Recently I saw the Dutch documentary ‘Emma wil leven’, about a girl who wanted to recover from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. Unfortunately for her, it was already too late. Again this terrible disease took a life. However, it is possible to fully recover from this disease. I managed to beat this eating disorder. Because I want to help other women who are suffering from an eating disorder or eating problem, I decided to share my story with you.
This blog has previously been published in Dutch on Bedrock.nl (January 2017)
What is the cause of Anorexia Nervosa?
I’m pretty sure that I had a certain predisposition for this disease. My parents told me that I already had extreme eating habits since my childhood. Besides that I have a lot of perseverance and I used to be extremely perfectionistic. Nevertheless, this would not necessarily have to lead to an eating disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa is like an assassin. Long before this disease manifests itself clearly, the personal development is already slowed down or even stalled. For example, I never really learned to talk about my feelings and because of a bad experience in my childhood, I always saw myself like a stranger in the midst. My life felt like a big, elusive chaos. Controlling my body weight and nutrition gave me the feeling that there was at least one thing I could control.
I saw myself as someone with obesity
I’ve never been overweight. In fact, I’ve always been underweight until I had beaten Anorexia. I still think it’s bizarre how I could see myself so distorted, but I do understand how this works. Just take a camera with a zoom lens. With this lens you can see the whole picture, but you also can zoom in very closely. The more you zoom, the bigger the object in the picture seems to be. If you do this with your body when looking in the mirror and especially zoom in on the body parts you don’t like about yourself, it’s easy to develop a distorted body image.
When I was 18 years old, the situation was untenable. I was both mentally and physically in a very bad shape. The Anorexia did not only control me, it also controlled the family. I wasn’t even able to go to school anymore. Shortly after Christmas I was urgently admitted into a clinical treatment. For me this was very two-sided: On the one hand I was desperate and willing to get into treatment. On the other hand I was terrified to lose control over my nutrition and body weight.
I have deliberately chosen not to share any photo of this period, nor call a body weight/BMI. I don’t want girls with eating disorders taking it as an ‘example’. In addition, what is going on inside the mind is more determining the seriousness of an eating disorder (in my opinion).
The therapies where very confronting and the treatment didn’t feel as liberating as I hoped for. In the nine months that followed, I gained weight and learned how to eat normally. Even though I started to feel better physically, the Anorexia-voice inside my mind was still too strong. In the last months of my treatment I acted as if everything was going well, but I only did this to be discharged as soon as possible, so I could take back control over my body weight again. This really shows how manipulative an eating disorder can be. Not only for the people around the patient, but also for the patient herself.
In the months after my clinical treatment I lost several kilograms again. In meanwhile I started to study Physiotherapy. I created some kind of ‘acceptable situation’ and maintained a lower body weight that got just been accepted by the people around me. This went well, until I got a crush on someone. I was so scared for intimacy, femininity or feeling any strong emotion at all, that I scared off, back into the false security of my eating disorder.
However, in this period I also started to realize that I didn’t want to live with Anorexia anymore. At the university I had a nice group of friends and I saw closely how much fun life could be without an eating disorder. I wanted to live. And I told myself that I had to give it at least one serious try to recover completely. This time I chose a treatment myself, a part-time treatment. This means I was sleeping at home and went to intensive therapies on the week days.
This treatment was very different from my clinical treatment. It was focused on the underlying causes of the eating disorder. In hindsight this was my salvation. Of course, the fact that I have chosen this treatment by myself also helped. But even this time it was tempting to maintain the false safety of Anorexia.
In the last few months of my treatment, the other patients and the therapists finally managed to encourage me to fully let go of my eating disorder. For the first time in my life I managed to take those extra steps, which were essential for complete recovery. This eating disorder had been part of my life for so long, that it became a part of me. The very last step was figuring out who I was without it.
Embracing my past
It has been seven years ago since I finished that treatment. In the first few years that followed, I was still sensitive for a fall back. In this period I was having binges, but this actually didn’t have a grip on me. I was physically healthy, feeling fully alive and I was very aware of the cause of those binges. I was (unconsciously) still trying to avoid strong emotions. At that time binge eating was easier for me than facing my emotions. However, step by step I became more conscious about this unhealthy strategy and instead of ‘eating my feelings away’, I learned myself how to face my emotions.
My last binge has been several years ago now. But even years later, I’m still consciously aware of the fact that the eating disorder has left a sensitive scar. I’ll always stay alert for ‘disturbed eating behavior’. Yet, nowadays I have a healthier relationship with food than lots of other people who never had an eating disorder. Nowadays I rely on my body’s signals of hunger and satiety.
Eating for me means nourishing my body and taking good care of my body. Nowadays I love food and I certainly can appreciate a delicious meal or a tasty snack. In the past seven years I experienced life, with all its ups and downs, as something exceptionally beautiful. I’m not letting anything taking that away from me anymore. I love my life!
Are you suffering from an eating disorder or eating problem? Please know that the keys to recovery and a healthy and happy life are already inside you. Don’t let your life be ruled by an eating disorder anymore, but take back the grip over your life and dare to see the beautiful person you already are. Life is waiting for you!