Do I Really Have An Eating Disorder?

If you are wondering if you have an eating disorder, then you probably do.
Bold statement, maybe. But if there’s any question in your mind then you are probably right. I had a feeling for a long time that something felt “off” for a while. But thinking it wasn’t “that bad,” I continued with what I was doing, only to see that the more and more I fell into the trap, the harder it was to get out. What began as a healthy weight loss (just taking out a few unhealthy, processed foods here and there) led to counting calories, restricting calories, weighing myself twice a day, feeling the need to compete with my past weigh-ins to get lower and lower…and it goes on.
Not to say this will happen to everyone who starts on a journey to health. There’s nothing wrong with cutting out a few junk foods and striving to lower your pant size through gradual, healthy steps. But for those with the “all-or-nothing” mentality striving to lose weight can sometimes end up in the danger zone.

I often think about where the restriction would have led me if I hadn’t gotten my knee injury or looked into raw food. Yes, those circumstances led me to an interesting, and perhaps life-saving spot. I remember going into my sophomore year of college (summer 2011) thinking about how I “had” to lose more weight (I was horrified to have gained 2-3 pounds since the summer before). It may seem absurd to some of you, but at that point I had become so entrenched in the eating disorder that I felt weight was the biggest factor in my success and I was determined to use it all the way. I had gotten to the point where I thought only weight loss would keep me at the top–so much so that I was not as motivated to cross train or strength train when I was injured. I was too focused on food to even do the things that would help me to get back on track sooner to stay in shape.
But I didn’t fall under 100 pounds. I didn’t starve for days-on-end. I never even fainted or ended up in the hospital. Does that mean I didn’t have an eating disorder?

Taking A Look Back

As I look back at my earliest journal entries from almost three years ago (hand-written, and before college) I can see everything clearer than ever. And these journal entries make me not only realize how far I have come but how consumed I was in the eating disorder. It was ruling my life:
June 22, 2010:
“I’m obsessing over food, and I need a way out. I’m so frustrated and consumed by weight loss! I guess it’s finally the time to admit it…I don’t want to think about it all the time. It’s controlling my life! I want other things to make me excited and happy, not food! I know I’m not overweight, but I’m scared to gain weight—especially in college. I want to eat healthy and feel okay with the food in college.”
“I want to be myself and really open up in college. I want to be that energetic, happy person again. I’ve been feeling so sluggish and lazy for a while now…where’s my motivation? I’m glued to the computer, trying to find the secrets to weight loss. I’m on it constantly.”
“The obsession has got to die down a bit. I want to continue to be healthy, just not obsessed with it, thinking about it all the time. I figured writing this all out would help, right?”
“It’s weird, because I couldn’t really share my excitement with losing weight with anyone. For some reason I just feel like it’s a big secret of mine. I guess I just don’t want anyone freaking out because they already thought I was ‘skinny’ to begin with due to my running.”
It was clear that my obsession was taking over every thought of my day. I couldn’t focus on anything else, and there was a part of me that felt I couldn’t pull myself away no matter how badly the real Rachael wanted to get out.

“You Don’t Really Have This”

There is still a battle in my mind that says it isn’t real, that I’m just making it up, that I’m over-exaggerating. In fact, I hear the voice in my head every day saying You don’t really have this and then here I am counting calories or scared to eat anything outside my “safety” zone or uncomfortable eating in front of others and constantly fear gaining weight or getting out of control. Much of these fears have lessened now, so there is improvement. But I guess that just goes to show how difficult everything was for a while.
Unfortunately too many of us can relate. It’s scary how many stories I’ve heard from others about how they struggle with their own eating disorders. As I looked around the table countless times with friends and family at meals, thinking I was the only one feeling the way I did about food, I realize now I was not as alone as I thought.
No doubt this illness is is all too-common in our society. It doesn’t make it that much less of an issue. In the past year I admitted to someone that I was writing about dealing with an eating disorder. Her response? “Well yeah, I think every girl sort of goes through that.” I was surprised to feel frustrated with this comment. While I don’t think it was her intention to make me feel that way, she seemed to act as if it was merely a stage in puberty that everyone goes through. It made me feel like what I had was blown out of proportion, that because it was something so common in our society it didn’t matter, that I’d “get over it” eventually.
Yes, this is a common issue–so common now that we do seem to blow it off or just don’t want to deal with it or approach it. But by coming to grips with this eating disorder I was better able to tackle it once and for all. I was able to give a name for my fear, embarrassment, shame, and confusion.
I was able to get help.
I think the fact that this mental illness is so prevalent in our society now makes it “normalized.” As in, if you have eating-disorder thoughts, it doesn’t seem to be “that bad” because almost everyone seems to have these thoughts and or our magazines and other media sources promote these eating disorder thoughts as “normal.” And if we’re not 80 pounds, then we must not really have an eating disorder, right?
I feel that if you are dealing with any type of eating disorder, be it minor or seemingly “insignificant,” know that the sooner you get help or talk or let someone know, the easier it is to pull yourself out. Because even if it seems “minor” or “insignificant” now, it has the chance to get worse. The longer you weight (whoops, Freudian slip–I do that a lot. Let’s try that again: “wait”), the longer it will take to recover.

The Good ‘Ole Days

My case in point is that I know what it’s like to have an eating disorder and I know what it’s like not to have one. I feel like a switch suddenly turned on what I “caught” it–because looking back at my childhood, I remember what it was like to eat normally. And for some reason I just can’t get myself to do this anymore.
I had some eating disorder characteristics even in childhood, although minor to the degree that it wouldn’t raise too much concern. I tried to avoid fat in any form of butter, margarine, or mayo to eat “healthier” and I felt bad if I ate these foods, but at the same time I happily indulged in pizza, chicken fingers, a glass of coke once in a while, dessert every night…nothing too outrageous. On the side of that my healthier options included lots of fruit, vegetables, home-cooked meals, cereal, skim milk…the typical seemingly healthy plates of food. As a kid my relationship to food was particularly normal. I never worried about my weight, never felt my body for fat, didn’t measure fat with my eyes in the mirror, didn’t worry about how much people saw me eat. I did always feel large, but that was probably the worst of it at any point. I ate until I was full and moved on with my life, not to think about food until the next meal time.

