This month we feature the story of Jessica, whose Eating Disorder took on many forms over the years, changing itself as eating disorders often do. Her story talks about how thought the Eating Disorder might want to change you, you do not need to change who you are. Though the Eating Disorder might change who it is, always remain true to who you are.

My eating disorder story started around the age of eight, when my beloved grandmother, who was suffering from pancreatic cancer, passed away. It wasn’t sudden or unexpected, but what was unexpected was my reaction to her passing. I felt numb, I remember not having any particular thoughts or reactions to hearing that she had passed, except that I brushed it off like nothing was wrong. What started soon after that was secret binge eating that went on for many years. What I know now is that even though I didn’t have the words or conscious thoughts about processing her death, my body was working hard to send me the message that something wasn’t right, I just didn’t know how to interpret those messages yet. Along with binging was a constant feeling of wanting, needing, anything from anyone. This lead to lying about things in my life that made me appear happier than I really was, stealing things so I could feel a rush of excitement and constantly changing my likes/dislikes to match the people around me.

When I was in middle school my cat suddenly became ill and we had to put her down rather quickly. I remember feeling an intense amount of sadness followed by the most amount of crying I’d ever done up to that point. What struck me was that I remember thinking, “I’ve never cried for my grandmother”. That realization helped start my journey of healing with my grandmother. I didn’t immediately stop binging, but I was starting to let feelings in that I never had before. Throughout the rest of my high school days I would still use behaviors whenever I didn’t want to feel something uncomfortable, whether it was a test coming up, or I’d have a fight with a friend or family member. Needless to say, this happened a lot.

Somewhere along the way my behaviors switched from binging to restricting, but the underlying issues were still there. However, I was suddenly getting a lot of attention and compliments such as, “You look great, can you share your secrets of how you lost weight?!” These and other comments certainly didn’t help reduce the urge to restrict, and instead fueled me to keep going. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine pointed out that my personality was changing, and not for the better, that I had a mirror held up to what was really going on.

Over the course of the next few years I slowly began to realize that I didn’t need to change in order for people to like me, I had to like myself first. My family and long-time friends were there for me no matter what, not just on the good days, but also on the days when I really needed them. I began letting myself feel all the emotions that I had bottled up inside and was able to show myself that, not only could I handle these emotions, but that they were actually helping me grow. I also started seeing a dietitian who spoke to me about enjoying food, taking pleasure in eating, and helping to make the connection between what I was feeling and how my body was reacting. I will be forever grateful for her help in my recovery.

Ultimately, I made the decision to become a dietitian myself, and specialize in treating eating disorders. When it came time to choose a career, nothing else felt right. I knew myself well enough to know I was fully recovered and could be in a setting where I could hear people talk about their eating disorder behaviors without getting triggered. I can’t say I never get triggered, I imagine that’s impossible. However, I no longer think of these triggers as a relapse, but rather my body’s way of trying to send a message, and I know now how to interpret those messages.

I surround myself with people who don’t focus on looks, weight or image, instead I choose to be friends with people who don’t take life too seriously, love to laugh, love food, travel, and all the other wonderful things about life. As a dietitian, I love helping people cultivate and strengthen their relationship with food, and as a woman I work to empower those around me in every chance I get. If I could give advice to someone struggling with an eating disorder it would be to surround yourself with positive people who will help with your recovery, not bring you down or keep you in the cycle you’re trying to get out of. I would advise people to get help wherever they can, and know that they are not alone in their recovery. Getting to know, and make peace with yourself is not an easy or short process, but it’s definitely worth it.