Eating Disorder Vs. Me

By: Jamie Lewkowitz

It was like tug-of-war every day, except eating disorders are far from a game. Back-and-forth my mind would go, from eating disorder thoughts to my healthy-self thoughts, then back to eating disorder thoughts again. Who would ‘win’ that meal, that snack, or that day? Or better yet, who would ‘win’ at the end of it all? 

Eating disorders are a serious mental illness. Sadly, someone loses their life to an eating disorder every 52 minutes. That’s more than 10,000 deaths per year in addition to the increased risk of suicide among those suffering with an eating disorder.

Why am I sharing my eating disorder journey with you?

I am proud to not be part of those statistics, but know I could have been had I not admitted and accepted help. I am not going to share how long this took, because individuals in all different stages of recovery deserve help, no matter how much time they have been suffering. I am also not going to share what level(s) of care were recommended for me, because eating disorders in an outpatient setting are just as critical to treat as eating disorders in an inpatient setting. 

As one of my role models, Demi Lovato, once said, “One of the hardest things was learning I was worth recovery.” I thought my feelings were not valid. I believed that I caused my eating disorder, so I deserved to suffer alone. 

The truth is, no one chooses to have an eating disorder, and everyone is deserving of help. Therefore, I share my story with the world in hopes that it will inspire those who need it to get support, and perhaps even share their story too. Eating disorders are nothing to be ashamed of, and they thrive in secrecy. If my story touches even just one person, it will be worth sharing.

What is my story?

In my younger years, I was a well-rounded child who had enjoyed life. I got good grades, was liked by peers and adults, played basketball, showed honesty and kindness, had a creative side, and was both driven and confident. So, what changed? That “perfect” child grew up. I began having trouble keeping up with all of these demands and needed something to control. A traumatic event occurred, and I thought it was up to me to ‘fix’ it. Enter my eating disorder.

When I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, I felt like I was inside of a tornado, with the world crashing and spinning around me. My whole life was turned upside down. I developed chronic depression, in addition to my previously existing anxiety. I didn’t have a treatment team that was the right match for me. I was misdiagnosed, which caused me to spiral deeper into my illness due to denial.

I was told by these same professionals that I would never be successful in recovery without a higher level of care, and that I would either fail or get kicked out of college because of my eating disorder. They told me that my dreams were unattainable because of my diagnosis. From that point on, I have strived to prove them wrong, and today, I am doing just that.

Throughout my recovery, I struggled a lot with asking myself ‘why.’ “Why did I develop an eating disorder?” After stepping out of my comfort zone and doing some exploring, I found my ‘why,’ which is to give back to those struggling with eating disorders. As a mental health therapist, I have come to the realization that it is important for me to take care of myself, as I can’t help my clients with their eating disorders unless I have mine under control as well. Think of it like being a passenger on an airplane. If something were to happen and oxygen masks were needed, pilots always inform passengers to put on their mask first before helping someone else put on theirs. That is because if you don’t help yourself first, you are unable to help other people. 

Giving back to the eating disorders community fuels me, but I know that I can’t pour from an empty cup either. I need to nourish myself both physically and mentally in order to continue my work in this field and best help my clients. This means not using my eating disorder to communicate for me like it used to in the past. Instead, I have found my voice; when I’m experiencing any type of discomfort, I can still take care of my body. 

What should be taken away from this?

Demi Lovato also said, “Recovery doesn’t have a day off.” On tough days, remind yourself or your loved one(s) that one mistake doesn’t have to determine what the rest of the day looks like. It’s never too late to turn things around and make the next choice a recovery-driven one. It might seem like it’s okay to listen to the eating disorder once in a while, but it’s a slippery slope. 

Your body is the only one you will ever have, and it does a lot of great things. It deserves to stay alive. Find your reason(s) for recovering, and keep those long-term goals in mind when going through your daily life. It might not seem like a choice when the eating disorder creeps in, but ultimately, there is one- listen to the eating disorder, or don’t listen to the eating disorder. Everyone is capable of recovery, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Be willing to ask for and receive help. Don’t let the eating disorder win another game of tug-of-war.

Jamie smiling

Jamie Lewkowitz

(she/her)

Jamie Lewkowitz is a licensed mental health therapist, eating disorder recovery warrior, and eating disorders advocate. She’s sharing her story in hopes that it will inspire others to seek the support they deserve, and to share their stories too in order to continue having these important conversations and spreading awareness.