“I Never Thought I’d Develop an Eating Disorder”: Alex’s Raw Recovery Story
April 25, 2012

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Hi folks! Given the really fantastic conversation going on from yesterday’s post on breaking through body molds (keep those comments coming), I thought today was a great day for a Green Recovery story. Please welcome Alex, the author of My Raw Recovery. Alex is a thoughtful, intelligent, and beautiful young writer, and she’s also the survivor of an incredibly harrowing ED story. I’ll let her share in her own elegant words. I hope you’ll all be as inspired as I have been by her journey toward healing.

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I was surrounded by darkness. My body was the enemy. I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, successful enough, or thin enough. My thoughts were consumed entirely by something inside me that was my voice, but not me. I was obsessed with my body and ways to perfect it. The anxiety and pain of life felt too out of control and life just didn’t seem worth it anymore.

In my wildest dreams, I NEVER thought I’d develop an eating disorder. I’m a first-generation Romanian-American so growing up my mom’s meat-and-potatoes family pushed all sorts of animals my way. I hated the taste of meat and the concept of it as long as I can remember, and was a vegetarian periodically from the age of 13 on. Concerned I wasn’t getting enough protein and not having enough knowledge about vegan sources of protein, my parents would eventually pull me back into carnivore land. Once I was 18, I officially became a vegetarian.

Body hatred is something I’ve suffered from for a long time, like many other women and girls. I had a love/hate relationship with food. Diets were encouraged in my family. I grew up with a dad whose relatives were plagued by diabetes and high cholesterol and a mom who exercised almost every day and was very careful about what she ate. My mom and sister have a similar build and everyone always commented on my mom’s great body. I began to see myself as the fat, ugly eldest daughter who after a high school trauma got swallowed up by depression and barely made it out alive.

My eating disorder symptoms didn’t start until halfway through my junior year in college. My weight had fluctuated do to diets since the end of high school, but always remained in a normal, healthy range. At times I turned to comfort food to soothe my wounded soul, causing some weight gain and in turn more body hatred. The first time I purged was in April of 2010. A few months prior to that I had returned from studying abroad in Athens, Greece where delicious foods and alcohol are abundant. I’ll never forget a night where my roommates and I were going out and I had a skirt that didn’t fit me. My roommate tried it on and said, “THIS doesn’t fit you? Feel how flat my abs are. Do it.” Her body was perfect and I felt like a failure while she rubbed it in my face. I gained a few pounds abroad but still wasn’t at an unhealthy weight. Stress about the relationship I was in, fears about what I would do over the summer and post-graduation, and anxiety over my body and weight led me to do something I would never have thought I would do (i.e. purge and restrict), but I did it and it soon became a way of life.

During the summer of 2010 I studied abroad again but this time in France. I began restricting my food intake and avoiding situations where I might have to eat in front of others. By the time I got back to the states, I was at a lower weight than I had ever been at even during high school. I don’t like to use numbers or percentages because it’s not so much about the weight as it is how sick my thoughts were. That’s the true measure of sickness. Someone can be at a normal, healthy weight and be closer to death than you could ever imagine. Eating disorders do not discriminate.

By the time I returned to school for my senior year, nothing was safe anymore. I hid in my dorm room and I sunk deeper and deeper into depression and my eating disorder and it wasn’t until my ex threatened to break up with me that I told my parents and asked for help. I began a day treatment program and would go to class after treatment was done for the day. I still couldn’t admit I had an eating disorder. I thought I wasn’t “good enough” (read: thin enough) to have one. I was sick.

After a week of day treatment, my team decided to bump me up to the inpatient level. That meant quitting my job at school, which I had worked so hard to get and leaving everything else behind. I was still enrolled in two of my classes, which meant that throughout treatment I had to write papers and work on my thesis. My first morning at inpatient was the scariest day of my life. I spent the day in and out of meetings with therapists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, nurses, and doctors and thinking to myself, “I’m not this sick. I don’t need to be here.” It took me about a week to realize that I did actually need to be there. I spent 47 days in inpatient treatment and during the course of that stay decided I was going to postpone my final semester of college to take a medical leave and get my health back on track.

Unfortunately, not having any other identity besides being a student and feeling too self-conscious to leave the house, coupled with the fact that I chose not to have ANY after-care (worst idea ever if you are just leaving 24/7 care) caused me to relapse within a few weeks. That next year (all of 2011) was spent in and out of treatment centers (3 more to be exact) and hospitals. The reason I went to so many places was that while I thought I wanted to give up my eating disorder, I wasn’t ready. It became my quick-fix to numb out all the painful feelings that I couldn’t bear to feel. I wanted to get rid of my sick thoughts but not my sick body, which I never loved anyway.

