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Healthy Body, Sick Mind

By Angela Hui--When most people hear the phrase “eating disorder,” they imagine someone who is visibly emaciated and refuses to eat. In a similar vein, many treatment plans for restrictive eating disorders emphasize weight restoration and adequate food intake above all else. But where does the eating disorder go after the body heals?

“You know, Angela, I’m proud of you,” my mother told me on my first day of eleventh grade. “I realize that you might not think you’ve accomplished much this summer, but you have. You’ve recovered.”

I could only stare back at her silently, unsure how to admit that what she had said was far from the truth.

My eating disorder recovery had consisted solely of gaining weight and eating more – both vital to the recovery process, of course, but woefully insufficient for a full recovery. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, I no longer had an eating disorder – I no longer met the diagnostic criteria, so in a sense I was cured. But the body dysmorphia that had fueled my illness remained. Everything felt wrong: I would glance into the mirror and stare at my reflection, which seemed unrecognizable; every time I saw a photo of myself I had to fight the urge to spiral into hysteria.

Who was I? What had I become? I had spent so much time chasing weightlessness that I didn’t know how to forge an identity for myself in a world where I was no longer thin. I would spend hours each evening planning my relapse only to come to my senses by morning.

But no one knew. And no one seemed to care anymore; now that I looked as healthy as anyone else, no one suspected the maelstrom of self-hatred raging in my mind or the battle against my compulsion to lose weight. You’ve recovered! No, I hadn’t. I didn’t look sick, and physical exams would confirm that my body was indeed healthy. But my mind wasn’t. Not a day went by when I didn’t fantasize about becoming thin. Worse yet, I often felt the urge to relapse just so that people would notice how sick I was, because it felt awful to be a complete mess on the inside while everyone assumed that I was doing fine just because my body looked healthy.

Almost a year later, I look about the same but my mindset has completely changed. I’ve donated all of my too-small clothes and finally let go of the idea that my body needs to change in order for my life to fall into place. I can’t say exactly what sparked these changes: I suppose I learned to find new hobbies and interests to fill the huge void that my eating disorder left in me. Eventually I realized that the only way to be happy was to be completely healthy (brain and all) and let go of my desire to be extremely thin.

Everyone recovers from their eating disorder differently. But I wanted to share my experience of struggling not to relapse while appearing to be healthy because I know it is a very common plight faced by those in recovery from restrictive eating disorders.

If you’re currently in the same situation as I was, seek help! The first step is telling someone you trust that you’re not doing well. And if someone you love is recovering from an eating disorder, make sure that they’re progressing in terms of mental health, not just physical health. Remember: eating disorders are mental illnesses. They’re psychological disorders that have physical ramifications, and it’s not enough to treat only the physical aspects of a mental disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call NEDA’s toll-free, confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

About this blogger: Angela Hui is a rising senior at San Francisco University High School. She previously attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys helping others recover from their eating disorders and promoting positive body image as a moderator at EDRecoveryProbs.com

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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