My Eating Disorder Never Really Went Away

*This post contains potential triggers for disordered eating.*

It has been almost three years since I last stuck my fingers down my throat, hovering over the toilet bowl to empty my stomach of all contents. Three years since I assigned a number to everything that went into my mouth, logging everything in an evil app that flashed red when I went over that arbitrary, dangerously low daily calorie limit. Three years since I was paralyzed with fear that my boyfriend could taste it when I’d thrown up minutes before we kissed.

I never thought I had a problem. Until it was over, I thought that I was in control. That every decision to purge or take a laxative was calculated, purposeful, and justified. Once I was out the other side, I came to the hard realization that this was not the case. I was not supposed to constantly taste bile, have a bloated stomach, or panic when I didn’t have access to a toilet at all times. The dentist was not supposed to notice that the enamel on my teeth was wearing down.

One day, I didn’t throw up. The next day, I didn’t run to the toilet after each meal. I forced myself to delete the calorie counting apps on my phone. Slowly, I erased those behaviors that had become as second nature as putting on a seatbelt in the car.

I don’t remember the specifics; I think finally I just realized one day that I could not do it anymore. It was the first conscious decision I’d made in a long time with regards to my body. I allowed myself to try and have a normal, healthy life, and I knew that I could not maintain these habits once I graduated college and started working.

All these years later, I’m not as terrified by the idea of a pizza as I once was. I don’t work out for longer than two hours a day. I try to make healthy food choices and I do not beat myself up over a big meal. My body no longer shakes randomly, the wispy white hairs have left my arms, and no dentist has mentioned the destroyed enamel in over four years. I can eat something that doesn’t have nutritional information on it. On the surface, these things might mean I’m “OK.”

I’ve learned that’s not quite the way it works. I’m not sure my eating disorder will ever leave my side. While I don’t purge or restrict anymore and I would consider myself recovered, there are still triggers every day that make me have to stop, take a breath, and force myself to remember why I need to nourish my body, not hurt it.

When my friends do something that requires a bathing suit, I cringe and a pit forms in my stomach as I search for ways to get out of it. If I end up in public in a bathing suit, I spend the entire time acutely aware of the angles of my body. I will not eat or drink in a bathing suit, and I cannot breathe easily until I can put an amorphous t-shirt on.

I haven’t quite figured out how dating fits into this recovered me, because the only steady boyfriend I’ve ever had was in the throes of my disorder. Since then I’ve managed to keep men at arms’ length. I don’t go on dates because I hate eating in front of other people. At some point all of my “things” have to be addressed, but it’s hard to talk about with someone who doesn’t understand. I go through periods of time convinced that I’m unworthy of someone else’s love, and when things don’t work out with a guy, my first delusional assumption is that the weight of my body very literally broke the relationship.

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I still constantly compare myself to others, I have a hard time when other people talk about their food or exercise routines. I compare my food intake with theirs; I am disappointed if they’ve run a mile more. I’ve had to excuse myself from a meal more than once because the other people at the table will loudly plan what to order based on their food intake that day.

Sometimes, I find myself justifying a skipped meal or a third workout in a day. I know my own threshold for my personal brand of “crazy,” and I have to actively talk myself out of doing things that I know are unhealthy. I’ll remind myself how far I’ve come, and how slippery the slope would be if I were to go back to my bad habits even once.

When I think about one day having a daughter, I am paralyzed with fear. I am terrified that somehow she will inherit the tumultuous relationship that I have with my body. Like me, she will hide it from her family for years, only to bring it up one day in a vindictive attempt to blame me for her upbringing. She will suffer and empty her body and numb herself and then her disorder will never leave her side.

Sometimes I try to imagine a future where my relationship with my body is not so chaotic. I truly cannot envision ever separating fully from my eating disorder. In the beginning of my recovery, I held on to the disorder in my back pocket because it was familiar and it was all mine. I believe now that thinking like that set me back, because I allowed my disorder to become a part of my identity. At one time, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had a problem. Now, I’m coming to terms with the fact that it might never go away.

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