I was diagnosed in October 2011 with Borderline Personality Disorder, which basically means I have difficulty regulating my emotions. This diagnosis was the missing link and the underlying cause of all my other self-destructive behaviors and with this knowledge I headed back to my first treatment center to treat my eating disorder once and for all. I took on my five-week stay with full force and fought my way through, reading DBT workbooks during my spare time and journaling my heart and urges out. As I write this, I am almost 21 weeks symptom-free, finishing my final semester in college, and about to graduate with honors.

I’ve now transitioned completely to a vegan diet and I am the happiest I ever remember being. Taking pride in cooking my own meals, eating filling, nourishing foods that don’t harm animals, and savoring the plethora of delicious vegan foods has given me a new outlook on life. In treatment centers, saying you are a vegan is taboo. For the most part they consider it restricting behavior. While this can be true, it isn’t for me and many other vegans. I’m learning to love food again and with my hunger cues back, I relish the chance to explore what veganism has to offer. I have more energy, my IBS symptoms have dissipated, and the thick fog of depression is starting to evaporate.

I’m learning to love my body through yoga and caring for myself with foods that make me feel good, and that includes all food groups. I love experimenting with new flavors, which makes eating fun and exciting and veganism all the more enticing. I feel more spiritually connected through both my yoga and my food. I’m lucky to have a wonderful therapist who is helping me create my own identity so that I can formulate a life that I want, not what I think will make others happy.

I believe recovery is a huge leap of faith, but my worst days in recovery are better than my best days in my eating disorder. I still have a lot to work through, and even though I still have urges at times to use my eating disorder, I’ve developed better coping skills. It took a lot of work and wholehearted dedication, but it has been so rewarding. I’m now excited about life and have the energy to live it. I’m learning that it’s ok to follow my dreams and to listen to my heart. Giving my body, mind, and soul what they need is allowing me to truly live, and that’s the greatest gift of all.

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As usual, plenty of things stand out to me from this story of green recovery. First, I’m struck by Alex’s remark that she never thought she’d be the girl to have an ED, given her heritage. As a half-Greek girl, I can certainly relate: none of the women on my mother’s side of the family suffer from body dysmorphia or are diet-prone; indeed, they celebrate food with gusto. It sometimes surprises me that I became susceptible, though it shouldn’t. As increasing numbers of ED cases within African American, Hispanic, and Asian communities demonstrates, the wrongheaded myth that only upper middle class, American-born Caucasian women get eating disorders has now been thoroughly disproved. As Alex says herself, anyone is susceptible. Anyone—even if you come from a culture that is particularly oriented toward the celebration of food.

I’m also struck by Alex’s assertion that it’s not so much about weight as it is about thought process. While I do acknowledge the particular severity and hazards of ED cases in which the person suffering is extremely underweight, I also believe that EDs go far beyond weight loss. Some EDs do not manifest as extreme weight loss (indeed, it is possible to have serious bulimia without being underweight, and the same goes for binging and purging), and beyond that, weight gain is not the official mark of being recovered. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, weight gain was a crucial part of recovery for me. But it was not the heart of my recovery process. That came from rebuilding my spirit, from attaching my sense of self-worth to activities and passions and relationships, rather than my capacity to subsist on little food, and from directing my energies to the world outside me. Most of all, it came from redefining my relationship with food in a new and positive way—which is what Green Recovery is all about!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the points above, or to hear what else struck you about Alex’s story.

And thank you, Alex, for sharing with this community. We’re all proud of you, and cheering on your continued recovery!

xo

Categories: Food and Healing

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    34 Comments
  1. I truly relate to the assertion that and ED is more rooted in thoughts than physical appearances. Of course, it’s important to be able to physically diagnose someone who is harming themselves physically, the emotional damage of disordered eating can take a toll that’s not quite so visible. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Alex,
    Congrats on 21 weeks – I can NOT wait until I’m there! And it’s true what you and gena said about weight now portraying how sick you are. I’ve been a good amount lighter than I am now but I’m probably at my sickest (how I feel/my labs agree) the good part of this is i am ready for recovery. And am going back into treatment (I think my 12th time in 4 years). You both give me hope

    • Thank you so much Joy for your kind words. I’m so proud of you for going back to treatment. You have the power to overcome this beast and that all starts when you are ready to recover. Life is so beautiful without an eating disorder and I’m excited for you and wishing you all the best!! Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  3. I understand why you are featuring “Green Recovery” but unfortunately these posts are very triggering for me, a person who has been suffering from an eating disorder for the past 8 years. I’ve been vegetarian for 5 of those 8 years and vegan for the last 2. Despite ethically eating for the sake of non-human animals, and while that has helped my psyche, it hasn’t changed my relationship with my body or with food.

    • Marie,

      I am also sincerely sorry that you find the series triggering. Please do NOT read these posts if it makes you feel upset! My goal is only to help; never to hurt. You can simply not click through when you see the post title of Green Recovery listed, at least for now.

