I’ve Never Told Anyone About My Eating Disorder

Trigger warning: This article contains information about disordered eating which may be triggering.

Today was a typical food day: an egg sandwich for breakfast (560 calories), two iced coffees (80 calories), a mid-day smoothie and energy bar combo (520 calories) and grilled chicken with vegetables for dinner (600 calories).

It doesn’t surprise me that I’m able to document that without conducting any research. The library of nutrition labels in my head is just one of the many lingering effects from my high-school experience. I once rolled an apricot between my palms for three hours straight, thinking only of how 17 measly calories would haunt my stomach.

I am poised to graduate college in one week and I have used the words “eating disorder” exactly one time in reference to myself: in an email to my editor. By pitching the idea for this story, Haley knows more about it than my best friends.

I know that sounds odd. Suffering from an eating disorder — or any mental illness, for that matter — is often exhausting and conscious-altering. It has the ability to define major aspects of a person’s life. And yet, I have used the following sentence to describe myself exactly zero times: I was bulimic for three years and also experienced bouts of highly restrictive eating. It was exhausting and conscious-altering. It did define an entire era of my life.

When I was 15 years old, I spent all my time learning how to sharpen my hipbones and treat my bathroom floor like a church pew. I wasted hours worrying about my teeth yellowing from stomach acid and then wasted more by googling the number of calories in Crest Whitestrips. Everything was meticulously counted, scrupulously controlled. My disorder was an unquenchable thirst that masqueraded as a choice. It reinterpreted each time I said, “No thank you, I’m not hungry,” as a perverse declaration of power.

I was never confronted by a wake-up call or an intervention. I’m not sure exactly how I managed to unlearn these habits without ever seeking outside help. It certainly wasn’t easy. All I know is that I’ve fought every day to define my eating disorder as a thing of the past. I close my eyes when the doctor weighs me at my yearly check-ups; I block the “thinspo” accounts that pop up on my Instagram explore page; I see the tiny scars on my knuckles and smile because they’re white, not red.

I attribute a huge part of this success to the friends I’ve made at school. In college, I found people who were my people. I felt like I belonged in our safe little circle of closeness and late-night Doritos feasts. They have, through their support and unconditional love, inadvertently allowed me to become the cliche of “comfortable in my own skin.”

Put most simply, we are there for each other. So it shouldn’t scare me to open up to them about something that feels like it belongs so thoroughly to the past: Hey guys, I restricted my food and threw it back up for the majority of high school. It sucked, but I feel good about where I am now. Just so you know. The moment should have come easily. It never did.

Even though I am lucky and I managed to pull myself out — even though I have dubbed myself Recovered instead of In Recovery — I remember when my palms smelled like apricots. I remember my friend’s dad complimenting my weight loss. I keep the small dresses I once fit into like participation trophies. I am sometimes still overcome with memories of my body like a wasteland and it feels nostalgic, not dangerous.

The grimiest parts of me miss being cold in a warm room. When I am in this mindset, secrecy is huge. It is everything. Because it allows me to dictate my own narrative — to decide when I want to eat (or not) without someone intervening. Never talking about my disorder makes it feel mine. Like it’s interesting and complex in a brooding Breakfast Club-character way. Even without restricting or purging or calorie counting, it allows me to maintain a feeling of control.

And so I dropped weight in silence, I have relapsed in silence and I have recovered in silence.

In trying to convince myself that my eating disorder is completely behind me, I’ve unconsciously nurtured its most sinister symptom. A desire for control can become an excess of restraint. It can become isolation. It has kept my heart hostage. I don’t know if it’s possible to ever be fully recovered, but stepping out of my self-imposed quarantine feels like a step in the right direction.

Living and growing alongside such a strong support system has helped me realize that true love, platonic or otherwise, is all about telling secrets. It’s about trust and hard truths and confessions over wine. It’s exchanging keys to the rooms inside your heads. A fear of vulnerability keeps those doors locked.

Even writing this now, my hands are shaking. Being honest is terrifying. Being honest on the Internet, even more so.

But this is too important not to talk about. Not because I’m afraid that I’ll fall back down the rabbit hole, but because I am still climbing out of it. Because if I stay quiet, I will continue to hold fruit in my hands without ever taking a bite. I will continue to succumb to the illusion that a silent struggle is a noble one. I shouldn’t embarrassed to say that I’m proud when I look at an apricot and see only an apricot.

