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Are You Aware How an Eating Disorder Can Develop?

How an eating disorder develops

As a kid, food was fun. Important to life, nourishing, sure – my mom always cooked healthy food from scratch for us even before it was trendy.

But it wasn’t stressful until life threw me some curveballs.

I’m all about celebrating anniversaries with delicious treats and new ideas. It brings awareness. This Thanksgiving, I hosted a feast to celebrate 11 years since I nearly stopped eating altogether.

How an eating disorder develops

Some of you may have experienced being too tired to eat due to something like the flu or even depression. But for most of us, thankfully, we get over it. 3 months into college I almost didn’t.

Finding Myself by Losing My Voice

When it came time for my first collegiate choir auditions, I was understandably nervous. I was not feeling my best but decided I would try my best nonetheless. At callbacks when Dr. Brower greeted me with a sincere “How are you feeling?” I forced a smile and replied, “Alto/tenor.”

I was embarrassingly aware that my usually impressive range had shrunk by 92% in the course of just a few hours!

Within a week the diagnosis came back that painful, inconvenient vocal nodules had shrunk my voice to a mere five notes. It hurt not in a strep throat kind of way. More like I’m-in-so-much-pain-it-isn’t-physically-possible-to-talk kind of way. Using my voice was like trying to clap your hands while your pointer fingers are poking your palms so your hands can’t actually come together.

How an eating disorder develops

If you haven’t tried not making any noise with your voice for a whole day, you’re probably not aware of just how much you use it. To avoid surgery, I spent the first 3 months of my freshman year as an almost mute: No humming, no singing, and very little talking. All while still taking classes as a music major.

You know when your English teacher talks about “finding your voice”? Suddenly, without my physical voice, I had to focus on who I was and find that inner voice.

Know Yourself – Even When You’re Weak

The first step to “finding yourself” is to know yourself. I had no idea how much this awareness exercise would make me a better singer and a better person.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t do much good to ask “Why me?”

So instead I angrily prayed: “All right God, what am I supposed to get out of this?! Hurry up and teach me so I can get this over with.” This emptiness grew until it filled my stomach and I lost my appetite for life.

Goal oriented thinking like this is dangerous because we get so anxious about arriving at our final destination, we don’t realize that how we get there affects where we end up. I think it has to do with the difference between doing and being. I can go through the motions to be happy or eat healthy, or I can feel balanced and therefore make healthy choices.

How an eating disorder develops

If we’re just going through the motions to achieve the desired result we may miss the point. I think that’s part of what blindsided me.

Because college is a place to learn time management skills, study hard, and figure out who you are, I was doing all of that. The problem was, I was doing all of that with my key identifying characteristics stripped away. It was exhausting physically and emotionally.

I fell into the habit of falling asleep instead of cooking and eating between classes. I was moody and withdrawn and felt like I couldn’t connect to people because I couldn’t talk with them. Thankfully, my roommates were aware of my struggles more than I was. They asked my boyfriend to talk to me and together got a huge prayer group going: “Danielle is going through a hard time right now and could really use our prayers.”

If you’re struggling to know where to begin “finding yourself,” make a list of your greatest strengths and weaknesses then ask someone you trust to do the same. This helps us avoid the denial that often comes with challenging detours.

Denial Blocks Awareness in Eating Disorders

A large part of most eating disorders is denial. I didn’t realize it was a problem and once I finally did, it took forever to realize that it was serious. I think in many ways my parents were also in denial.

This phenomenon is not only limited to “eating right.” I think all of us could discover and solve problems within ourselves with a healthy dose of self-awareness.

I remember once talking to my mom about how I was more at risk because I was an academically driven, petite young girl with a Type A personality. I was the kind of girl expected to develop an eating disorder. But I swore to my friends and my mom that would never be me. Not eating is painful and I hate pain. Besides, I have a strong testimony that I am a daughter of God.

I had always prided myself on my relationship with God and never thought that I would develop an eating disorder. Because I viewed my body as a gift from Him and my parents, I generally treated it that way. Until I didn’t.