      It can be very frustrating, I know, when you feel as though you can’t break out of your relationship with your body. I’ll be personally sending you good thoughts and hoping that you find a “way out” very soon. I believe you will.

      G

      • Gena and Alex, I totally understand that it isn’t meant to be triggering. There is no reason for either one of you to apologize! I just thought I’d share an alternative response. It’s wonderful that you have both found a better relationship with your body via veganism. Unfortunately, that transition was not the golden ticket for me. Thanks for the good thoughts!

  4. I’ve never met you before, Alex, but, holy hell, am I *proud* of you. I hope, hope, hope, you are proud of yourself and how far you’ve come in your recovery.

    You have a very devoted community of supporters around you – survivors, vegans, women – who can feel exactly what you describe in your narrative so vividly and are here for you every step you take. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us!

    Much love,
    Katie

  5. “I’ll never forget a night where my roommates and I were going out and I had a skirt that didn’t fit me. My roommate tried it on and said, ‘THIS doesn’t fit you? Feel how flat my abs are. Do it.’ Her body was perfect and I felt like a failure while she rubbed it in my face.” – Alex
    “I know from experience that even well-meaning remarks from someone who doesn’t know the full story can be excruciating” – Northwest Herbivore
    “Please don’t tell me my body is thin/fat/athletic/skinnier/fatter/curvy/whatever you can imagine. I just don’t want to hear it. Dealing with the demons in my head is enough; I don’t need another person’s thoughts to deal with.” – AmandaRunsNY
    “This was only fed by what I saw as stinging and cruel comments from those around me. I remember one teacher in my high school who would wrap his fingers around my arm and tell me to eat a pork chop or would stop me in the middle of a busy hallway surrounded by my peers and ask me how the weight gain was coming along. While I’m sure he was probably well-intentioned and worried about me, these comments tortured me.” – Jay
    THIS. I imagine that many of us who have suffered from body image issues can relate to the powerful and long-lasting effects caused by someone’s flippant or even well-intentioned words/actions. Many personal examples come to mind but the memory that burns brightest in my mind’s eye is one of my high school boyfriend squeezing my back “chub” (I was around a size 4-6 at the time) and asking me “Where did this come from?” This moment became a powerful trigger for my disordered body perception. Of course, it is not as though my relationship with my body would have been radically healthier had he kept his mouth shut and his hands to himself that day. I would have found some other trigger soon enough. But it was his words (and that one skinny redhead’s, and my mothers, and etc…) that threw fuel on an already flickering fire. I sometimes wonder what thoughtless comments of mine still linger in the minds of others. Don’t be that kind of memory- I compel CR readers (you brilliant, compassionate bunch!) to be careful with your words. [insert favorite proverb/aphorism/colloquialism about words being daggers/birds/tools, etc..]

  6. hello! i was wondering what you think about eating greek yogurt, even if it is organic! what your input on organic dairy! thank you!

  7. GIRL, YOU ARE AMAZING! 🙂 When you wrote the line about how you are 21 weeks into recovery, I literally cheered for you! Keep on keepin’ on. You are so strong, intelligent, and worthy of every ounce of love that you can (and do!) receive. xoxo

    Stay lovely,
    Heather

  8. Wonderfully inspiring story, thanks Alex and Gena! I could really relate to the emotional struggles and how consuming they could be during my ED days, never having a time when I felt good about the way I looked. Such a great ending to this story too!

  9. Thank you so much, Gena for publishing my story! I’m so grateful and honored to be a part of the Green Recovery series and I’m thankful to have such a wonderful and supportive place to share it and receive such kind feedback. Thank you!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. What a beautiful outcome to your story. You are a brave and beautiful woman! I am sharing this to my Vegan page in hopes that others will find peace through this as well. Namaste.

  11. Thank you, Alex, for such an inspiring story! Though I have never been diagnosed with an ED, I struggled all through high school and most of college (I’m graduating in a week!) with body image and self-esteem issues, based on my food intake (or lack thereof). Just this year, I’ve made the transition to a 100% plant-based diet (aka vegan) and I’m never looking back! Like you said, veganism is not about restricting your diet if you understand the nutrients your body needs; it’s about discovering new, delicious ways to expand your dietary repertoire. Keep up the good, hard work! You are doing an amazing job.

    And thank you, Gena, for starting all of these “Green Recovery” posts. What a great, inspirational idea! 🙂

    • Congratulations on your impending graduation Alicia!! That’s a HUGE accomplishment, especially for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder. A diagnosis does not mean that you haven’t been suffering and that too is a myth about eating disorders I think. I’m so glad that veganism has been a part of your recovery and thank you so much for your kind words. I wish you the best and congrats again on graduating! Yay Class of 2012!!

