All quotes are anonymized to protect the identity of our clients. Quotes are edited for clarity and length.
At The Dorm, we treat young adults living with and recovering from a broad range of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, ARFID and orthorexia. Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that affect a wide variety of individuals. They often present as an intense preoccupation with food, exercise, shape, and/or weight and can negatively impact one’s ability to function in all aspects of life. Though eating disorders can relate to food and body, they are most often rooted much deeper and are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by mainstream media.
We interviewed some of The Dorm clients that are at various stages of recovery and asked them what they wish others knew about what it is like to live and recover from an eating disorder. Here is what they had to say…
1. It goes deeper than food.
- “It’s not about the food for me, instead it’s about dealing with feelings and wanting control over what I am feeling. My tendency is to binge eat. So, on a day-to-day basis, my disorder may cause me to overeat for the purpose of negatively coping with an emotion and then feeling sick or ashamed after I’m done.”
- “Fluctuations in my mood strongly impact my ability to eat. Some days it’s easier than others.”
2. Drawing conclusions about how much someone is struggling (or not struggling) based on their weight is not a useful or accurate assessment measure.
- “You don’t have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder. People can be any body type or size!”
- “Many people who live in bigger bodies are struggling just as much as people in smaller bodies. There is still so much stigma in the media about bigger people and the types of struggles that they have. Eating disorders affect everyone, they do not discriminate!”
3. An eating disorder, or the choice to eat or not eat, isn’t something that you can “just control.”
- “I wish others knew how debilitating it can be, and how out of your own control it is sometimes. That it’s something you’re constantly fighting, it doesn’t go away it just becomes more manageable.”
- “Food is a huge part of our daily lives and that’s three times a day someone with a major food disorder has to face a struggle.”
- “It is not as simple as ‘just eat like a normal person’”
4. Support looks different for everyone, but listening to your loved one without judgment is vital.
- “There are so many negative feelings around eating disorder behaviors, such as shame and guilt. These feelings can cause individuals to keep feelings and behaviors secretive which can perpetuate the shame. Talking about behaviors is so hard, but it also diffuses the shame and allows me to feel more space around my feelings.”
- “Being shamed for behaviors is not helpful. [Neither is] getting in trouble in treatment for purging and being told purging is disgusting.”
- “Even if someone seems ok in public, they might not necessarily be ok in their head.”
- “My advice I would give someone who has a loved one struggling with an eating disorder is to be patient and understanding of what they are going through. For example, when my mom gets on my case about the side effect of weight gain from binge eating it just makes the problem worse and makes me want to binge even more.”
At The Dorm, it is our belief that everyone deserves to have an intuitive, enjoyable, and compassionate relationship with food and their body. The most important message we can relay to clients and families is that freedom from the rules, obsessions, and anxiety is possible; we wouldn’t be doing this work if we didn’t truly believe it.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder, there are many resources available for you. Approaching your loved one with curiosity and an open mind about their experience is a great place to start.
Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?
The Dorm is here.