I took it for granted that I was healthy but stopped going through the motions that were keeping me healthy. The worst part wasn’t the loss of self-love it was that I was too numb to notice.

Relapses and Deja Vu – Eating Disorders Take TIME to Heal

I have a friend who not only went through rehabilitation for her eating disorder but now she works at that same center as a therapist! She told me what one of her doctors once told her: it can take 7 years of recovery to be “cured” of an eating disorder!

Becoming aware of the problematic thinking that led to the scary symptom of not eating is necessary for recovery, but it takes time to develop.

I vowed to be aware of the ups and downs of my recovery so I could make the most of it.

Fast forward to 4 months after my diagnosis of food allergies. I was once again struggling to eat. My voice teacher pulled me aside because he knew I would be going home for my birthday soon. He asked how I was doing and I told him honestly. He told me that I had a tough assignment that weekend. In addition to improving my practicing habits, he committed me to telling my parents that I wasn’t eating like I should: “Please don’t make me tell them, Danielle.”

It was the reality check I needed to get back on track. I remember sitting in my Dad’s office (he taught at the university I was attending) and telling him that I was struggling to balance eating enough with eating the “right things.”

How an eating disorder develops

He drew a vertical line on the paper between us then asked me to draw where I thought I was. Then he asked me what the worst thing was that could happen.

“I could end up dropping out of school to go to that rehab place in UT,” I begrudgingly admitted my biggest fear.

“No Danielle,” my Dad firmly corrected. “You could end up dead.”

Control Issues are a Root of an Eating Disorder

There are some things that I hold onto in life so tightly, as though I could guarantee certain outcomes. Even if I have other reasons, I usually do whatever it takes to get what I want from life. I see it a lot in my diet, in the way I parent, and even when I sing. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But is that so bad?

Like I said earlier, thinking like this is dangerous because I get so anxious about arriving at my final destination, I don’t realize that I’m taking unwanted detours by forgetting to travel well. One of the keys to making positive changes is to enjoy the process. Otherwise, the changes won’t stick.

  • I could make my child eat her vegetables. Or I could invite her to try a vegetable every day at least once until she finds something she’s willing to eat more often.
  • I might be able to make myself exercise. But if I find a way to enjoy moving and strengthening my body, I’ll probably do it more often. And more willingly.
  • I could try to “control” what I eat. But once you have an eating disorder, what you eat (or don’t eat) will control you. So shift your focus, please.

Ready to Find Yourself?

You’re right here! In order to find yourself, you must first ACCEPT YOURSELF! Be aware of who and where you are before you focus on where you want to go.

For example, the first step to healthy eating is knowing what you already eat. Keep a food diary and learn what foods your body needs more or less of. Awareness is the first step to making lasting changes!

I am so grateful to simply be aware of my blessings! I am thankful to have a healthy appetite, to have a voice, and to have friends who encourage me on my journey. I am also grateful to have these lessons from my past since only a few days after Thanksgiving I mysteriously lost 80% of my voice.

But because I am aware I don’t have to be blindsided. I can make the adaptations necessary to stay healthy and happy!

How an eating disorder develops
Have you experienced a journey to find yourself? What suggestions do you have for others?

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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8 thoughts on “Are You Aware How an Eating Disorder Can Develop?”

  1. Maricel Moviglia

    Hi Danielle and Katie,
    I love Katie’s website, and I was so thankful when I read your story.
    I have a daughter that is suffering anorexia. Just like you, she started with this process when she begun collage. For two years she went to therapy with a psychologist that was a total failure, and on August 2017, my husband and I convinced her to start a rehab program in another institution. She is just starting to be consciences about what an eating disorder is. It is a long process…
    She recently found out that she is lactose intolerant, and learned that she has to modify her diet if she wants to be healthy. Do you have any books to recommend to set up a meal plan for her? We need easy recipes because she has a big aversion for cooking. We need to follow baby steps to turn this over.
    Thanks for your help. Have a nice day!

