Rachael Recovered? Phases of My Eating Disorder, and Where I Am Now

[[[TRIGGER WARNING. Eating disorder behaviors]]]

I didn’t realize until recently how unhealthy and DISORDERED my mindset was these past five years–in all stages of an ever-changing eating disorder. After presenting about my experiences to my college a few times I’ve realized that when I talk about my past eating disorder practices, the person I speak of seems so different from the Rachael I know now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed because it’s been so gradual, but when I write it all out as I’ve done here, it becomes clearer than ever.

Restriction (2 years)

7 a.m.: Wakeup and the first thing you think is BREAKFAST. But you weigh yourself first, of course.

You run to the cafeteria in the darkness of dawn, feeling the ache of an empty stomach and a crazed anticipation to eat at last. You arrive exactly the time it is suppose to open but rage within when you realize the cafeteria has not opened yet. You are starving starving starving.
It opens five minutes later and you eat the exact amounts you have measured and promised yourself. You eat it all slowly, controlled with a tiny sample spoon you saved from an ice cream shop a few months ago. You are still hungry when you leave but you know that will be your biggest meal of the day because MIND RULES.

You anticipate lunch all morning. You are the first person at the cafeteria when it opens because you are starving starving starving. You eat with your teammates and try to participate in conversations but all you are thinking is how many calories how many portions how many bites how many vegetables how much do they think I am eating how much are they eating will they notice what a glutton I am what if I can’t avoid desserts.
But you escape without desserts and run through the hunger in the afternoon and anticipate/dread dinner since that has to be the SMALLEST meal of the day because MIND RULES.
You chew through a whole pack of gum an hour after dinner to avoid eating, and hit the pillow with stomach rumbling.

Binge Eating (2 years)

You wake up feeling guilty. You wonder why you feel guilty.
And then you remember.
You remember the three sandwiches, the four granola bars, mounds and mounds of peanut butter, trying to stuff down vegetables so you can keep the binge as low-calorie as possible. You remember going to bed with your stomach aching, fit to burst, hating yourself, wishing you could have had more self control.
But it’s a new day, so you’re starting over—right?
With each meal the dread of a binge is there—but you don’t know when it will come. You don’t control when it comes. You DO feel the urge build, though.
You try to make strange concoctions of food to keep it as low-calorie as possible so that you can try to lose the weight again. Week after week you feel like you’ve found “it”—the best way to eat. This morning it’s chopped bell peppers, cucumbers, and steamed sweet potato.

And in class you might be eating some oranges, but you are so self-conscious that people will smell it, that they will stare at you, that they think you are a gluttonous pig.
Track practice feels uncomfortable because you ate too close to practice, and you knew this as you were eating, but the urge to eat is so strong, so animalistic, that you can’t resist any and all food even though you know there are consequences. You can’t resist and now your body is suffering through the run because you are not used to handling so much food, so many heavy fats from avocados or granola bars and chocolate and peanut butter.
You have a night class and you bring in your oatmeal-tuna-coconut oil-vegetable “stew” to try to go as low-calorie as possible. You are aware that this is a strange combination but it’s your “safe” food, and you feel like people are staring and thinking about what you’re eating and you hate eating in front of people because of this but you are so, so hungry. Food is not about pleasure—it was never about pleasure since you started counting calories. And even when you finish your meal you think about what other foods you can get.
During the break, after much contemplation as you try to focus on the lesson, you cave into the vending machine food and buy two granola bars, sink your teeth into them, and transport yourself into heaven. And then they are all you are thinking about for the rest of class—how guilty you feel about eating the “forbidden” and how badly you still want more.
You come back to your apartment late at night after class only to shovel in all the food possible, hating yourself, your body, how out of control you feel, how you wonder when this will all end, when the weight will stop piling on, when the obsession with food will diminish. It is still ALL you think about.