The World’s Greatest Eater

One of the biggest changes from then to now is my reaction to people saying, “Rachael eats so much!” I found pride in that as a kid, relished in the attention when I could fit in a whole stack of pancakes for breakfast. I noticed the switch into the eating disorder mindset when I began feeling angry and frustrated upon hearing comments about my food. “I’ll show you”  played over and over in my head once I began to restrict. I also began to understand calories and weights for what they really were–not just a number, but a number with a meaning and significance. Having a day full of desserts once in a while was no longer a “fun” or “treat” day like it was in the past, but a day of unleashing the binge-eating beast, a day of guilt and dread and anger and remorse.
I can’t even begin to explain how scared, how vulnerable and exposed I felt to start this blog about dealing with an eating disorder–especially about a part of the disorder that is not as “pretty.” I had to expose the bingeing, the feeling of being out of control after having seemingly all the discipline in the world. For the longest time I thought eating was all about discipline. The “rebellion” I’ll call it, was the biggest wake-up call of my life. And it was perhaps that (as a part of the raw food diet and my injury) that opened my eyes and helped me to speak up for the first time.
To write on the Internet that I was dealing with an “eating disorder” made me feel like I was making it all up. Writing out “eating disorder” next to my name made me cringe but once it was posted I felt there was no turning back. I felt a deep need to tell the story behind my weight loss and sudden weight gain and expose my inner thoughts through the entire process–how it’s not all about a loss of discipline self control. In a mental illness seemingly all about self-control it was all too clear that something bigger than me was taking control–and I wanted Rachael back.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

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13 Responses to Do I Really Have An Eating Disorder?

  1. Anonymous says:

    If this entry had a like button I would click it. Thank you for writing this, explains it so well. I relate to every single thing you said.

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m really glad to see you using the words “eating disorder” rather than just “ED.” To make I literary comparison, it reminded me of the “you-know-who/he-who-must-not-be-named” vs. Voldemort battle. JK Rowling is brilliant here because she recognizes that calling your demons by their name is half the battle. Once someone gets comfortable speaking what was once unspeakable, they can move on to actually defeating that thing. Every time I saw you use “ED” in your running log and here, I was rooting for you, much like I rooted for Ron, Hermione, etc., to start calling the beast by its nasty name. For some reason the unspoken/unnamed is always much scarier than the spoken/named.

    • rachael says:

      Agreed. I think writing out “eating disorder” was scary because I didn’t like my name attached to it, or for others to see my name attached to it…. As I describe here in the post, I always felt that I wasn’t really dealing with an eating disorder so it felt strange to write it out and just writing “ED” made it less real for me. You’re right, it’s better to just come to terms with what it really is.

  3. Rachel says:

    I also want to say that I don’t agree with that woman who said that it is something that every girl goes through. I would say that most PEOPLE (not just females) have the occasional moment where they regret their food choices or think too much about food or their body, but to equate that with what you unfortunately are dealing with would be a mistake, I believe. You are obviously not alone with your disorder, but the whole world doesn’t suffer either. Everyone has their own battles, some overlap and some don’t. From what I’ve learned about eating disorders, and mental illness in general, is that it is NOT “just a phase” but needs to be dealt with and treated seriously. I know you don’t necessarily need me saying this, but you did the right thing by not really listening to her and getting help, as well as helping so many other people who are similarly afflicted. I admire you, Rachael!

    • rachael says:

      Yes, that comment about how it’s only a “girl” issue really ticked me off too, and I was about to go off on a writing tangent on that topic alone but figured my post was long enough as it was :P Maybe for another time.
      Thanks Rach :)

      • Rachel says:

        YEAH! Do a post on that some time! I’m sure you’ve encountered it with other people on here so that would probably be good to call attention to it.

  4. iSwim says:

    Spot on! Thank you for posting.

  5. Marsha says:

    I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your journal entries on this blog. I read them all and can relate to all you have been through-and because of you I am going to take a step forward-away from dieting, restricting myself and hopefully this will take me away from the binge eating. You’re the best!

    • rachael says:

      Your comment couldn’t have come at a better time–thank you for reading, and thank you for these kind words. I am sorry you have had to endure the frustrations with food but know that it WILL get better and by taking this step you are on your way to a better, happier you. It will still be a journey, let me tell you that–but enjoy the accomplishments and successes along the way too despite the downfalls.
      Good luck and stay strong, you are not alone!

  6. Pingback: Doesn’t Every Woman Have An Eating Disorder? | Running in Silence

  7. Alison says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I can relate to a lot of what you’ve said. I suppose I’m one of those people who would hesitate to say she’s ever had an eating disorder, mostly because of how few clinical criteria I have met, but I also know that there has been some seriously warped thinking.

    And I know that it is not an “every girl” thing, nor is it just a girl thing. I’ve been reading lately how many more cases there are these days of women in their 30’s and beyond seeking professional help for eating disorders. I imagine struggling as a teen can mean that there is a greater chance of the “dark voices” whispering all through life. So, I know that I need to stay sharp and ready to confront them so I can stay ok a healthy path!

    Blessings to you–Alison

  8. I am happy you were able to have shift of lifestyle and managed to free yourself from your eating disorder. Recovery doesn’t only mean you are able to stay away from the obsession but more importantly is you were able to love and accept your body as it is.

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