Do I REALLY have an eating disorder?

This may seem like a pretty strange question, considering a large part of my blog is to talk about my experience of living with an ED, among other things. You may also guess that this post could only refer to that period before I ever entered treatment. While I’ll be talking about that experience too, the major focus here is about what types of thoughts I’ve had throughout these years. That includes now, over 3 years post-diagnosis.

I’ll start at the beginning. Denial was the main factor in the feelings back then. When I switched therapists for the first time, I was sent to someone who “specialized” in eating disorders (which is a whole story for another day). I consistently referred to it as “eating issues” like I was simply not able to eat sometimes. That made sense in my head because I could realize some things I did weren’t the most normal, but they weren’t that abnormal. One day, my psychiatrist handed me a pamphlet for Forest View. He said that he would recommend looking into their eating disorder program and thought treatment there would be a good option for me. I stared at that thing and gave him a very interesting look, I’m sure. How was it possible that I may have an eating disorder? I promptly shoved the brochure in a drawer once I got home and tried to forget the conversation even happened. Slowly, “eating disorder” was brought up more – in therapy and subsequent psych appointments as well as by my parents. Everyone seemed to be in agreement except for me. Fast forward about a month when my mom was frustrated enough to call FV and set up an assessment. This began my first time in treatment.

The next period of acceptance came upon entering into PHP. My very first meeting with the psychiatrist there brought my new diagnosis: anorexia nervosa. He said it in such a way that took me by surprise. I don’t even know this guy and hadn’t spent more than 20 minutes when he decides to drop that on me? I was confused, frustrated, terrified, and in such disbelief. Mind you, I already had my first introduction into the ED program at this point. I don’t remember much of that first day anymore, but one thing will stay with me probably for the rest of my life. My case manager had us all go around and introduce ourselves and state what disorder we were struggling with. This was about an hour after talking to the psychiatrist, so the idea of my diagnosis hadn’t even sunk in yet. When it was my turn, I said my name but immediately froze after that. I couldn’t do it. Admitting meant something was wrong and that I was actually sick. I hated that idea. She didn’t let me skip the second part of our introduction. Instead, she talked about how the first step to recovery is recognizing you had a problem. Finally, in the smallest voice possible, I did it: “I have anorexia.”

Much of my denial is still spent on believing I’m not sick enough. This time, it isn’t about having an eating disorder in the first place. Instead, I cannot believe that I’m ever bad enough to go to treatment again. I don’t get worried that easily, most of the time not until it’s too late. By then I have absolutely no chance of turning things around on my own. Note: while I’m struggling with the idea of where I’m at now, I have begun to see that it isn’t entirely okay.

The other side of not believing I have an eating disorder isn’t exactly denial. It feels much different. I cannot count how many times over the past year these thoughts have come into my head. It often is triggered from a therapy appointment, check up with Dr. C, completing food logs, or even writing a blog post. I get this strong feeling I can’t quite explain, but it leads to the thought that I can’t have an eating disorder. This is more than not being sick enough. I start to believe that I have a choice here, and if I just choose to change, then I’ll be normal. This also leads me to think that I made this all up; I’m just over dramatic; this is all some big lie. When this comes around, it basically goes against the reality that I’m facing. It doesn’t make sense logically, not in the least bit. If I really were some imposter, wouldn’t a treatment provider somewhere along the line have noticed? In those moments (or longer), it’s as if nothing in the world could convince me otherwise. This is something that comes and goes pretty randomly. When it is there, I question who I am and how terrible I must be to spend all of this time and money on some diagnosis I don’t have. It’s like I’m invalidating myself. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that this is not me. In some convoluted way, Ed uses it to his advantage. I feel anxious and tons of guilt/shame every time, which fuels the fire. It’s almost as if I have to prove that I actually am sick. Obviously (in Ed’s world) that means more behaviors. This cycle tends to be short thankfully, but I would say it occurs at minimum once a month.

It’s an odd thing to be so convinced that you don’t have a disorder when every single sign points to it. Both before and after, I don’t think all of the therapists in the world could truly prove to me that I do have an eating disorder. Today, I know that’s what this is and I’m getting a little closer to recognizing I’m not in a good place. This could easily change. Next week, or month, or day, or ten minutes from now I may be once again filled with disbelief. When that happens I need to ground myself in the present and remember what I’m fighting against, so I can know what I’m fighting for.


How do I have an eating disorder?

You’d think that after years of therapy, inpatient, residential, PHP, being told this could kill me, worrying my parents and those around me, support groups, etc, I would no longer ask myself this question. In reality, however, I wonder it just as much or more than when this all started.

Just as is typical with people who struggle with eating disorders, I denied its presence for a very long time. I only wanted to lose some weight so I could feel better about myself. My body image issues were completely normal. The fact that I exercised compulsively and solely to burn calories was fine and everyone did it, right?

Even when I switched therapists to someone who specialized in eating disorders, I knew I didn’t need or deserve to be there. When my psychiatrist mentioned Forest View, I brushed him off. The day my mom cried over my weight loss and restriction then called to send me into treatment, I still couldn’t believe it. I was just taking control of my life, weight, exercise, and size. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it!

It was probably a few days in PHP when I saw that maybe I had a little problem going on. At first I refused to speak it out loud, but finally muttered “I struggle with anorexia” despite not fully believing it.

What started out as typical denial has since transformed into a mixture of guilt, shame, disbelief, and self-criticism (hatred seems too strong). I mull over this all the time. Am I really, truly sick or did I do this on purpose and harm so many people, ruin my life, and cost money/time? Didn’t I want an eating disorder so I got one? Can’t I just snap out of it? How has my life been revolved around this all for so long? If this is all my fault, I must be a terrible person.

I somewhat doubt all of the negative beliefs tied to how/why/if I have an eating disorder will ever go away completely. It really messes with how I view myself and whether I deserve help. Regardless, I’m trying to not get so caught up in finding answers and instead fight for recovery with as much strength as I can.