I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 11. It began when I overheard a few older girls talking about their caloric intake and weight. I went home that night and scrutinized my reflection in the mirror, using my mom’s old lipstick to circle all the parts of my body that weren’t “perfect.” Soon a girl in my grade (who now models professionally) caught on to my insecurity and sent me text messages calling me names that I still remember. I restricted food intake until I was hardly eating. My parents caught on and I was placed in an outpatient program, which saved me from falling further into the pit of anorexia. I hated talk therapy, mostly because I didn’t understand the potential value of it. Talking to a nutritionist wasn’t helpful and I hated her for expecting me to eat so much food. The only part of the program that helped was group therapy, which I still recommend to anyone who feels alone.
Throughout adolescence I continued to struggle with anorexia and bulimia, but did what I could to keep it secret. I stopped going to therapy. Whenever someone asked how I was doing, I smiled and told them I was fine. My weight fluctuated and the doctor attributed it to hormones. The eating disorder was how I dealt with the stress.
Stumbling into adulthood, common sense started to overtake pride. I started long-distance running and planning healthy meals. I decided to use my obsessiveness as a benefit. I was embarrassed about my past. That I’d been so abusive to my body made me ashamed. I couldn’t believe I’d been hospitalized for an eating disorder. There are scars on my body from when my young hands felt the need to externalize self-hatred. I used to obsessively cover them up with makeup, but don’t anymore.
I don’t regret my past, and am proud to have escaped from the grasp of an eating disorder. Each day I’m reminded of it: during each meal I feel a negative sensation somewhere in the back of my mind, but can ignore it now. I have a National Eating Disorder Association symbol tattooed on my wrist. I see it each time I eat and it’s a reminder of the strength I’ve proven to have. Anyone who is in recovery from an eating disorder has a special kind of strength.
I don’t expect the thoughts to go away or fade, and am aware that I’ll struggle with body image for the rest of my life. I’ll criticize every picture of myself. I’ll wonder whether or not I deserve dessert or not. But I’ll know that my body is beautiful and don’t need to earn the right to eat. This eating disorder has taught me a lot. No one should be ashamed of their past, no matter how ugly it may seem.
—Follow Sarah Grace McCarthy on Twitter: @birdy_grace