Too many people believe that losing weight will take care of all their problems.
Unfortunately, they equate the notion of “skinny” with happiness and being “perfect,” which is a dangerous connection to make. Although not everyone who diets will develop an eating disorder (a mental illness with the highest mortality rate), a significant number regrettably do.
I personally suffered for over a decade with a severe eating disorder in the forms of anorexia, exercise addiction, binge eating disorder and bulimia. Although my appearance drastically changed because of my behaviors, my mind nonetheless always remained the same. It was equally sick and destructive throughout, as my eating disorder made promises to me that ultimately could have led me to my grave.
Now that I am in recovery, I can painfully expose the lies, disguised as truths, that my eating disorder made me believe:
1. You'll be happy once you lose more weight.
While growing up, I had extremely low self-esteem, along with depression, anxiety and a perfectionist attitude that reinforced I was never good enough. I didn't know how to make sense of why I felt so miserable, and I was too ashamed to tell anyone. So, I blamed myself.
I also didn't have any friends and was teased. Many people can face these situations and get through these years normally. However, with others who are painfully shy and place unrealistic standards on themselves, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, weight, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. My eating disorder promised that if I focused on losing weight, it would distract me from what hurt me the most. But of course, it only served as a Band-Aid while covering my true pain.
The problem was, I did lose weight, and nothing fundamentally changed. In fact, I was just as miserable, but developed a host of dangerous new concerns. This tragic game is a black hole. Once you reach that “goal weight,” you'll have to revise it to keep your focus away from your core pain. Before you realize it, you may be at death's door, just like I was, because you've lost so many pounds.
Always remember that eating disorders are not about weight, but rather the result from poor coping skills in dealing with underlying problems.
2. The more you restrict, the more you'll feel in control.
When I was struggling with anorexia, my life had been reduced to nothing more than counting calories, weighing myself and trying to come up with new ways to hide and restrict food. My eating disorder convinced me this somehow made me safe and in control, when everything else in my life seemed so out of control and unpredictable.
The irony, though, is that my eating disorder had complete control over me. All the talent and potential I once had as a tennis player was destroyed. My passion for horses was swept away, as I was too weak to ride.
My happy experiences that once came from visiting my relatives were lost, as I could no longer make the trip because I was always in the hospital or in a treatment center. I broke up with my boyfriend because my exercise addiction was stronger than the relationship. I also was required to leave college during my freshman year for health reasons. So, who really was in control?
3. If you focus on your weight, all your depression, anxiety and pain will disappear.
An eating disorder, like any form of self-destructive coping skill, can be seen as a way to self-medicate. As noted before, it serves as merely a Band-Aid over a wound. Sure, at first it might seem to work when the wound isn't very large. But over time, that wound is going to get infected, and then it is going to spread, and then it will begin to really hurt.
Inevitably, that wound is going to surface, and it will become painfully obvious that your Band-Aid isn't gong to work anymore. It is at this point you may recognize you have no choice but to address your true issues.
But there can be beauty from all of this. You can heal in a healthy way. You don't have to be afraid of what hurts you the most. You aren't alone, and there is always help for you.
4. The longer you exercise, the stronger and better athlete you'll be.
I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did. My drive for perfection led me to believe that more was always better, and so I pushed myself beyond appropriate limits. I had no sense of what was healthy or not.
My eating disorder told me that if I was practicing tennis two hours a day, then surely an additional hour in the gym must be beneficial. And as time went by, this led to me being so completely addicted to exercise that I joined three different gyms to prevent the same people from seeing me work out for so long.
Needless to say, instead of allowing me to become a better athlete, it led me to a hospital with a heart rate so low that I risked having a heart attack at any moment.
5. I will always be there for you, even when other people won't.
I grew up being teased and rejected by my peers, which left me feeling alone and wary of trusting others. I figured it was best to depend on something I could count on, which became my eating disorder.
I thought I was being smart, and I thought this would shield me from being hurt. However, the irony of this situation was that it was because of my eating disorder that I later turned down invitations to hang out, since they would interfere with my rituals. And it was because of my eating disorder that I remained alone, isolated and different from my peers.
My eating disorder became a self-fulfilling prophecy and my own worst best friend.
6. I'll help you love your body and feel confident in clothes.
This couldn't be further from the truth. I hated my body equally at my lowest weight, my heaviest weight and when I reached a healthy weight. Your eating disorder is never going to make you love your body or feel good about yourself because self-love doesn't come from weight.
On the other hand, once you finally work on your mind and start learning to love and accept yourself unconditionally, it won't matter what you weigh for you to feel confident and good about yourself.
7. Your diet starts tomorrow. Today's the last day you can eat everything you want.
When I was struggling with binge eating disorder, my eating disorder forever promised I could have one last binge before I went off to diet boot camp. Obviously, this backfired in my face each time.
My eating disorder told me I could eat everything I ever dreamed of, but then I had to starve myself by consuming tasteless foods until I reached a slim weight again. This was an unsustainable lifestyle, and I failed each time, unable to follow my eating disorder's barking orders.
In fact, I would get so hungry that instead of slowly returning to a normal weight in a healthy manner, I would repeat the process once again, which only enhanced my binge eating disorder. I fell into a cycle of disappointment and depression, as I blamed myself for being so out of control.
