I could feel her looking at me as I stared out the window. She asked the question again and I knew I had to respond. "So you don't think you're thin enough to have an eating disorder?" I stared at her defiantly as I replied, "No." But even as I said those words my voice trembled. Because I knew. I knew I was sick but I just couldn't admit it. Not to her, not to anyone. And the truth was I didn't see it. When I looked in the mirror I didn't think I looked thin, I didn't think I looked like someone with an eating disorder. I didn't think my insides matched my outsides.
I remember the drive to her office, how at every light I wanted to turn my car around. I remember walking up the stairs barely able to breathe and I remember sitting in the open lobby waiting for her to come out and signal me back. And as I sat down and we began to talk, I remember wanting to jump up and run out. But I didn't, I couldn't leave. Because even then, even when I didn't believe it I knew I needed to hear those words.
Four years later I can remember that conversation like it just happened. Those words were such a pivotal point in my recovery and my dietitian words that followed forever impacted me. As I sat in her office that day and we talked about how even if I didn't think I looked the part or believed it, I was sick.
The stronger I become in my recovery the more it impacts the way I literally look at people with eating disorders (and people in general). I know for myself and many others there was the misconception that if I didn't look a certain way I didn't have a problem. I was small. I was thin. I was little but I would have never deemed myself anorexic. Yet I was.
The fact is that eating disorders come all shapes and sizes, they do not discriminate. No matter how much someone doesn't believe they fit into a certain category because of the way they look. Size is not the determining factor in an eating disorder. Frankly for many years I "looked" healthy. I wasn't what someone would consider too thin or overweight by any standard. I was just average. However, even in my average days I was so so very sick.
The more I work with women who have struggled with an eating disorder the more that constant fact rings in my head that we cannot judge someone by their outward appearance. We have no idea the thoughts going on in their head. The control or lack of control that dictates their life.
Because here is the thing, eating disorders are so much more than what the public sees. There is hiding. There is deceiving. There are things that go on that you would never know about when you look at their smile, at their darling outfit, at their laughter.
I was the girl who had it all together, who had the world at her finger tips, who truly seemed to be on top of the world. But I was sick. I was struggling. I was so desperate for help. But had you seen me, you would have never known.
You may have seen me comment on food. You may have seen me be a "picky eater." You may have even see me count calories or exercise to the point of exhaustion. But you thought nothing of it, because in today's society, talking negatively about our body or food is acceptable. You may have thought nothing of it because you too have those behaviors.
As a woman in today's world, we are taught to care so deeply about what our outsides look like. We are taught to be put together. We are taught to look presentable even "pretty". We are told to act as if all is okay. Here is the thing though, often times it is not okay. We struggle, we hurt, we often need help and sometimes we need to show that on the outside but we feel like we can't. Many times the insides don't match the outsides.
So my hope is this, that the next time we look at someone's outward appearance we wouldn't assume they have it all together. We wouldn't assume that they don't need help. We wouldn't assume that they aren't sick. While this so very much applies to eating disorders I believe it applies to so many other aspects of our lives as well. May we learn to not judge a book by its cover.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.