Collage by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Kate

    This sounds so similar to my own story. I wasn’t expecting to cry in my office on a Monday morning, but it’s so nice to know I’m not the only one who is in a good and healthy place now, but feels guilty, like I have to keep my past a secret. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable. I want to write that last paragraph and keep it on my desk as a reminder, this entire article was such an eloquent reminder that while it’s scary to share parts of us we feel like we should hide, it’s also worth it, so thank you.

    • Here I am as well, crying at my desk, feeling so stupid 🙂 . I am lucky enough to be past the idea of seeing the calories when I have food in my hands, and started talking about anorexia with my friends and a shrink (about 12 years after my illness !!!!). This article is the best written piece I have read about eating disorders so far. It struck a chord.

      • Kate

        This is so good to hear, Alix! After reading this article, I finally could tell my best friend. And talking to my family about it is always hard, but I don’t feel any shame anymore, like I disappointed them. It’s encouraging to know that other people get that, and are able to talk about it, even when we keep it so hidden, no matter how long it takes.

        • Absolutely 🙂
          I don’t feel shame anymore either. But it would be difficult to talk about it to my parents because they really did not help. One thing to improve about the care of this disease might be to advise the relatives who might feel helpless and clueless.

  • Miranda

    I’m no thanks going to lie: I cried reading this article. I have also struggled in silence with an eating disorder, relapsed more times than I can count, wasted what should have been the most careless years of my life counting calories and suffering in silence. I also somehow recovered without help, forcing myself to step away from those unhealthy behaviors and silencing negative voices and thoughts in my head. I honestly don’t know if it’s even possible to ever fully recover from an eating disorder– two years later, I personally still find myself thinking less of myself when I have to skip a couple of workout or if I indulge too much.
    But I am working on it, and I think it’s all that matters. I see food as nourishment now and not as an enemy, and can move on when I do eat too much/not perfectly.

    I have learned that some days are great and some are not so great, but it’s all worth it. We have come so far, and although I don’t know you personally I am very proud of you.
    Thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone.

  • IzzyW

    “I remember my friend’s dad complimenting my weight loss” This makes me want to fly into a rage. I hope when our generation are parents we know the effects that come with saying something like that and then we don’t say it.

    • Zooey P

      In reference to my weight loss, my mom’s friend once told me: ‘you’re almost there’. Fuck that noise.

      • IzzyW

        Wtf! Ew. She’s the worst. My personal fav from my history was, “You’re pretty but you’d be so beautiful if you just lost some weight” at 15 years old. Lol, no.

        • Zooey P

          good god. as much as I hate people for saying these things to others, I say this stuff to myself too. I’m working on it though!

    • Lauren Helen

      I remember when I was 18 I worked at a restaurant/bar and at that point had been in the grips of an eating disorder for 2-3 years, and while doing something my shirt rode up and exposed about an inch of my hips and though there was not much to grab the head chef pinched the exposed skin and said “You’ve got a bit of fat there.” I mean it was inappropriate on multiple levels but it’s five years later and these are the moments that stick in your mind and reinforce the negative things you think about yourself.

      • IzzyW

        Another one who deserves a finger flick in the ear! What an awkward weirdo. It’s weird how we will always remember these things said by seemingly insignificant people who we know are wrong deep down. I wonder if it’s because they embody the societal expectations that have been put on us all our lives… Someone took those expectations they had also learned, turned them into words and threw them right in our face and into our brain. “Society” was loud and clear, they were right next to us.

      • Bo

        Ugh I hate him on your behalf. How do people not have any concept of how poisonous they can be with stupid comments?

      • Aydan

        it does happen! I was a semi-pro swimmer for much of my life and was called “fat” by two coaches–one when I was 16 and one when I was 20 in college IN THE MIDDLE OF FINALS WEEK. Both males and I am a female. They told me I’d never be fast that large–I was a 5’5″ 150 lbs of solid fucking swimming muscle and mass and they said that to me. I won’t ever forget and I still get emotional about it. as adults it is our responsibility to understand what and how we say things to children, especially girls on this topic and I promise I will never make a little girl feel the way I did either one of those times.

    • Adrianna

      I went for a standard physical to a pediatrician who saw me regularly for seven years. I was 14 years old, 5’4, 128 pounds. She spent 20 minutes lecturing me how I was overweight and needed to weigh less than 110 pounds. She told me not to eat bananas. She laughed loudly and didn’t believe me that I rode my bicycle regularly. The main thing I remember from the experience is laughter.

