Zoe on Eating Disorders

Zoe on Eating Disorders


I first noticed that I was having
problems around eating and food and exercise when I was about 15 years old.
So I think I was somewhere between sophomore and junior year of high school,
which is a really really common age for people with eating disorders to kind of
start experiencing symptoms. And I think at the time I kind of just chalked it
all off like oh it’s just a phase it’s just like a diet or whatever and then
like I progressively noticed that like I was not really in control of it anymore.
And then I went away to college and was like this isn’t an issue everything’s
fine. And I started school at
University of Pennsylvania and I quickly realized that it was like it was
serious and that it was something that I was not going to be able to
figure out or deal with on my own. And so I went to the Counseling and
Psychological Services there, CAPS and met with a wonderful therapist who was
like yes you have a problem, which was really, it’s probably not something you
want to hear but it was actually really nice to hear that like I wasn’t crazy
that there was like I named what I was experiencing. I think that something that is pretty
common when you’re talking about mental illnesses and psychological
disorders, they sound like the DSM, is that it takes like a huge amount of time
and it’s just all you can think about. So you know I like it was impossible to
think about in class it’s to focus on what I was was trying to learn
because I was thinking oh what am I able to eat what am I not able to eat when am
I going to exercise how much am I going to exercise how am I going to make
sure that my weight is what it is and my body image and just all of all of the
things that you know are your eating disorder behaviors and how am I gonna
make sure that I’m doing all of those I mean that I’m doing that perfectly that
I’m just doing everything my eating disorder’s telling me to do. And so I
think that just being so preoccupied with that like really took me away from
things I didn’t want to go out and with friends because you know you’re in
college like half of what you’re doing is eating with your friends but if
you’re not comfortable eating things you’re not going out with friends, so you
have very very few friends. Well not I had some really really wonderful friends
and they always continued to invite me out but I was always too anxious to say
yes and to go with them, because I just was not comfortable being
around food and I figured someone would realize that I’m like crazy if they saw
that I didn’t eat. So I think that was one thing.
Eating disorders take a huge toll on your physical health as well. And it
takes a really really long time for everything to kind of get back up to
speed. With anorexia your body metabolizes itself in order to have
enough calories to keep functioning. So your body is super super cold because
your metabolism decreases and so it’s like you know it’s more important we’re
gonna keep the vital organs going rather than keeping you warm. So you know I was
like always freezing no matter what For me the the process started with
going to CAPS. First they actually did a phone-in take to like try and match
me with a therapist who would be good for my needs. That was probably the
scary one that was among the scariest things I’ve ever done. Basically eating
disorder recovery in general is the scariest but it was terrifying to be
like I really need help. And then going through a list of symptoms and things
that I could be dealing with and feeling like I was saying yes to every single
one and feeling that they were just gonna be like no we can’t help you.
But I there like there were some really wonderful people there and the
therapist that I met with and so the first thing that they had me do is keep
a food diary so they could see for you know a week I met with her once and then
just to keep this food diary and then a week later we got together and reviewed
it and she was like yeah okay so based on this like your symptoms fit anorexia. And so that was that was the first step and then at least with the University of
Pennsylvania and I think this is pretty common across CAPS is that for people
who have like serious kind of long term things and in life-threatening
things they’ll often get referred to outside therapy. So I worked with my
first therapist to draft a letter to my parents, which I also shared with my
brother because it’s really really scary to have to say hey I have this
like really serious thing that I’m dealing with and none of you guys know
and knew about this. So we drafted a letter that kind of
explained what it was, let them know that like I was getting help for it and how
they could help me and how they could support me through the journey. I went to
an intensive outpatient program which is I think those are pretty well suited for
people who have more on the disordered eating spectrum or are like pretty
pretty far into recovery from their eating disorder who are pretty stable
and who are able to motivate themselves to do the things they need to do day to
day and then just have extra support and therapy and nutrition counseling at
night, which is what that program was – it was I think three or four nights a week
I went and I was eating with people and we were doing group therapy activities
and that kind of thing. It was really really scary sitting down
with a therapist and being like I don’t think I can do this and like also not
knowing what was going to be expected like what what going into one of these
