What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, meet ten inspirational women who have battled eating disorders.
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What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, meet ten inspirational women who have battled eating disorders.

-Diana Denza

living with an eating disorder

This week marks National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW). Whether you’re a survivor, know someone who has struggled with one, or have simply learned of its devastating effects, eating disorders have a very real impact on all of our lives — nearly ten million women in this country struggle with an eating disorder, according to a National Eating Disorder Association Fact sheet updated in July 2010. To put that into perspective, Los Angeles County, the largest in the United State, has a population of roughly the same number.

Sadly, though the statistics are devastatingly high, misconceptions about those with eating disorders continue to thrive.

“There are many misconceptions about eating disorders,” explained Susie Roman, Program Director of NEDA (nationaleatingdisorders.org). “But the myth that they are a lifestyle choice, rather than a serious disorder, is very dangerous, and one of the key reasons we hold National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Education about the fact that they are complex, biologically-mediated illnesses with serious health consequences is vital for getting people to the help they need.”

With a theme of “Everybody Knows Somebody,” this year’s NEDAW is a vital time to spread awareness and support for those harboring eating disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with one, you can call NEDA at 1-800-931-2237 for more information and help.

In honor of this week of change, ten incredible women who have lived through eating disorders shared their stories with us — and now, with you. It’s time for all of us to put an end to the stigma and misconceptions.

Meet PJ Gach, BettyConfidential.com’s Style + Beauty Editor:

PJ Gach

“You must embrace your life, your soul, you…you have to honor and respect yourself, even and especially if no one else does. Denying yourself food is denying yourself life.”

PJ Gach, BettyConfidential.com’s own style + beauty editor, lives and works in New York City to bring Bettys everywhere the best in fashion and beauty. She was just 11 years old when her eating disorder first started.

What your day to day struggles with your eating disorder like?

I used to imagine that there were needles and cut glass in my food so that I wouldn’t eat. At dinner, I’d stare at my plate.

Did you receive professional help?

Sort of — my doctor was flummoxed and felt that I would grow out of it. There would be periods when I ate normally, and period when I would binge. I come from a family where one doesn’t talk about problems or issues. Everything is fine. Everything is lovely. Everyone is doing well. Obviously that’s bullshit.

What was your breaking point?

In college, I was around 80 pounds. My hipbones literally jutted out of my clothing. I kept thinking it was sexy and it wasn’t. One day –I didn’t have an epiphanous moment –- I just started eating.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery process?

Not hating myself. Seriously –I realized along the way that I was punishing myself for not being popular, for not being tall, for a lot of things out of my control. You become anorexic because you feel like you have control over something and that is your body. It wasn’t until I realized I wasn’t the enemy that I began to make peace with myself.

To this day I keep a mental chart of what I eat on a daily basis. I always keep track of what I eat. And if I have something sweet, I know I can’t eat something else. It’s an ongoing battle. It’s pretty normal for me to deny hunger until I’m shaking. You never fully recover from anorexia.

What would you tell people today who are suffering from eating disorders of their own?

That food isn’t your enemy. That everyone isn’t your enemy, that life isn’t your enemy. You must embrace your life, your soul; you have to honor and respect yourself, even and especially if no one else does. Denying yourself food is denying yourself life. Nothing changes when you get down to 80 or 70 pounds, nothing gets better. Screw them all. Happiness is the best revenge against the people who you perceive to be your enemy. Truth to tell, they don’t care. Live your own life for yourself and screw anyone who says “no” or “you’re not good enough.”

What did you wish more people knew about eating disorders?

That it’s not a choice. That it’s not a fun diet. It’s an illness and people die from it.

Meet Cara Bledsoe:

Cara

“People in our country think being thin is almost always a good thing, and it just is not true.”

Cara Bledsoe is a 33-year-old freelance writer. Her eating disorder began at the young age of 15.

What were your day to day struggles with your eating disorder  like?

I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for years, so it varied a lot. I lived a lot of my life in a binge/starve cycle (starve for four days, then eat for three, or something like this). In my 20s when I relapsed, I exercised about three hours a day while eating a very limited diet of “safe” foods. I dropped weight pretty fast. I was in “no excuses” mode, meaning if it was 11 pm and I had to get up at 6am (to work out before work started), but I hadn’t done my 600 crunches, then I’d force myself to get out of bed and do them, because otherwise I’d be too anxious to sleep anyway.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

I didn’t really realize it until college, and by then I’d been bulimic for year –- not throwing up as much as it was binge/starve, but it’s all bad. And to a degree I was doing it all.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

I was a very isolated person. I had my routines and it felt safest to stick with those. I didn’t like to see people and I worried incessantly about how I looked to others. My body…well, it was fine then, but now I have osteopenia, recurring stress fractures, GERD, degenerative osteoarthritis, and more physical ailments that can be related back to lack of nutrients and/or exercise addiction.

Were you stigmatized or alienated for having an eating disorder? How did that feel?

Not really –the odd –and scary– thing is that when I was thinner, I got compliments. A lot of compliments. Partially this is because I was never skeletal, just a little too thin. In our society, sadly, that is seen is a good thing, never mind that I was completely insane and doing physical damage to myself that would last for the rest of my life.

What effect did your eating disorder have on your personal relationships?

I really had a hard time getting close to people for a very long time. I couldn’t focus on anything but calories, fat, exercise, weight etc., and I didn’t really want to.

How has your eating disorder changed your life?

I think the biggest way it’s changed my life is that I’m 33 and I have the medical problems of a 63 year old — osteopenia, degenerative osteoarthritis, and more. It’s permanent damage. Plus, I’ve spent enough on treatment over the years that I could have put a hefty down payment on a house, and instead I’m in debt. I’d give anything to have that time and money back.

Did you receive professional help for your eating disorder?

Yes –- therapy, nutritionist, medication, psychiatrist, and 12 step meetings.

What was your breaking point?

I was lucky to work for someone amazing in my 20s who noticed what was going on and sent me to a therapist she knew who specialized in eating disorders. She really saved my life.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery process?

Gaining weight and people having the perception of me “letting myself go” when in fact it was quite the opposite. I was finally able to be a normal, happy person not focused on her appearance all the time.

What was a common misconception others had of you?

I was so healthy because I ate such healthy foods and exercised so much. Health can be a lot of things, but I wasn’t healthy. People in our country think being thin is almost always a good thing, and it just is not true.

What did you wish more people knew about eating disorders?

You don’t have to look like a skeleton to be really, really sick.


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2 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

  1. jlz says:

    Great article, but it was a challenge to read and sort through the mixed message, as it was surrounded by continuous images of half naked celeberties ={

  2. jenna brown says:

    Definitely one of the most informational and resourceful articles i've come across. Great great job. keep up the good work and make people aware of such things. :D (y)

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