      She was so busy shaming me that she didn’t notice I had mono. I broke out in a 105 fever the next day.

      • IzzyW

        Bananas are the tits though! Got to get dat potassium. Also, I hope someone reported her to the standards authority body because she sounds like the worst doctor. Pediatrician no less! Not expecting you to have reported her, what with being 14 and having mono! Insane!

    • Leah

      I had similar comments when I lost a huge amount of weight after a traumatic experience. All I kept thinking was “I don’t look good, I look mentally ill” which was true.

  • Zooey P

    I have tried so hard to explain my eating disorder to people. I never can. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Andrea Raymer

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I relate so much. I spent most of high school and college obsessing over food and my body but didn’t fall into full-blown bulimia until I moved to NYC. This comment is the only time I have ever acknowledged it publicly. Up until about a month ago I had only every used that word with one person. I refused to even say it to my therapist and would use roundabout ways of describing my behavior with her. Really posting this comment with my real name and face is terrifying to me. But like you said. Its too important not to talk about, is I’m going to post this anyway and maybe even share this article on FB.

    • Paula

      You are so brave. I’m rooting for you.

    • Charlotta Hellichius

      Andrea! you are not alone. Ever.

  • Thank you for this. This sounds a lot about my story. At the time I didn’t want to classify what I went through as an eating disorder. It’s a constant battle but I’m in a much better place now. Thank you for being so open!

  • The Keep Collection

    Hi Callie,

    I am five years out of college and my eating disorder began my sophomore year when I was 19. Similarly, I exercised control with an excess of restraint. I, too, was great at keeping the extent of my eating disorder to myself (so much so that I wrote a similarly confessional piece for The Keep Collection publication few weeks ago, and received an outpouring of love/”what?!” from some of my dear college friends that I anticipate will be similar to what’s coming your way in the coming hours/days/weeks). I have been “in recovery” for a long time, and these days I’m feeling close to the recovered end of the spectrum. I want to thank and congratulate you for writing about your story, for contributing to public discourse about a public health crisis that’s so often misunderstood (in large part because of taboos that you’re helping to break).

    Also, congratulations on your graduation! You seem awesome. xo

  • Paula

    My heart feels so warm right now. Look at how many women you’ve inspired to share their story already! I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been to write this piece, but I believe it’s going to be a game changer in your life. Thank you so much for sharing and being so honest. I wish you as many positive and loving things one can wish, and send you a big, strong internet hug.

  • Bo

    This was is an incredible story to read. You ooze bravery. Keep going.

  • Anne Dyer

    Beautiful story. I am also recovered. Cheers to all of us working through it 🙂

  • Charlotta Hellichius

    I have never described myself as having an eating disorder either, but I definitely had a complicated relationship to food. I can correctly count the calories of a meal by memory too, and it reminds me every time what an absolute fucked world we live in. Luckily I got busy with school in undergrad and all that brown noise was replaced with school and friends. It still haunts me from time to time and as a younger woman I used to hate shopping for pants, today Im ashamed to admit that it makes me happy when i fit into a small size jeans. I catch myself more and more, and know logically that my value isn’t in my size. But emotionally i sometimes need some convincing. I actually try to physically take up space with large and loud clothing the days when I feel small to force myself to have a different perspective

  • Betty

    several years ago I became seriously ill and weight about 100 lbs and size zero jeans were slipping off. bones jutting from my hips and my clavicle. It was very hard to see myself like this…i stopped looking in the mirror. But here’s the point: I was at Saks shopping and the sales assoc was telling me how “fabulous and thin you are”. It was chilling. I furiously turned to her and said “this isn’t fabulous, this is illness”. It was then that I realized what women with an eating disorder deal with – you get validated for being so thin…the type of thin that comes from serious illness or deprivation.

