I’d love to blog about it, but I fear that turning that on willl unleash and wake up even more, the monster that is there every day…

    This is wonderful, I know you will help someone, who will find this, either through your blog, or tweeting to it, but It will help someone. And that is why we blog, isn’t it???

    1. I had to wait a long time to feel like I could put this out into the public sphere. My friends and family had to know and be comfortable enough — maybe be far away enough from it. But to write it without going back into it? to touch it without waking it up? that is the struggle.

      I often feel like I have to be in the solution before I can talk about the problem here. But maybe that’s not true. I know that offering hope is important to me.

      And who knows, you may decide one day that you are ready. Or you may never writing about it on your blog. Either way is perfect.

  15. This is amazing. The part I can most relate to is the part about existing and taking up space; to not just disappear into nothing, but to be big and bold and beautiful and to love all of those things. And to love others, and to not let ED take away the person who others love back.

    1. Thank you for you comment. I loved this line: And to love others, and to not let ED take away the person who others love back.

      Because that is so much of what our EDs take from us. That connection to friends, family. To life.

  16. My SIL is anorexic. She has a widow’s hump at 50, is always at the dentist because her teeth and gums are so crappy, and is in chronic pain from a pelvic nerve disorder that goes with the whole syndrome.

    She refuses to seek help, and her mother, who could have forced her into treatment years ago when it might have actually helped, simply refuses to believe that there’s anything wrong with her. When I tried to force the issue, and make them see, and get her some help, my MIL told me that I was just jealous because her daughter was so much thinner than I was.

    So I gave up.

    She comes to dinners at my house and pops pill after pill in front of my kids, pushes food around on her plate, and then disappears into the bathroom for half an hour. There are some days when I’m grateful I have only boys.

    1. That is so sad. And makes me unbelievably grateful to be free.

      I will say that if she refuses to seek help, it doesn’t matter who talks to her or what treatments she goes to. I met women who were on their EIGHTH treatment center. With no desire to get better. The willingness really must come from within. And who knows what her bottom will be or if she will even hit it before dying.

      PS. I’ve had three male friends with eating disorders. Not that I would wish that on your boys but just so you know that it’s not unheard of. And the stigma is so much greater.

  17. i know that putting my 2 cents in may only be worth — well, about 2 cents. but as one who has known you for many years, possibly from before this ever even started, i must say that you have always been both brilliant and beautiful. and now i can add: gutsy!! you go girl.

  18. Is it possible that I could love you more? Your honesty, your courage, the reality you speak of touches my heart, deeply. You have clearly come so far, for that you should be so proud. And for sharing, sharing in a way that is authentic I applaud you.

    My sister suffered from an eating disorder for many years. It was warpped up in a lot of troubles, troubles she still battles and that I’m certain I will never fully understand. If she were in a better place I wish she could have a role model like you.

    1. Wow. Thank you for this moving and kind comment. I love you so much too!! I wish that I could help your sister. Sometimes we are so bound up in our many disorders, it’s hard to walk through each one. But it is possible.

      Your sister is in my prayers

  19. My youngest sister was hospitalized for anorexia when she was 15. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to watch. I remember her collapsing in tears and refusing to eat at all because the local deli didn’t have fat free mayonaise, waking us up in the middle of the night from the noise of doing jumping jacks for two hours, her hair falling out in clumps, running on the track until she passed out, watching her shrink below 80 pounds, screaming at my mom that she hated her when my parents had to make the tough decision to put her in a hosptial, watching my parents lose almost everything in their fight for her life when insurance stopped paying for treatment.

    After months of treatment, she was released, not cured, but in recovery. Even now, 13 years later, we keep a close eye. We listen for “key words”. We watch and we pray that she never puts herself through something like that again.

    Speaking as someone who watched a loved one try to commit this sort of suicide, I applaud your bravery and your honesty. And I applaud your recovery. Eating disorders are as much a disease as cancer, eating you from the inside out.

    1. This line gave me the chills: Eating disorders are as much a disease as cancer, eating you from the inside out.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I can’t imagine what this was like for my sister (although at the time I could think of nothing but myself and food and hate). Thank you for giving me a glimpse.

      Your sister is in my thoughts.

  20. I know, deep down in my soul, that the thinner I crave is not even the thinner I see. It is deep and dark. My thinner is about disappearing.

    And I want to take up space today. I have things to say and do and feel and write.

    I have people to love. I can’t do that if I’m not here.

    Beautifully put. WE want you here to. All of these comments are just a taste of all the love out there for Alex. :o) The more I get to know you, the more you amaze me…in a good way. ;o)

  21. I’m glad you could not write about your disorder, because I cannot tell you that you are a very courageous person 😉

    My sister had mental anorexia when we lived together in college. Seeing her in an institution (where she stayed 2 months) is the closest I’ve been to such a disorder — you are right that the magazines out there aren’t coming close to covering, let alone understanding, the topic.

    Thanks for opening up and keeping it real.

    1. Thank you for sharing about your sister. I’m so glad that she got help. It is unbelievably painful to experience whether you are suffering or watching someone suffer. You have great strength, too, to have walked through that with her.

  22. I’ve started about half a dozen comments as my response to your post and I’ve deleted every single one. For some reason, though, I just feel compelled to write something and let you know that in your post I see such bravery and strength. I have struggled with my own inner demons and anorexia–also during my college years. I also am in recovery and am finding it a little harder every day now that my pregnancies are over, my children are growing and I am now getting back to “just me”. But for today, I choose to take up space. I choose to love. And with that, I’m going to (finally) press the “submit” button!

    1. Thank you for pressing the submit button. Trust me, I know how hard that it is. And sometimes you have to take it a day at a time to stay in recovery. It’s hard not to let pieces of me go by just “delay” a meal. But I know where it leads and I can’t be the Alex, mama, wife, friend or anything that I want to be. I know it cuts me off from God too. So I pray and eat. And disregard my thoughts. But somedays are much much easier than others. You are in my thoughts. I’m glad that you are taking up space today. Here’s to many more days!

  23. The most important person you have to love…YOU!

    Thank you for sharing! My best friend has had anorexia for most of her life. She “got well” during a time when most people, including the medical community, didn’t understand or even know about this disease. I applaude your honesty and willingness to put it out there. The world needs to know!

  24. Wow! Just read this and every word of it makes sense. I have struggled with my weight my whole life and now at the age of 28 have finally managed to reach 9stone. Some days I am happy about that and others I really want to hit the gym but for the sake of my 6year old son I deal with my head and distract myself. Nobody I know has ever had an eating disorder so I can’t talk to them about it and when I do they look at me like I’m from outer space. My mum thought I was taking drugs because I kept losing weight then she thought it was because I started abusing alcohol at 15. It’s tough being alone in life but even tougher with only an eating disorder as your “friend”. I admire what you are all about and hope that someday I can write as well as you and maybe get published somewhere. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, it helps to know that some1 else out there understands xx

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