  12. Alex, thanks so much for your courage and honesty in sharing your journey. I defo agree with what you and others have said about ED recovery being so much about thought processes. I’m glad you found freedom in your diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, and that it helped you pursue deeper and longer term recovery. I love that you mention how recovery is a huge leap of faith! I agree, and think it’s one leap that’s defo worth it.
    Sometimes I worry about what others around me will think when I gain weight, and will think that I’ve “let myself go”, but then they don’t know about my ED struggles and that there’s more to my story than food and weight. This also gives me strength to stay in and pursue greater recovery. Not sure why I felt the need to add that 🙂

    Thanks again, Alex and Gena xxx

    • Hi Sarah, thank you so much for such a nice welcome. Gena has such amazing readers who are so kind and I feel very welcome here. I’m glad you agree that recovery is a leap of faith, I really believe it is and it is definitely a hard one to make.

      What really matters is your health and happiness, and I know that as I had to gain weight I worried about what others would say. Most people who said I was “healthy looking” were coming from a place of caring and knowing what I’d been through. For those who don’t and make mean comments- that’s their insecurities because no one with confidence will put someone else down. I know you can do it and put yourself first! Your happiness is more important than what anyone thinks about you. I wish you all the best in your recovery and thank you for such a kind comment.

  13. Thanks for sharing your story! I think you’ve identified a very important point that and ED or ED type though processes can be going on, even when the person does not outwardly look under weight. I never had an underweight BMI, but I was definitely suffering inside and it was only the loss of my periods that made me realise I had a problem. Its lovely to hear how you have embraced veganism and yoga as a way of healing your body and spirit.

    • Thank you for reading my story Laura! I think there is definitely a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders and that you have to be underweight to be sick, which is not the case at all. I hope that you are in a better place now and wish you the best with your recovery journey!

  14. Thanks so much for sharing your story Alex! I totally agree that eating disorders are not classified simply by becoming extremely underweight, but that they are a way of thinking that manifests itself in eating habits and patterns. This was true for me, and I’m sure for many others.

    • Thank you, Marissa! I think there are still a lot of myths about eating disorders that need to be dispelled for the sake of the person suffering as well as everyone else. I hope you are in a better spot now and thank you for taking the time to comment!

  15. I am slightly underweight. I am also vegan. I have been overweight befor, and I went through an ED (before being Vegan). When I went vegan, my ED basically disappeared. Yes, I’m slim, but I feel so HEALTHY and FIT. I am MUCH tougher than most people around me, can lift, run, and jump more than almost anyone my age. I get a little crap for being “skinny”, but I just roll my eyes. The problem is, people don’t realize that you don’t have to be slightly overweight to be “healthy”. I’m slightly underweight, and I think I am PERFECTLY healthy. (my recent doctor check-ups and blood tests, which were perfect, also attest to this)I eat a lot, too. Most people are amused by about how much I eat on a daily basis.
    Celebrate your body type! If you feel healthy and truly happy, don’t change yourself 🙂

    • I think it’s a good point that if your doctor says you are healthy and you feel healthy and happy then you should celebrate your body type. Not everyone fits into a “normal” range and “normal” doesn’t mean healthy (I hope what I’m trying to say makes sense because it’s basically that I agree with you). I love that you said celebrate your body type! Thanks Tera!

  16. We are proud of you, Alex! Congratulations! And please, guard guard guard that recovery! It’s so hard to do by yourself.

    I’m struck by the epiphany of the borderline diagnosis. Right now, I’m under some pressure to go ip myself, and it’s less than a year since I received a diagnosis I’d been running from for almost ten years (since my first hospitalization).

    This definitely gave me a lot of food for thought.
    love
    Ela

    • Hi Ela, thank you for saying you’re proud of me! When I first saw that my story was up I got a little nervous but I’m so luck that Gena has such wonderful, caring readers who have made me feel very welcome. I wish you the best in your recovery and just remember that you are worth the fight. Sending lots of light and love your way,

      Alex

  17. Thank you for sharing your story. Yours has some very similar parts to my story and I agree with it is the thoughts that matter, the thoughts that truly made the disorder a living hell. I am so glad I am not in that place anymore and for me that took a lot of hard times. Now though, there is that ease, that ease that makes recovery all worth it. i am glad you are in a better place, again beautiful post and so well written.

  18. Another great addition to the series. Thank you Alex and Gena.
    The thing that actually struck me most from her essay is the admission of an emotional disorder. Eating disorders are something unto themselves but I feel like they are very often a symptom of a larger problem and sometimes that has to be dealt with first and foremost.
    I have a jumble of anxiety and emotional disorders and it’s only when they are in full force that my eating habits get out of control. Kudos to Alex for coming out with both – neither is easy to admit and talk about.