Why It's So Damn Hard To Recover From An Eating Disorder In Our Society

by Jill H

When I first left in-patient treatment for anorexia in 2006, my dietician said to me,

“I wish I could just put earmuffs on you and keep you in my house all day. But I can't, so you just have to work on ignoring all the noise.”

I lived in Los Angeles at the time, and I was “triggered” by everything.

Billboards on Sunset Blvd. showcasing liposuction procedures made me even more nervous about needing to gain 40 pounds to hit a healthy weight; fat-free, sugar-free frozen yogurt shops made eating full-fat ice cream and milkshakes feel wrong somehow.

I felt relief only once during the recovery process: when I was in in-patient treatment, and the only magazines we were allowed to read were The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek.

We were prohibited from watching TV, and phone calls to the "outside world” were regulated.

It was like being in prison, but it was the only way to silence the horrible noise in our worlds about our bodies.

When I heard yet another Hollywood influencer, someone who'd likely been exposed to the same images and conversations as I had, was making the conscious decision to ban the word “skinny” from her website, I was relieved.

I wanted to hug Lauren Conrad for doing her part, for making a small change to help alter the conversation about bodies and body image.

Maybe young women will hear what she's doing and think, “I should stop using these words, too.”

It would help a lot of us. Even though what she's doing may not seem like a big deal to many, to someone with my background, it's revolutionary.

An addict is never free.

You never fully recover from addiction. You're always an alcoholic; you're always an addict; you're always anorexic.

You may not act on your thoughts and feelings, but they're always there.

You're still troubled and haunted by horrible thoughts and feelings around food and exercise, around alcohol and drugs.

For an anorexic, when you're released from the hospital and treatment -- where you've been force-fed through tubes in your nose and kept from ever going on the Internet -- the addiction continues, even though you've learned to silence the voice in your head.

Imagine being sober and constantly being offered a vodka martini; imagine being invited to bars and clubs regularly by your unsympathetic friends, being told you're “no fun” for drinking club soda and having to listen to people talk about how great their watermelon mojitos are as they sit poolside.

For someone who's had an eating disorder, the entire world feels like one big bar, and he or she is the alcoholic waiting in line, tempted with every step.

Alcoholism is something affecting millions. One in every 12 adults suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence.

Anorexia, though it doesn't affect nearly as many people, is very much a disease many suffer with. Twenty million women and 10 million men suffer from some type of clinically diagnosed eating disorder.

It's not as prevalent and not as talked about, so many remain ignorant on the matter.

Some don't realize non-stop talk about their diets makes life that much harder for their formerly anorexic friends.

The lack of conversation surrounding anorexia and even bulimia only illustrates how disordered our world is about food, and how ignorant people are to the complicated world of eating disorders.

Your addiction always chases after you -- even though you've "healed."

Seven years post-recovery, after leaving LA to escape some of my daily triggers, I still can't enjoy brunch with a large group of girls without having to “put on my earmuffs.”

We had just finished eating an amalgam of berry pie, granola, yogurt, mimosas, croissants and creamy chai lattes at a friend's house.

And, yes, it was challenging enough to eat pie without panicking, even after all these years.

Then came the inevitable worry over "how much" we'd all eaten, and in the bathroom sat a scale.

One of the girls noted how much she "loved" the scale in the bathroom, noting she "loved" to weigh herself when she had the chance. Another shared that she checks the scale infrequently, though when she does, it's just to be "safe."

I had noticed the scale in the bathroom, and it took every ounce of strength for me not to step on it.

Since my dietician threw away my scale years ago, I made a promise never to purchase another.

I don't want or need to know my weight… but sometimes scales tempt me. They stare with vacant eyes, begging me to come forward.

Inside my head, the voice I've worked hard to keep quiet grows louder. An addict seeks to feed the urge -- and the scale was begging to be fed.

This day was much like every other day for every other woman. We overhear diet talk in the lunchroom; we see pictures of our juice cleanses on Instagram; on Facebook, our friends pose in bikinis and women write below the photos, “OMG you're so skinny. Go eat a sandwich.”

We are taught, encouraged and instructed to seek acceptance through "skinny."

What we put out into the world matters more than what we put into our mouths.

As a society, we are conditioned to talk about how much we "hate" our bodies, how “bad” certain foods are and how much we “need” to work out. In today's world, we want to punish our bodies and are proud of doing so.

Actresses gleefully share diet tips, and gluten-free diets, vegan diets, paleo diets and juice cleanses have a monopoly on the market, promising to "cure" our bodies of excess weight and unwanted fat.

Our reality today is one in which words like “skinny," "thinspiration, "diet," "cleanse" and "detox” pervade our lingo, becoming socially acceptable dinner table topics.

How we talk about, and how we think about, weight is the kind of language that needs to be controversial.

It's not just toxic to people who have or have had eating disorders -- it's toxic to every woman (and man) who doesn't feel comfortable in a pair of shorts.

It's toxic to those who can't bring themselves to leave the house in the morning because they're crippled by worry and disgust over their weight.

Encouraging continued scrutiny over our weight is dangerous for any young girl and guy trying to figure out if losing weight would finally make her or him feel perfect.

Instead of contributing to the conversation around negative self-talk and body shaming, here's another idea: Why not put something positive out in the world?

Citations: Former reality star Lauren Conrad bans fat shaming words like thin and slim from her website despite the fact that her clothing line only goes up to a size EIGHT (Daily Mail), FAQs Facts (NCADD), Get The Facts On Eating Disorders (NEDA), 7 Celebrity Weight Loss Secrets We Totally Approve Of (Womens Health), 5 Superfoods to Supercharge Your Paleo Diet (Yahoo Health), 10 Ways to Detoxify Your Body (Gaiam Life)