Body image: What it’s like to live with an eating disorder.

“Once you realize that you want help, that you need help because you cannot do it on your own, go get help”

70 million individuals worldwide suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. What should be a simple act is painful and can leave us feeling worthless. For us, eating isn’t about nourishing your body and keeping hunger at bay. Food can function as your savior one second and as your worst nightmare the next; each change hits you unexpectedly, leaving you feeling completely out of control of your body, your mind, and your entire life. Eating disorders can quite literally be a matter of life or death. Almost half of all individuals who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder (BED) have had suicidal thoughts before, and there are many cases in which people end their lives because their eating disorder has become too difficult to handle.

I’ve had several friends who suffered from eating disorders, and I can tell you from a personal perspective that it’s a debilitating mental illness that can wreck your universe. 

Right before my friends sought treatment, one specific person told me it’s “…like living in an unpredictable world of self-hatred and loneliness”. One thing Mina always tried explaining to me is that she wishes people knew about the struggles that come with an eating disorder, casting a shadow on everything in your life, no matter how small it may seem from the outside. At times, it can feel like you’re fighting a battle you’ve already lost.

This is what it’s really like to have an eating disorder:

Karim: Hello Mina, thank you for taking your time to open up about such a sensitive topic. Before we get started, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Mina: Of course, I’m Mina – and I’m from Syria and I’ve been battling an eating disorder for the majority of my life.

Karim: Let’s get started, shall we? –  could you tell me more about the situation you have encountered?

MinaBeing a competitive swimmer throughout my teenage years, I decided to quit so I can experience the enjoyment of senior year. However, my doctor once said, ‘If I ever were to ever quit, I should cut down on my calories in half” So that is what I did, decided to become healthy – by cutting out carbohydrates and processed foods. Along the way, I started to run which resulted in me having a leaner body. On March 2015 I lost my period, that’s when the concern for my weight loss started to cave in. I went back to the doctor and claimed I had “mild anorexia”. That didn’t stop me from living my restrictive lifestyle and I continued the journey all the way till I went to Washington for university.

I would write and count down everything entering my body. My peers who were worried pushed me to see the counselor at school. Once the counselor told me I had anorexia I was in complete shock, I had to start treatment right away. The first center I went to was terrible. I felt like I was in prison. So of course, I had zero motivation whatsoever for recovery. I could transfer to a different center that had a more holistic approach to eating disorder recovery. It was still a very difficult environment, but I could truly learn how to accept myself for who I am and I can honestly say that I am who I am today because of the people and therapists there.

Karim: That must have been quite something to go through at a young age. I do agree with you that having such a support system from peers must have helped you. How is your recovery coming along?

Mina: Every day is different. However, I would say that I am confident in my recovery. I feel grounded and confident in who I am. Recovery is not linear at all, so I am just riding the waves ensuring that I keep myself in check by tuning into my body & mind.

Karim: Every road to recovery has its trials and errors. I’m glad to see that you’re on the right track. Do you have any advice for other young women and men who are facing eating disorders?

Mina: The biggest fear for someone struggling with an eating disorder is gaining weight, and I say this from experience, I am stronger, and able to engage in my life with more energy than when I was skinny. It is possible. Once you realize that you want help, that you need help because you cannot do it on your own, go get help. I am thankful that my mom rescued me and forced me to get help, but for many that is not the case and they are left suffering for many more months or even years, worsening and making it harder to let go of the eating disorder. Disordered eating and over exercising is a sign of fear. Don’t be afraid anymore.

Karim: Agreed Mina, life is too short to be obsessing over the body image. What activities do you enjoy the most to stay healthy?

Mina: Over-exercising was something I struggled with during my eating disorder. Throughout my recovery I have rediscovered my love for dance. I also picked up yoga which I love.  I do also like to challenge and push myself so I occasionally will do high intensity workouts. In terms of eating, I eat everything. I listen to what my body craves. Listening to your body in terms of exercise, and when to push it and when to hold back is healthy. 

Karim: Do you consider your eating struggle something of the past, or do you still have issues now and then?

Mina: Anorexia is something I will always fight. Eating disorders are like any other mental illness, in which they are with you forever, Thankfully I have not relapsed so far in my recovery. Depending on where I am, such as D.C, there is an emphasis on ‘healthy’ eating. As a matter of fact, it was named the healthiest city in the nation. However, there isn’t a deeper emphasis on one’s appearance. However, when I was in Dubai this winter, it was completely different. Dubai to me is pretty much superficial, and the population really focuses on one’s appearance. I can imagine that isn’t the environment to be lived in and consumed by, overall I stuck to my values and I stayed grounded to myself.

Karim: Mina, I appreciate that you have opened up, I’m positive that your experience and road to recovery will be an inspiration to others who suffer from mental illness.

Mina: My pleasure, I hope my story can help others going through the same situation.

McGill University