I’m going to be extremely emotionless and cut-and-dry about something that is constantly glorified in our culture. I am not going to pander to cute Internet language, or write bullet-pointed lists or how-to’s to get through this. This is not a sob story, and this is not an opportunity to self-pity or receive pity from others. This is an opportunity to teach you what I know about living, from a disorder that constantly made me question my desire to be alive.
I spent about ten years of my life struggling with anorexia and bulimia from age 12-22. I lived my life from the outside—in. I checked my body in the mirror to an obsessive level. I weighed myself multiple times a day, and was either in periods of severe restriction or a binge-and-purge cycle.
My disordered eating was extremely symptomatic; from weight loss, to loss of my period, low electrolyte count, I could go on. But I won’t for two major reasons.
One. Speaking about eating disorder symptoms can be extremely triggering for those experiencing similar things. In fact I attribute ‘peer symptom sharing’, as I call it, to be a major factor in my worsening symptoms throughout my decade-long struggle.
At 12 years old, I had just gotten my period and was completely uncomfortable with my changing adolescent body that I could ‘no longer control’. In the course of two month’s, I’d hit puberty, shot up a foot, and gone up two cup-sizes. I saw a PBS documentary on an Eating Disorder (ED) clinic that made me feel like I could live that way too. I stopped eating that summer. In a way, I was trying to reverse the effects of puberty. Seeing the thin bodies of the girls on TV and understanding that a film crew gave them a platform to narrate their struggles felt glamorous to me—it gave me license to behave in the same ways, and ideas for how to eat less.
Then, there was the blonde girl in high school who became my silent competition. We commiserated together daily about our symptoms, and at first I do think we were truly trying to be there for each other, but it turned into a silent contest for who could eat less, or throw-up more.
And then there was rehab, which I finally checked myself into during college—I took a semester off because I finally understood that I could no longer go on this way. I went to a treatment center in NYC, an outpatient clinic with traditional treatment methods: weigh-ins, group meals, individual and group therapy. Rehab was group of disordered eaters who all fed off of each other’s symptoms. Group therapy was the most triggering thing I’ve ever experienced.
So, this brings me to the second reason why I don’t like to talk about ED symptoms. After ten years of struggle, and now, almost ten years of living without symptoms, I believe eating disorders have nothing to do with looks, how much we do or don’t eat, or the search for body perfection. I truly believe disordered eating is the symptom of a spiritual crisis.
I remember looking down at my arms and legs during those years, completely disconnected from my experience AS a body. The thought wasn’t, “Why am I not thin enough?” The thought— the crisis was, ‘Why do I have a body?”
I remember a conversation between my sister and a friend about the connection to our souls. They both said they could feel their souls within their body and mind. I saw my soul like a cloud above my head, waiting for my body to be a safe-enough haven for it to enter.
I remember having an intuitive reading where a psychic asked me, “Are you willing to accept that you’re here for this entire lifetime?” At the time, I couldn’t fully answer, because in reality, I hadn’t accepted that fact. I was doing everything in my power to exist less. She encouraged me to have patience with myself and to accept that I exist.
Moments that I look back on now, I know my eating disorder was a spiritual crisis of being that far surpassed the superficial desire to lose weight.
Normandi and Roark, two authors who have worked extensively with Eating Disorders write: “At the heart of every eating disorder… there is a cry from the deepest part of our souls that must be heard. It is a cry to awaken, to embrace our whole selves… It is a cry to deepen our understanding of who we really are.” Further stating, “Thinness was God, and I was on a spiritual quest.”
In “Entering the Castle,” Caroline Myss makes the connection to early mysticism and eating disorders, calling such mystics as Julian of Norwhich, Hildegaard of Bingen and Clare of Assisi, “Holy Anorexics”. That in fact, their self-inflicted deprivation became, “The hallmark of the medieval mystic. “ So we see that this centuries-old condition has long been tied to spirituality, and that the commercial desire for thinness in the fashion or beauty industry in our modern society came much, much later.
And here we have the dilemma. When we solely focus on media and diet-culture in approaching the conversation of disordered eating, we are denying women and men of a deeper conversation about our human and spiritual experience as it relates to food and body image.
When we stop eating, we get smaller, we take up less space, and we exist just a little less. When we control (or can’t control) what we eat, we are trying to manipulate tangible control over our human form in hopes that we may have dominion over our existence. This is all at once a spiritual and intangible concept: That our eating and body issues are a fight to grasp our alive-ness, to find spirit and soul within ourselves as bodies in human form. Read this again if you need to. Process this concept in your own time because in my experience, and in talking to others who’ve experienced the same, a spiritual crisis is at the crux of most all body image issues.
Back to rehab. I quit. I hated it. I’m sure that approach works for some, but as I began to realize my issues around food were a search for spiritual wholeness, an ED program that focused on calorie intake became less and less palatable. I left rehab, went back to school, and I began to rehab myself to wellness. Over a two-year period, I went to therapy on my own twice a week, I wrote in my journal every day, discovered yoga and meditation, and committed to start getting comfortable not with my body but with the fact that I had a body.
And don’t get me wrong. My experience with food and body image issues was extremely emotional and painful. But sharing my emotions with you won’t serve either me or you. I am writing this to plant the seed in your mind that if you’re struggling with similar issues, your spirit is asking for your attention.
I have stayed silent about this because I haven’t wanted to trigger others in my writing about my experiences, but I know what I know, and it’s our responsibility to share our truth once we’re sure of it. What I hope to teach you is that your confidence and self-esteem has nothing to do with your outer appearance. True esteem comes from accepting your soul into your mind and body, from communing with yourself, from listening to your inner guidance, acting upon that guidance and forgiving yourself when you err from that inner-guidance every once and a while, knowing you will come back to yourself with ease and grace.
In ending, I leave you with this.
Your body is your house that carries you through this life. It is the vessel that allows your experience, and to work out your purpose in this life. So when you notice yourself turning against it, seek your spirit. Seek your soul. It is never about food, it is never about your weight or how your pants fit, and it is never ever about how you look. Like the psychic asked me years ago, when you battle with eating and body image issues, ask yourself these questions:
Am I willing to accept that I'm here for an entire lifetime?
Am I willing to accept my existence as a body, as a soul, as a mind?
I hope this helps even one person begin the process to reconnect to themselves,
Find Vira on @suiheartclub and @viracantdance