To anyone struggling with an eating disorder,
For many years, I wasn’t thriving in life. Instead, I was surviving. It was like I was on a hamster wheel – just go, go, go, go, go – running as fast as I could. Every second, I needed to be busy, filling each space of time. I was a perfectionist.
As the years went on, the wheel kept moving faster and faster. The cycle went from unhealthy to self-destructive to extremely dangerous.
It started in my late teens. My metabolism and body were changing. Also, I had a lot of issues with my joints. A doctor told me to cut out all sugar, and that’s when I started a diet, eliminating sugar, dairy, and wheat.
Right away, people responded, “Oh, you lost weight. You look great.”
That’s how I got on the hamster wheel. But it didn’t become a serious problem – it didn’t become a full-blown eating disorder – until nearly a decade later.
Throughout the last ten years, I got married, and I started my career as a full-time teacher. The stress of regular life, combined with past trauma and the pandemic, made me feel massively overwhelmed. Everything in my life was out of control, and exercise and working out became one thing I could control.
Last August is when the hamster wheel began to accelerate. This is where my illness took a deep dive. I started using a dieting app, where I logged my weight. At first, I was using it casually. But then it became a game before advancing to an obsession. Every day I tried to eat less than the day before. I would lie to my husband and tell him I already ate dinner at work, skipping meals and hiding my compulsive behavior.
Ultimately, in two months, I lost 35 pounds from my already tiny frame. The weight loss was striking and dangerous. I remember one day I realized that it was uncomfortable to even sit or lay down, because I could feel my tailbone rubbing uncomfortably against a chair. My knees were so scrawny, they knocked together.
And yet still, people reacted, “Wow! What are you doing? You look so good.”
I didn’t look good. I looked sick.
So many times, I tried to stop my behavior, but I was stuck on this hamster wheel. I could not stop for the life of me.
I reached a point where I was really unhappy. In pictures, you could see my bones. The people closest to me began to see I had a serious problem. My mom, husband, and a few close friends stepped in and encouraged me to go to a treatment facility. A part of me didn’t want to go, as I knew treatment would force me off the hamster wheel and I wanted to continue to feed my obsession. But, as I walked through those doors, I began to get off that wheel, and end this awful cycle.
Daily, I had breakthroughs – the first of which was realizing the severity of my eating disorder. I began to see that my eating disorder was running me and living my life, and I was no longer living my life. I was just trying to keep up.
To recover, I took it one second, one step and one day at a time. I had to take it so slowly. If I looked at my illness in bigger chunks of time, I would feel hopeless and like I’d never recover.
I would think to myself, “For this second, I’m going to do the right thing – whether it be eating a meal, journaling or reaching out to someone for support.
In some way, I was retraining my brain to form new habits. Within a month, I saw a huge shift. I was eating more, and I wasn’t cold all the time. I began journaling more frequently, which helped me to release my feelings and take power away from the negative thoughts. Also, the treatment center was near the ocean. I would take a five-minute walk by the water or go for walks through the forest and sit there quietly while feeling gratitude for the fact that I am still here.
Connecting with nature helped me to connect with myself. Slowly but surely, I started to see who I was without my eating disorder.
After four months, I went home. In some ways, I didn’t feel ready, and I doubted myself a lot. At the treatment center, I was surrounded with a ton of support as I built and nurtured a new foundation. Now, at home, it was all up to me. Thankfully, I was determined to stay healthy. I was determined to stay off that hamster wheel.
I created a new routine, logging all my meals and my snacks to keep myself accountable. I have a gratitude book, a sponsor, and a daily reflections book. Deep breathing, stretching, and being in nature help me to stay centered.
Also, I have a page of statements that help combat any negative thoughts entering my mind.
Those statements include the following:
“I am more than my eating disorder.”
“I am allowed to gain weight.”
“The size of my body does not define my worth.”
“My body is beautiful.”
“My body is allowed to change.”
“I am worth it.”
“I am good.”
“Give yourself the time you need to heal.”
It’s been one month since I left the treatment center and I am truly proud of how well I am doing. While I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, I have grown so much throughout this ordeal. In some ways, the eating disorder was secondary to everything else spinning in my mind. For so long, I was afraid of making mistakes, and I was scared of upsetting people. I was so uptight.
Now, I have redefined this idea of perfection and learned just to be happy.
I am sharing my story with you because I want you to know that you are not alone. This disease is so isolating. It is an illness where we beat ourselves up daily. Just like I am sure you have compassion for me, I want you to have some compassion for yourself. The more I choose to love myself rather than feed my eating disorder, the easier it has been to recover.
Now that I am off that hamster wheel – no longer preoccupying myself by depleting, distracting, and exhausting myself on a vicious cycle, I am learning how to enjoy the moment. I am learning how to wake up and think, “Oh my God,I love being alive.”
I am learning how to be present.
By focusing on the present moment, I am not only developing better eating habits, but I am actually living a much better life.
You can get better, too, one second, one step, and one day at a time.
With love, hope, and support,
PS To read more about Asiah’s story, check out her block Blessings Beyond ED