  • Sophie Crumb

    I think I am the complete opposite. I had an easting disorder for years. Up until the age of 17-18. I was bulimic. The hardest part was stopping, without help. And I tried to get help, I use to say to my mum “I want to go see someone” (I never told her why and she never got around to making an appointment). However when I made that decision to stop, I did. Being the hypochondriac I am helped, as the concerns of what I was doing to my body overwhelmed me. I still didn’t want to gain weight for a while after but I knew purging or starving myself wasn’t the answer. It wasn’t just the affect it had on my physical appearance, with my hair falling out and my face seeming bigger, it was the mental affect. My moods were all over the place, and I became a very mean person to some very important people in my life. Now however, I’m not scared to talk about it. I’ve told my sister, my close friends and my loving boyfriend. I was scared when I first stopped because I was on the edge of thinking I might slip back into bad habits, and if people knew they’d be watching me. Now i’m confident I wont. I will not lie and say I’m always happy with the way I look because I think there will always be apart of me that wont be happy, but that’s normal for every girl and not just the ones who have gone through an eating disorder. And I still having lingering habits like pick at food and I catch myself counting calories sometimes. But there is no part of me that’s going to slip back into bad habits because I can admit I had a problem and because i’m not ashamed of myself or embarrassed because I did. Who I was then is not who I am now.

  • Thank you so much for this. It took me forever to recognize my eating disorder, especially because of the desire for control. Weird restriction rituals become routine. Unfortunately, calories are still so prominent in discussions amongst high school girls. It really feels like we are all secretly suffering through similar eating problems, but don’t talk about it because it’s “normal”. I’m sending this article to all of my friends, thanks again.

  • Annie

    I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder but it’s something I would never admit to anyone. I lost my period for almost 2 years. I lost a lot of weight from working out but during that time I started to eat less and less because I kept loving how my body was looking. I would weigh myself every morning and almost everyday I would loose 1 pound for a while. When I studied abroad I was so worried I would gain weight from not working out everyday that I restricted even more. If I had to eat dinner at a restaurant I would stress about it for days. My hair was falling out in actual chunks and I would cry and have nightmares about going bald. At one point I got down to 98 pounds and I cried. I didn’t want to be “fat” but I also thought my new body was ugly and that everyone was looking at me for the wrong reasons. I’ve gained weight now and it is still really hard everyday I just wish I could be skinny and fit into certain jeans and dresses again and I look back at pictures from that time. But I’m better and this article really means a lot to know that I am not the only one.

    • Annie

      I forgot to add that it really triggers me when my boyfriend says he hasn’t eaten anything all day. I haven’t really told him about my disordered eating except one time I got close and started sobbing so he probably knows

      • Eloise Cuthbert

        Hey Annie! I’m sorry to hear about what your going through and I totally understand that was me 2 years ago and it’s still there in the back of my mind pretty much always, but I really think it would be a good idea maybe just to let your bf know even just that him saying that makes you feel uncomfortable (you don’t have to tell him everything about it if you don’t want to/if you’re not ready), but just for his sake as well as yours because he might have no idea that it would affect you… that’s just my experience but I hope you’re doing ok <3

    • hearceespeak

      <3 I can relate to you and I wish you the best in the future.

  • Elle

    Unfortunately I found this very relatable (although I’m not quite ready to post about it here), but thank you for sharing this Callie. Stay strong x

  • Kay Nguyen

    Thanks for sharing this story, it feels so close to home… I have had eating problems for years now but I have never been to a doctor due to embarrassment. However, it has been much better now since I started to love my body more, I’m still very self-conscious about it but it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone with this 🙂


  • Marie-Eve

    Good luck on your continuing journey. <3 Acknowledging it was a very important step! I hope you get to a point when you feel comfortable talking about it with your loved ones and health professionals.

  • Anna

    Thank you for this. I spent a lot of my pre-teen and teenage years restricting myself. My mom wasn’t home in the mornings so I’d skip breakfast and throw away my lunch. I ate dinners because she watched me and essentially forced me, but then I’d obsessively do a workout to burn the amount of calories I estimated my dinner to be. I started doing this a little bit after I got my first period when I was 12, then I lost it until I was 16. My family intervened and I began to start eating more but it was hard for me. I clung to eating only healthy food (just vegetables and fruits, essentially) but I was still so obsessed with counting calories and measuring myself. It was only after I started dating my boyfriend that I learned to relax around food and just eat it. He used to cook for me and I genuinely appreciated it so I forced myself to eat it – and it would always be fatty food like pastas and things. After a few months I didn’t dramatically gain any weight, as I had always feared, and I now know that as long as I eat pretty healthy and exercise, everything will be fine.

  • Lorena C

    So much courage and value in reading these words. Just as your friends didn’t know they were helping you, you might not now but you are helping others with their own silent burdens. It takes a lot to recover on your own but you deserve all the happiness you can hold on to and that is a great reminder of why it’s better to keep on trying, even in you fall off track sometimes <3

  • I do wish that I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment when I get down to a 2 day period due to eating less/ weight loss.