programs is like. Because I think I’ve seen you know you see a lot of like
psych wards and movies and it looks awful like One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest style it was like that’s what I’m getting myself into and then I
was reading about this one that I was thinking about going to and they’re like
yeah you can’t even have a phone you can’t contact anyone and I was like that
sounds terrifying. And like sometimes people need that but with where I was
like I I was very lucky to find the UCSD program. It’s 15 minutes away from my
house and probably one of the best programs in the country
with really really good outcome. First day was definitely the hardest.
They kind of told me the rules of the program that you know we do
three meals and two snacks together and we do therapy in between, what they do
with bathrooms and you know meeting with a therapist and a
dietician and a psychiatrist who are gonna be my treatment team while I was
there. And it was terrifying all of it was really really scary and I also in
the in total year that I was there if someone came back after the first day
they stayed until they were like ready to be discharged. So a lot of people
eating disorder program is very very hard and not that it’s easy for anyone
just to be clear but I think that there are some people who kind of get forced
into it and they don’t have a reason that they need to recover and I think
that people who get forced into it often do not do as well because they’re just
not ready and you know sometimes it’s like they need to be ready or they’re
gonna die and that’s why they’re there. And you know I’m not saying that anyone
should or should not be in an eating disorder program that is not my job.
Overall I think I as a patient the other patients who had an internal drive, a
reason that they needed or wanted to get better and they kind of recognize that
and accepted that I think those are the people who consistently did the best. For
me it was like, I realized that I was
gonna die if I didn’t get help and I was like alright well do I want to die
from an eating disorder or do I want to give recovery a shot and hope that it
works out for me. And it you know that to me was even when
I was in my eating disorder was a no-brainer. So like even on the
really hard days where I was like I don’t know dying would be a lot easier
not to be morbid not that this is not a morbid topic.
But yeah it was it would just needed to go with the hard option and pray
that it worked out and thank God that’s what I did because it has definitely
worked out. So my first piece of advice is
definitely see a therapist. One way or another it will just it’s scary to tell
anyone but it feels better afterwards. And to know that you are not crazy and
that there’s a lot of people like you and that like you like everyone I
believe is capable of getting into recovery. So even if you have no idea where to start which is pretty common like see a
therapist and they will be able to point you in the right direction. And then my
second piece of advice for people who are struggling in recovery it’s actually
a piece of advice from my therapist it’s one of my favorite pieces of advice
she’s ever given me which is progress not perfection.
So people with eating disorders have a pretty strong tendency to have like
clinical clinical perfectionism is what I’ve heard it called like very very like
it has to be perfect. I might have to be doing recovery perfectly or it’s not
worth it at all. Oh I didn’t have enough for this snack
okay well I’m just gonna skip all my meals for the rest of the day because
why even bother if it’s not going to be perfect. But like knowing that there will be
mistakes, you will slip, you will you know things are not going to go
perfectly that’s why it’s hard and if it was a straight forward path it might not
even be worth doing but keeping at it and just doing the next
right thing you know so if you if you miss a snack if you miss a meal if you
don’t do exactly what you’re supposed to do that’s okay just next time do better.
You can do better. And sometimes you’ll do worse even when you’re trying to do
better and you’ll be like what’s going on with me and it’s like oh well you have
an eating disorder it’s okay. It’s really really hard but at the end of the day
you’ll get there, just baby steps. So don’t expect everything to come all at once because it probably won’t. There’s a lot of things I want to improve on.
I think that the thing that I’m still working with my therapist most on today is the anxiety. I think that anxiety is
kind of a disorder because eating disorders used to be classified as an
anxiety disorder and I think for me my eating disorder was a mechanism to help
cope with my anxiety. Albeit a very ineffective one but it definitely was
really good at making me not anxious in the moment so like constantly working on
finding things that to help relieve my anxiety. So I do yoga and
I’m a certified yoga teacher and that’s something that really really helps me.
Building in time for self-care is super important. I’m one of those people that
likes to take care of everyone else and then not worry about myself at all. And I
think I’ve heard from a lot of people with eating disorders and a lot of
people in general as well. So making time to take care of myself. I love doing art
projects and that kind of thing so that’s another thing.
So just like the little things being appreciative of every moment, staying
mindful, and making time for myself I’m still working on. All to help with the anxiety.

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