And my brain went into a panic each time, scared to death that this truly would be the last opportunity I would ever feed it. Clearly, there never was a “last” day, nor should there ever be one.
8. You're already obese, so you might as well keep destroying yourself.
Once I reached my highest weight, my eating disorder told me I might as well give up. That "all or nothing" thinking I was so good at took over at full force. My eating disorder had morphed into binge eating disorder seemingly in the blink of an eye after I had struggled with anorexia for seven years.
My eating disorder convinced me once again I was worthless, a failure and too far-gone to be helped, just as it constantly criticized me with anorexia. Even though my body looked drastically different, the same lies were being fed to me, and I helplessly obeyed. And listening to the lies led me to lock myself in my house for half a year in total isolation due to embarrassment.
My days were filled with loneliness, depression, abuse from my eating disorder and binging until I fell into a food coma. It took me years to finally start to find balance.
If there is one thing I can't stress enough, it is to reach out for help now. Start now. You are never too far-gone, and one day at a time is enough to lead you to a healthy place.
9. You binged, so you have to purge and restrict.
My eating disorder wasn't about to let me go… yet. My disease morphed once again, this time into bulimia. My eating disorder swore to me that every time I binged, I had to find a means to purge, whether that meant through over-exercising, restricting or taking an overdose of laxatives, to somehow undo the damage or at least punish myself for such a terrible act.
But because of bulimia, I had to quit jobs, spend countless hours in the ER,and miss out on so much in life because I was in too much pain from laxatives. If only I could have seen I was wonderfully human, and that people can have fun and enjoy food without punishment.
Yet, my eating disorder had made my world so small that I had no sense of reality.
10. You are alone in this struggle. I'm your identity and your only company.
I spent my whole journey silently struggling. I would meet people in treatment centers for brief periods who shared similar struggles, and for fleeting moments, I didn't feel quite so alone. But then, I would always return to my real world of isolation once again.
I started to feel crazy, as my eating disorder had become my identity and only friend. The only outlet I had for releasing some of the madness was through secretly journaling, and I did that obsessively throughout my entire fight. It wasn't until I started getting better that I realized maybe I wasn't so alone. I am Brittany Burgunder and not my eating disorder.
I found a way to create a life beyond my disease, and I chose to publish a book, “Safety in Numbers.” It is composed of my secret diaries. I wrote it so others might not feel so alone, while also shedding light on what it's truly like to struggle with such a misunderstood illness.
11. Only anorexia is dangerous.
My eating disorder shouted this to me while I was finishing my fourth hour of over-exercising at the gym. My heart ached, and my heart rate was dangerously low.
When I was struggling with my binge eating disorder, I had trouble breathing and had to have my gallbladder removed. My doctors told me my heart was at risk. Most importantly, I had no quality of life.
When I was in the worst grips of bulimia, I actually maintained a normal weight. To the public eye, I was fine, right? What they didn't see is I could have dropped dead at a moment's notice because of the deadly behaviors I secretly engaged in.
Often, you cannot tell who is struggling with an eating disorder simply by looking at them, and it can be very dangerous to reach a conclusion based on appearance alone. I highly recommend you read some of the most common eating disorder myths so you can help be a part of a positive change with breaking the stigma around such a deadly disease.
12. You should be ashamed to ask for help.
My eating disorder drilled into my head it was my fault for having an eating disorder, and therefore, it was my responsibility to handle it all by myself. When I was anorexic, my eating disorder told me I was just fine and never sick enough to deserve help.
Similarly, when I was struggling with binge eating disorder, it convinced me I could handle things on my own, despite the fact I wondered whether or not I should end my life. My eating disorder also relentlessly told me how weak I would be to ask for help, even as my vicious cycle with bulimia repeated with no end seemingly in sight.
Of course, I can tell you with the utmost confidence this is one of the most deadly and dangerous lies of them all. Asking for help is one of the greatest signs of strength, and it will save your life.
Having the courage to speak about what you are going through is one of the most inspiring acts. Not only will you help yourself, but you will also help others by setting an example and serving as a role model. There are so many eating disorder resources available at all levels of care and locations. Taking steps at prevention and getting support are the best ways to empower oneself.
13. You will never recover.
I had many times resigned myself to the fact I was a hopeless case. After all, that is what the doctors at just about every treatment center said about me whenever they kicked me out of their facilities due to my eating disorder.
At the same time, my eating disorder constantly screamed at me on a daily basis, “You need me! You're never going to recover! What a silly thought! It's too late! Why try? You're a loser and too stuck, anyway. Just give up already!”
But, I didn't give up. I never did. I fell on my face far more times than I can count. But, I always got up.
Recovery is anything but linear. Step by step I inched forward. Step by step, I got stronger. And step by step, my own voice became louder than my eating disorder's voice.
I cannot reiterate enough that recovery is possible no matter how long you've struggled and no matter how hopeless you may feel. Recovery will be the hardest thing you will ever do, and it will be the most vital and life-changing choice you will ever make.
When you hear your eating disorder speak, call it out on its lies. Move on to living your beautiful life where you are unconditionally good enough just for being you.