  • Anna

    I identify so much with this, especially your insightful discussion of the elements of secrecy and control. I’ve hardly ever spoken about my experience with bulimia.

    I somehow found my own way to recovery, too, despite never mentioning it to any therapists. Now that I think about it, I just shifted my focus from the amount of food I was consuming to its ethical impact. Hello years of hardline local, organic, zero-waste, in-season veganism. The impulse to restrict my consumption is alive and strong, but I’m much more able to justify/hide it on those grounds. (And to be fair, food that falls into those categories is delicious and makes me feel healthy and great.)

    I was also massively anxious and depressed (thanks college!) and stopped having to intentionally restrict my food—I wasn’t hungry anyway! Ironically, when I hit my lowest adult weight I wasn’t even throwing up anymore. But the sick pleasure I got out of self-harm was always there. For me, it was about so much more than appearances; it really came down, on some level, to hating myself and wanting to die.

    Thanks for telling your story, and to the others who shared theirs in this thread. It’s a beautiful feeling knowing I am not alone. And yikes! it felt so good to talk about it I wrote an entire novel.

  • Johanna Borger

    One day, I’ll wake up and not feel shit about adding another 1/4 cup of oats to my breakfast. Thanks for sharing – lord know’s it must have been difficult.

  • Grace

    I completely relate to this. Like you I have never talked about my eating disorder – i struggled with it through high school and recovered but in my twenties i have relapsed and am now working toward recovery. Your comments about how silence reinforces the feelings of control really resonated with me, and I appreciate your honesty in speaking about your recovery as continuous and complex. Thank you for having the courage to share your story; it has made me feel less alone.

  • Emily Muhlberg

    “I am sometimes still overcome with memories of my body like a wasteland and it feels nostalgic, not dangerous.” This is a sentiment that I have been feeling but haven’t known how to put into words. As someone who considers myself Recovered (although utterly changed by my battle with anorexia), I feel guilty when I think about my former thinness with fondness or wistfulness. It’s still hard to look at an old photo and think “ok, I did look too thin.” But reading articles like this one reassure me that not only was recovery the best choice I ever made, it was also not one just choice – but daily, little choices that eventually become routine and automatic. Bless the friends who gave you the love you needed to bloom. I had friends who did the same and they are godsends. Thank you for sharing your story, you are not alone!

  • Paige

    I lost 100 pounds this way, as an adult, restricting down to 400 calories on cheat days and down to just green tea on the worst of days. I never got dangerously skinny since I was incredibly overweight before. Just tons of validation on how amazing I looked although doctors would always press me to strive for skinnier. Unlike this article, I was never coy about it, when someone would ask me how I would say “starve to death” and they would laugh like I was being cheeky. It was ok to starve to death for three years and lose my period and black out or faint all the time because I was a fat person and fat people should feel ashamed and starve right?? That’s just “”dieting””” when you’re fat right?? I managed to get myself out of it for a while, even gaining back a bit (working at the happiest place on earth does wonders for your appetite) but it’s interesting how this article came at this time, now that I am slipping back into it like an old coat. Part of me wishes there was more talk of adult eating disorders but another part of me wants to waste away while being cheeky again, by myself. The other night, on a rehearsal surrounded by all these beautiful slender girls deemed pretty enough to be princesses, light enough to be lifted during dance routines and adored the world over, we were discussing dating and such and when I expressed that “haha how could anyone fall in love with me!” Someone else chimed in with “just find someone whose blind, duh.” And now I get to spiral back into all that bullshit again.

  • you are So brave. i’m so proud of you for writing this. when you decide to talk to your college friends, i’m sure it will help you heal and recover from this experience even more. love you lady

  • Jennifer Brubaker

    “The grimiest parts of me miss being cold in a warm room. When I am in this mindset, secrecy is huge. It is everything. Because it allows me to dictate my own narrative — to decide when I want to eat (or not) without someone intervening. Never talking about my disorder makes it feel mine. Like it’s interesting and complex in a brooding Breakfast Club-character way. Even without restricting or purging or calorie counting, it allows me to maintain a feeling of control.”

    This article is very well written. I admire your strength. I have never had an eating disorder, but this allowed me to better understand what it’s like, and to connect with others who are suffering. I hope you keep writing—we will keep reading. JB