Isadora | Hey eating disorder, I need some space!
When we are children, we often view the world as a spectacle. We marvel at the tiny ants crawling along the perimeter of the yard, we sing and dance in the kitchen pantry as if nobody’s watching, we read books about fairies and dinosaurs with utmost curiosity. When we are young, we do not search for liberation from ourselves or our mind: we feel it innately. The magic that comes with being a child not yet subscribed to labels and the opinions of others is an era of beauty—it is a time when we have full permission to take up space.
The nature of growing older is that we become more self-aware, more attuned to our surroundings and the perceptions of others. Through this process, we may develop harmful inner dialogues as a result of our arrival into the social world, such as school. New voices like the self-critic begin to infiltrate our thoughts, and our inherent desire to take up space diminishes.
Eating disorder moves in
For myself, one of the reasons why my eating disorder developed was due to the feeling of being “too much.” In other words, I felt that there wasn’t enough room for me—that my existence took up too much space. These feelings occurred shortly after I entered middle school and I became a target for my peers. The wonder I once felt towards the world slowly started to fade and eclipsed feelings of self-worth, inner freedom, and joy. Comments were made about my appearance, and the shape of my body became a point of contention between myself and my peers. Even at the young age of 11 and 12, classmates began asking me if I was “anorexic,” which was often accompanied by a sly giggle. This was my first encounter with an eating disorder, despite the fact that this occurrence was years prior to my diagnosis. At the time, I did not know what the word anorexia meant or that the gravity of this insult would shortly become my new reality.
Throughout my life I have always had a small build, likely due to genetics and a late start to puberty. And although I was bullied for my body, I was also recognized and validated for it. Family, friends, and classmates would tell me I should model, simply because I was small. I started to equate beauty to thinness and thinness to beauty. Before I knew it, I was consumed with the idea of staying small in order to receive the validation that I could not give myself.
But of course, bodies change. And much to the dismay of the eating disorder, there wasn’t much that I could do about it—especially in secret. My desire to take up as little of space as possible encumbered many of my thoughts and behaviors. The inner-child in me that was in awe of the world soon became threatened by it.
My high school years were filled with inner-turmoil and pain, which gave the eating disorder a perfect opportunity to settle in. I’ve come to learn that an eating disorder may exist in a functional manner: a coping mechanism that arises to secure some sense of safety within a world that feels unsafe. This realization allows me to have compassion for teenage Isadora, who so desperately wanted to control something in her life.
As I continued on to college, my eating disorder exacerbated, and the thought of taking up space—both physically and emotionally—drove me to a place of utter hopelessness and helplessness. Eating disorders are often complemented by depression, anxiety, OCD, or other psychiatric disabilities. For myself, the eating disorder was one way for me to communicate my suffering. I spent so much of my life in silence dealing with my thoughts and my traumas, that behaviors such as restricting my food intake began to arise. By not taking up space emotionally, I began to shrink myself physically.
Unfortunately, I had to put a pause on my education in order to receive help for my eating disorder. But for many, this is not the case. I am privileged in that I was given the opportunity to take time for myself. Without it, I’m not sure where I would be in my recovery.
Reclaiming my space
After spending about two years in intensive treatment for my eating disorder, I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that everyone told me about. When I was suffering from my eating disorder, there was no light—I felt that I would be bound to anorexia for as long as I was alive. But, by nourishing my body, my mind, and my soul, I began to find meaning and purpose in my life. I learned how to nurture myself during difficult meals, during relapses, and during difficult days.
One of the paramount realizations I came to during my process of recovery was that my eating disorder acted as a mechanism to take up as little space as possible. The eating disorder convinced me that I was not worthy of having needs, such as being cared for, succeeding, or asking for help from a friend on a challenging day. By restricting my food intake, I was conveying to people that I don’t have needs.
A part of the universal human experience is that we all have needs. Sometimes they are not met, sometimes they are, and much of the time: we don’t know what our “needs” are. The logic of my eating disorder was that if I do not have needs, then I can not take up space. In hindsight, it truly makes perfect sense.
Being in recovery from my eating disorder means that in order for me to nourish myself, I must acknowledge that I have needs, and therefore, must take up space. Recovery has by no means been an easy or fast journey, but it has been rewarding and fulfilling. Rather than hiding behind the veil of the eating disorder, I exist authentically and genuinely me. By taking up the space that is rightfully mine, there is no room for the eating disorder.
On challenging days, the eating disorder voice will tell me to shrink my body, but I must always remind myself that reaching out for help is one way to truly meet my needs. For those of you who are struggling with their eating disorder, I want to tell you that you are never alone. Living with an eating disorder can be a lonely experience, but there are people out there who are willing to help. You deserve to take up as much space as you want, you are worthy of expressing your needs and having them met, and you are so much more than your eating disorder.
We do not develop an eating disorder out of thin air: they often arise out of a lack of an inner-nurturer. Lean into the little kid that once existed so freely. Allow yourself to take care of you—you are worth recovery!
Isadora is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she studied
psychology and sociology. During her senior year, she worked at an all-female residential
substance abuse facility which solidified her passion for working in mental health care. She
currently works at an inpatient eating disorder facility and is a recovery peer mentor for ANAD.
She has recovered from anorexia and is a fervent advocate for holistic eating disorder treatment,
someday hoping to become an eating disorder specialist. When she is not applying for graduate
schools or at work, she is playing with her new kitty, Maisie, reading, or going to concerts.