A woman with an eating disorder explains how her condition had worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Being in quarantine is tough. Being in quarantine with an eating disorder is tougher.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2012, during my sophomore year of college. In other words, I was severely underweight. I never thought I had a problem. I knew I thought about food a lot, but I chalked it up to being health conscious.
It was a close friend of mine who initially, during our first year in college, sat me down and expressed her concerns—concerns she was apparently not alone in having. She noticed my diet, how little food I was eating. She told me others who were close to me were worried about my rapid weight loss, and wanted me to seek help.
I shrugged it off and told her I was fine. I never skipped meals—I just monitored what I ate. If anything, she should be worried about our friends who can’t stop eating, I shot back. Pizza for every meal isn’t healthy either.
About a month later, my friend told me she scheduled me a therapy session with a counselor at the student health center. I kicked and screamed the whole way there, but I went. The counselor was clearly not a specialist in disordered eating. He gave me generic, unhelpful advice. “When you’re eating, think about other things.”
Groundbreaking, like telling a depressed person to not be sad.
I refused to return for another session. I only went to appease my friends anyway. I was fine. I never skipped meals. I didn’t see why everyone was so upset.
But I would.
After freshman year, my friends started joining clubs and making new friends. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere at the school. I was often alone, thinking about food every minute I was awake. I was miserable. When I went home for fall break sophomore year, my parents were shocked to see how much weight I had lost. My mom immediately took me to the doctor, where we discovered I was nearly 100 pounds. At 5’6”, I was severely underweight.
It tore my family apart. My parents were forbidding me to return to school if I didn’t agree to get help. At the end of the school year, I decided to transfer. I felt like staying in my current environment would only make things worse. I needed a change. After I arrived at my new university in 2013, things seemed to get better. I joined a sorority and was working at my school’s TV station. I had other things to occupy my mind besides what I was going to eat that day.
In December 2015, I graduated from college and moved to Chicago. My mental health was on a steady incline. I couldn’t have been happier.
In 2017, I was convinced I was free from my eating disorder altogether. I was around 140 pounds and eating freely: whatever and whenever I wanted. I was enjoying myself, but I realized I was eating the way I had mocked my college friends for during freshman year.
I decided to lose some weight. This time, the healthy way. I changed my diet from pizza to vegetables, and started working out five to six times a week. I was in the best shape of my life, but I still got to enjoy my favorite foods from time to time. I stopped restricting myself. Then one day, I relapsed. I don’t know why, but looking in the mirror brought me to tears, and I needed to do something.
I learned that an eating disorder never really goes away. It’ll pop its head in every now and then to remind you how fat you are, how ugly, how unlovable.
Since being in quarantine, it’s been difficult to focus on things other than food and my weight.
As with most mental illnesses, some days are better than others. The highs are high, and the lows are extremely low. I’ve thrown out so much food during panic attacks. I’ll raid my cabinets and get rid of food so I won’t be tempted to eat it later. Of course, I feel guilty. I’m throwing out food when there are so many who can’t afford to eat, but an eating disorder doesn’t care about other people. It doesn’t even care about you.
My eating disorder manifests itself in places I wouldn’t have imagined. For example, I don’t watch TV shows anymore. I watch YouTube videos of people eating foods I wish I could eat. I know I don’t have the mental and emotional freedom to stray from what I’m comfortable with putting in my body.
I wonder what it’s like to wake up and not think about food, or plan what you’re going to eat that day, and when.
I wonder what it’s like to go out to dinner with friends and not obsessively research the menu beforehand, or not even go because you can't find something on the menu that’s “safe.”
I wonder what it’s like to have a bite of your favorite dessert and not secretly spit it out.
I wonder what it’s like to not take laxatives because going to the bathroom makes you feel skinny.
I wonder what it’s like to just have a healthy relationship with food.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering.
I’ve considered seeking treatment, but the thought of getting better terrifies me. To me, “getting better” means “getting fat.” It means losing a battle with myself.
I try to picture myself years from now and where my mental health will be. It’s difficult to imagine myself in a place where I’m not afraid of food, after so many years living in fear. But I look forward to the day I can say that I am.