**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Alisha Hana is a bulimia survivor and Surgical Tech in Columbus, Ohio. Writing has always been a passion of hers and has given her a healthy outlet in her recovery. As she continues her journey in healing, she hopes her story can help others and remind them they aren’t alone.
My eating disorder began as a thought, then morphed into a response to an idea that progressed to fear and eventually extreme restriction.
My mother’s greatest fear was to have an overweight child. She would go to great lengths to ensure it didn’t happen to me, regardless of what it did to me mentally. I began associating certain foods with weight gain and found myself with great fear whenever I wanted to enjoy any treat. Moderation was never considered.
At the age of eight, I found myself sneaking snacks and hiding the evidence in the vents of my bedroom. My relationship with food was complicated, and slowly thoughts of food began to devour all other thoughts. Restriction makes us want so much more, but I was far too young to make sense of that. I couldn’t analyze what was happening to me or why I couldn’t enjoy things the way other kids did.
This complicated relationship with food gradually grew into something much bigger throughout my life. I found myself on the receiving end of belittling comments about the size of pants I was wearing or the snack I wasn’t allowed to have.
My mindset was completely invested in food. It had so much power over me, and I found myself feeling so shameful for the way that I was. I couldn’t reflect and understand that this was imparted on me.
The thoughts that dictated my emotions slowly created actions, and those actions slowly became a routine. Before I knew it, my eating disorder had taken over my life. I was entirely lost within my unyielding fear of being overweight.
I began to restrict heavily at the age of 13. As my illness progressed, I began to lose my dreams and my passions. I canceled plans and hid my life behind closed doors alone, all in hopes to achieve a body that was entirely unrealistic. Even so, the satisfaction of finding comfort in my body kept me fighting to reach the bar that was set so high. The progress I made was never seen and somehow it was never enough. I was fighting an endless and unbeatable battle.
Restriction wasn’t easy. My body felt worn down and tired and for that, I granted myself small treats. In my young mind, withholding nutrients provided me with permission to eat. I hadn’t anticipated the way my cravings would take over the moment I indulged, as if it were my one and only chance to eat. After consuming far more than I had planned, my eating disorder took a new route that I hadn’t once considered.
I realized the control I held, and with this, bulimia slowly became the focal point of my life. Everything else existed outside of my eating disorder with little acknowledgment. The thoughts spiraled so fast and the behavior seemed uncontrollable. It often felt like the flip of a switch. I ate and could no longer turn back.
Some days I didn’t give in and some days it was a repetitive cycle I couldn’t break free from. The initial emotions were strong and positive, as I felt in control. Slowly, they crashed down on me harder than what’s imaginable. I felt endless shame, guilt, and loneliness.
I knew I would never be the same the moment the pieces of my life were put back together after almost losing myself completely. I knew would always harbor a numbness within me, yet somehow, I would learn to cope.
I believed in time I would find a way to feel again. It took time and it wasn’t easy, but I finally believed I was worth it. I knew that was the first step.
I asked my family to send me away for treatment, but they nearly laughed at me as if I were just a troubled teen wanting attention. At this point, I had hit the end of my rope and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help.
By age 20, I was in therapy and making steady progress. I was happy, I was proud, and I was slowly regaining all the joy in my life that had always come second to my eating disorder. I was finding myself again. I was rediscovering who I was without my illness and the warped image I had of myself. I began owning my mindset and conquering the struggle. I started making progress—slowly yet steadily, little by little—until I was on the other side.
I hadn’t anticipated that my eating disorder would become present in a new part of my life, one that was masking my true illness as something healthy and worthy of encouragement.
I had a steady hold on my binges and found myself fully invested in fitness. Had I asked myself what I was seeking to gain, I’d be proud to say it was a healthy and fit body. But despite what I told myself, I knew the truth. I lived in a world of denial as I exhausted myself daily. I had found a new strategy that appeared healthy to the world around me, yet all the while, I was calorie-deprived, spending hours in the gym and obsessing about my diet.
My new journey was not for true healing, but rather a continual fight to meet a body standard. I was seeking a validation that I couldn’t find for myself and I knew that would never be enough. I needed to believe it myself.
I had to make an incredibly hard but crucial decision once I made sense of my newfound love for fitness. I had to step away from the training class I joined and shred my meal plan. I had to do it for me, so that’s exactly what I did.
I can’t say that discontinuing my training class was easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I had done. I wanted it to be a new channel of growth within my healing, but I had come to terms with the realization that I had only skimmed the surface. I needed to dig deeper to find myself and ultimately love myself.
Today, my fitness routine is one that is fueled appropriately. I enjoy exercise for my health, my mentality, my work ethic, and my ability to be physically strong. I no longer follow meal plans and instead eat intuitively.
To my surprise, I have found comfort in my body regardless of its size. The scale is no longer the sole contributor to my view of myself. The unrealistic bar I had set is no longer present. I have gained a peace of mind within fitness as I enjoy it, rather than use it to feel better about myself.
After this confusing setback, I began exploring even further into my healing. I opened my eyes to the amazing power of taking control of my life, as well as the ability to avoid giving in to demeaning thoughts and behavior. Rather than continually degrading myself, I began speaking to myself more positively. This wasn’t easy, but eventually, I began to believe the words I told myself. Today, I still practice daily affirmations to remind myself that I am worthy.
Healing from an eating disorder is a process and it evolves over time. Recovery is a choice I made and continue to make. I am no longer led by my self-doubt; instead, I fight those thoughts with a reminder of the ways I have overcome my eating disorder. The decision to pursue recovery is always there. We just have to make it. Once I made the mental shift, the fierce and life-altering decision that felt so real I couldn’t dare think of returning, I knew I had successfully made it one step closer to full healing.
I knew the urges would come over me again and that I wouldn’t always be able to say no, and that was okay. The strength I had revealed in myself allowed me to progress into my recovery with a touch of grace, with the ability to allow myself to regress and accept that as part of the process.
The beauty in the aftermath is the ability to reflect back, to see where we have been and all we have overcome, and to let that strength continually guide us forward.
The fear of judgment driven by the stigma surrounding eating disorders gave me a reason to hide it all away. That is, until I realized it no longer mattered what anyone thought. I wanted my story to be heard for even a mere chance that it could be the light of hope in someone’s fight toward recovery.
Today, I stand four years into a stable recovery and I am more thankful than ever before. I recognize the importance of being reminded that we are not alone in our struggles and in our journeys. We have others who can relate and who are in need of support, and our stories can fill that void of loneliness in one another.
Healing doesn’t happen overnight and falling backward doesn’t mean we are weak or that have failed. We must remind ourselves we have the strength to get back on track. We deserve it.
To this day, I remind myself the best is yet to come and I make the decision daily to be better. Regression will come and go. Every journey is different and that’s what makes us who we are; we must remember this and be proud of our stories. We must be proud of our ability to choose a better life and to overcome our greatest struggles that limit us from our true potential.
My eating disorder may always be a part of me, but it will never define me. We can’t erase our past; we can only own the struggles we’ve had and use those struggles to make us stronger every day.