Bulimia (9 months)

You’re sad. Frustrated. You want to fight back. You don’t want to feel the ache and pain and guilt from bingeing, so bulimia gives you power. When you’re angry with someone, you can just flush it away. When you’re frustrated with yourself, you can just flush it away. When you feel guilt from the food, you can just flush it away.
It is violent. It is purging food AND emotion from these past few years. It is releasing all the pent up anger and frustration with your body for all these years of pain and heartache and frustration and stigma. But no one will have to see your anger and frustration because you can hide it while still letting it all out. And now you have a form of control again like restriction. But since you can’t restrict anymore, this is your new control.
HA. You laugh at your body, at it’s ignorance, because aren’t YOU in control again now?
You eat and purge all day. You eat, and purge, and then you feel hungry again twenty minutes later because purging, you realize, doesn’t really do anything except waste the food you were buying. And to escape the hunger again immediately after a purge you escape and bike to the Y, because if you work out, you will take away the pain. But the moment you get there your stomach screams and you cannot even walk into the building. The intensity of how badly you want food gets you back on that bike and you’re flying back to your home, even contemplating stopping at Jimmy John’s on the ten-minute bike ride because your body is that desperate for food NOW.
Bulimia is not a fix.


I still wake up in the morning shocked with my appearance. I am still getting used to looking at “now” pictures because I am not used to a body like this. But I no longer wake up with guilt. My weight has been stable. I still have downfalls once in a great while, but nowhere near to the extent I had before. I pack a healthy lunch and peanut butter sandwiches for school. I eat the sandwich calmly in class, no longer worried about what other people think about my food. I engage in conversations and I’m able to pay attention. I laugh and smile and feel like I am MYSELF at last–without food and the obsession with running better to dominate my thoughts. I’m not constantly thinking about when my next meal will be because I eat until I am full and I go about my day. I’ve been cooking new foods and enjoying going out to eat with friends and family. I don’t have set times or schedules. I listen to my body and enjoy the peace of mind.
I do not weigh myself. I do not count calories.
As of right now, I have recovered from the eating disorder.
Granted, I still have some quirks and I still remember all the calories of most foods. I still try to eat healthy, but this time it’s with a healthy mindset. I may purge once in a while but it’s very rare now. There will always be a lingering fear from something that I dealt with for five years.
There is no quick fix or absolute answer. All I can say is that it has come with patience, learning my triggers, avoiding the competitive running life for a while, and learning how to be happy with MYSELF.
In two weeks, I graduate college. I’d say this is a nice way to enter the next phase of my life.
Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

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.
This entry was posted in Anorexia, Binge Eating, Bulimia, Recovery. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Rachael Recovered? Phases of My Eating Disorder, and Where I Am Now

  1. Regan says:


  2. Hemming says:

    Hi Rachael,

    Oh boy, can I relate to the restriction phase you describe. So great to hear to how far you’ve come and that you now feel recovered. I’ve often told people that it feels strange to want to laugh, smile and be yourself again. It’s like you become another person in that period and have to find yourself again. I’m so glad to hear you have done that.

  3. Emma says:

    Wow… I can relate to the restricting and binge eating part so so much, in fact I could have written this. It is crazy to hear someone voice EXACTLY what goes through your own mind. This is unbelievable. Goodness, the anticipation of meals, the internal (or external, if I was at home) rage that occurred if a meal was to be a bit late.
    Then the bingeing “you can’t resist any and all food even though you know there are consequences” … I’ve had to sit down before, and during my gym fitness classes sometimes because I have just consumed an entire loaf of bread or something similar. I completely understand you!

    I am so so pleased you have come out of this now. I hope one day I can too :)

  4. Tamara Steil says:

    I continue to be amazed with your writing. I do not suffer from disordered eating, but the way you write about it makes me feel like I am right there with you, experiencing what you are going through, and feeling the rawness and frustration. Your descriptions are excellent and relatable (obviously – see above comments) and you give everyone a front row seat to who you are and what this beast is. I am enthralled with your honestly and especially grateful that you are coming through this journey with hope and calm anticipation that it no longer rules every phase of your life. Each time I read a piece by you, I learn something new and different about you that I did not know before. Thank you for letting us all in.

  5. Tina says:

    You write from the trenches of experience, Rachael. So relatable!

  6. Sarah says:

    I identify with every single phase you just wrote about. It’s painful for me to read this because it reminds me of when I was going through each of these stages. For me, each stage was worse and more shameful than the last. I am “recovered” now, as well, but it’s hard as hell some days. Reading this post really gives me consolation that I’m not the only one with these thoughts, and that they can be beat.

    Thank you so much for writing this xx

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