As a Canadian-based eating disorder recovery blogger, writer and speaker, I’ve started to notice a pattern with common questions I get asked. And this isn’t a bad thing! Folks are genuinely curious about how I developed my eating disorder as a teenager and what the recovery process looked like for me — especially since the pandemic has seen a massive spike in eating disorder diagnoses worldwide.
It’s surreal to have people coming directly to those with lived experience (like myself!) and wanting to hear our stories. With an increased focus on eating disorders, there’s never been a better time to dispel myths and share resources.
While I don’t mind answering questions about eating disorders in general, I draw the line when asked about specific eating disorder behaviours or food rules I had. This type of information can actually cause more harm than good, and I would never want to encourage disordered eating. I also don’t post photos at my sickest since I don’t want to give the impression that eating disorders have a certain “look.” People of all ages, sizes and backgrounds can have eating disorders.
That said, please keep in mind that this information is all based off my personal experience, as someone with lived experience who isn’t a healthcare professional. I hope it helps connect the dots for those who have questions about eating disorders, and provide some insight into a very misunderstood and stigmatized mental illness.
Here are the top questions I get asked about my lived eating disorder experience:
What caused my eating disorder?
This is a tough question to answer because eating disorders are such complex mental illnesses that don’t have a direct cause. There are psychological, environmental, and biological factors all at play, and things like trauma and abuse can impact eating disorders as well. Personally, I’d say my eating disorder was a mix of genetics, personality (type A, perfectionistic), social environment, low self-esteem and being an athlete. No one factor, person, or thing is to blame for causing an eating disorder.
What type of eating disorder did I have?
I was initially diagnosed with anorexia at age 15, when my gymnastics coaches noticed a change in my mood, appearance, and athletic performance. Anorexia is characterized by reduced food intake and a distorted body image, which severely impacts someone’s day-to-day life. Although I recovered to the point where I was able to go away for university, I later showed signs of binge eating disorder (which is similar to bulimia, but without the purging) and orthorexia (which is an unhealthy obsession with healthy or clean foods). It’s also common to have dual diagnoses and co-occurring conditions with eating disorders, like anxiety and depression. Oftentimes, individuals use food as a coping mechanism in an attempt to seek control when other parts of their lives are overwhelming.
How did I overcome my eating disorder?
I hesitate to say I’m “fully recovered,” because recovery can be a life-long process. But I’m at a really good place in my life where I can be open and vulnerable about what I’ve gone through. It’s been over 10 years since my initial anorexia diagnosis, and there have been so many bumps along the road. The biggest hurdle being the pandemic, where I relapsed badly and really had to reconsider the direction of my life if I was going to be trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse-and-recovery. With the help of a new therapist, medication, lots of self-compassion, and internal work, I can proudly say I’m more recovered than ever. I started blogging about my eating disorder recovery because I knew others would be in similar stations with the mental health tolls of the pandemic and because I wanted to be the voice of inspiration my younger self didn’t have.
What advice would I give to my younger self?
I was really hard on myself and held myself to impossibly high standards, whether it was around grades or what I ate, or how I looked. I would tell my younger self that I’m enough as I am. I don’t need to change anything. It’s okay to be more gentle and compassionate.
What can others do to help loved ones with eating disorders?
First, I’d suggest asking someone directly what would make them feel better. It may be company when they grocery shop or distractions when they eat. I always appreciated when someone asked about my mood and how I felt. Above all, don’t be afraid of someone’s eating disorder and avoid it altogether. If possible, do as much research as you can to learn about these mental illnesses. A caring, compassionate approach can make that individual’s needs feel heard, seen, and understood. Whatever you do, stay away from food or weight comments — that can actually make an eating disorder worse! So instead of remarking how little someone ate, ask how they’ve been doing and mention any differences you’ve seen in their mood. That can make a world of a difference.
A big thanks to Caitlin for reaching out and asking me to write a guest blog. It’s an honour to share my story with ReelChat! I’m always happy to answer questions and chat more about my eating disorder recovery experience.
You can check out my blog for more in-depth articles and follow me on social media.
If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline and seek professional help. The NEDA Helpline is open Monday through Thursday 9am-9pm Eastern Time and Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time. To speak to a Helpline Volunteer live, call 800.931.2237 or chat online at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/helplinechat.