Disordered Perceptions: How an Eating Disorder Changed Me

We at FMB are not doctors, but we do encourage the discussion of topics relating to women’s health. Please seek the advice of your medical provider if you find yourself struggling with an eating disorder.

For years, I lived with an eating disorder in secret. I tried everything over the years to “fix” myself, to stop doing it. I would rather have died than told anyone that I starved, restricted, binged and purged compulsively.

In addition, I took diet pills, abused laxatives, and exercised until I expunged the calories from my body. Many times, I threw up blood and broke blood vessels in my eyes. I almost fainted on several occasions and was hospitalized for dehydration. My weight fluctuated and my self-esteem plummeted.

Despite this, I didn’t think I deserved to get help. I didn’t look like the emaciated, underweight image my unhealthy mind coveted.  Feeling disgusted by my bulimia, I labeled myself as weak and gluttonous. Little did I know that my eating disorder was also affecting my brain. It was distorting my thinking and putting me at risk for a variety of serious medical complications.

When my eating disorder shifted into anorexia, I got more compliments than ever. I was undeterred by the knowledge that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Bulimia is not far behind. Contrary to popular belief, weight and appearance do not determine how ‘sick’ the eating disorder sufferer is.

My career choice to specialize in eating disorders resulted in some distasteful comments and jokes along the way. (For example: “First world problems” and “Aren’t bulimics failed anorexics?”) Unfortunately, this keeps those who suffer rooted in shame. Many would rather stay deep in silence than subject themselves to judgment. I do believe we have come much further in terms of eating disorder education over the past decade.

Nonetheless, there are still misconceptions out there. 

It’s not about food. Eating disorders are symptoms of serious underlying issues. Trauma, abuse, neglect, anxiety, depression, low self-worth, to name a few. I didn’t have coping skills to deal with the onslaught of emotional issues plaguing me, so I turned to food. The dangerous cycle of rituals and behaviors soon overtook me. It soothed me, numbed me, and distracted me from my pain. Furthermore, it caused me to shut myself off from relationships and to agonize over my appearance to the point of obsession. My sense of self relied on the scale and the size of my jeans.

Unrealistic images of the “ideal” body continue to plague our society. Media messages actually promote disordered eating through the latest quick fix diet or juice cleanse. Many of us have grown up without the ability to eat intuitively. We drown out the natural cravings of our bodies and turn instead to weighing our food, counting calories, cutting out carbs, or following whatever new craze is trending. This sets us up for failure. Diets don’t work.

Moreover, children are influenced by the images and behaviors modeled in front of them. Shunning the media bombardment and avoiding labeling food as “good” or “bad” are two examples that can help to prevent food and body issues in our children and ourselves.   

There are now five types of eating disorder diagnoses in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Even if you don’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis, engaging in food-related behaviors that affect your daily life may result in a serious issue. While the majority of eating disorders develop during the impressionable teen years, we can be susceptible at any age. In any case, it can be very scary for the sufferer to give up their coping mechanisms if they don’t have healthy ones in place.

Therefore, it is important to enlist the help of qualified professionals to achieve full recovery. 

  • For more information on eating disorders, go to the National Eating Disorders Association at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
  • Go to EDReferral to find specialized therapists, treatment centers, and additional resources
  • I also recommend gurzebooks.com for a full selection of books on all types of disordered eating and recovery.

During her career as a therapist, Melissa Mark specialized in treating eating disorders as an individual and family counselor at The Meadows inpatient Treatment Center in Wickenburg, AZ, A New Beginning Outpatient Center in Scottsdale, and in her own private practice in Flagstaff, AZ.