    1. Danielle Eaton Hart

      Maricel, thanks for reaching out! Your daughter is blessed to have you as a mother. Recovery is a lifelong journey and awareness is the first step. I wish I had access to a certified nutritionist to walk me through life with food allergies (esp. given my history with anorexia.) It would’ve help me relearn what my body needs and given me tools I still crave. I’ve learned a lot about cooking for my lactose intolerance by reading vegan recipes. I wish I had particular recipes to recommend to you. How about I try to do one next month on the blog? In the mean time, encourage your daughter to find ways to play in the kitchen and satisfy the other sides of her relationship with food (making it fun to prepare, pretty to look at, etc.) Doing so really helped me as a newlywed as well as with my recent bout of depression.

      1. Maricel Moviglia

        Thanks! Everything you said is so familiar! Yes! Please, post some recipes next month.
        You are right, I will try to get her involve in the kitchen to help preparing her brother birthday meal that plan might work.

        1. Danielle Eaton Hart

          Lactose intolerance is a surprising wide spread problem. I’m interested in researching the possible link between food allergies, lactose intolerance, and eating disorders.

          I just remembered a library book that really helped to inspired and educate me in my cooking. Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain has “a year of gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo recipes” with a delightful philosophy that we shouldn’t have to give up on food and the gathering and healing it provides. Just revisiting the photos makes me hungry!

  2. My story is different, though I can see some parallels in the feelings. I was/am petite, both in height and weight. I never consciously worried about my weight, because it was relatively stable for many years. Heck, up until my husband walked out and I couldn’t bring myself to cook for 6 months (so we pretty much ate fast food, delivery, and whatever people dropped off for us), I was the same weight at 30 as in high school. Now I have about 15 extra pounds. Anyway, my weight just wasn’t something I paid much attention to, because I knew I was small.

    Until one day in high school, when a group of friends were joking around, trying to fit into the same chair (oh, teenagers and your weirdness), and one guy pushed me off and called me fat. ONE guy, who I didn’t even know all that well, called me fat ONE time, and I believed him. I stopped eating. I would eat a s’more pop tart in the morning, and sometimes another before bed. For months! Through the physical rigors of marching band and everything. Lost too much weight, especially since I didn’t have much weight to safely lose. My parents were concerned, but since we rarely ate together, I just told them I wasn’t hungry and had already eaten.

    It’s hard to imagine now how I let that one comment affect my life so much. I guess it had something to do with years of bullying in school at a younger age, making me more susceptible to fear of being rejected by peers? Who knows? I suspect now that I was trying to control the reactions of my peers by being so small no one could ever call me that again, as well as having my identity somewhat wrapped up in being small. I do have lingering health issues from that time, like inability to fast without getting super weak and shaky. I’ve always wondered if it contributed to my PCOS too, since my periods we’re normal before then, stopped when I lost too much, and restarted irregularly.

    1. Becca, it’s interesting that you mention your PCOS. A couple years ago I was diagnosed with PCOS though I have always had normal periods. I think eating disorders can start when we want to control something in our lives, but the disorder will hallways end up controlling you if you don’t fight it. I have a couple dear friends with whom I discuss what we call “skinny problems”. Do you have anything like that?

  3. I was definitely on my way to an eating disorder (or maybe I was already there) during my freshman year of college. I was so worried about gaining the “freshman 15” that I became obsessed with avoiding any foods that were remotely unhealthy and limiting my portions. I didn’t realize I was starving myself. On top of that I was dealing with a lot of anxiety from being away from home for the first time. My menstrual cycle stopped and I lost a lot of weight, although I was thin to begin with. Thankfully my mom and a friend recognized that what I was doing was dangerous. When they mentioned “eating disorder” they got my attention. Trying to be healthy was causing a whole lot of unhealthiness. I definitely learned a lot about myself and about the Lord and my need for Him through that experience. I’m thankful God allowed me to see the problems I was causing myself before I caused more destruction. One of the things I learned was that I really was self-disciplined; I needed to harness that in the right direction. I could learn to achieve a balance in my diet and to EAT–no starving necessary.

    1. Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! I remember being so offended in the midst of my eating disorder when someone accused me of “not having any discipline.” My sister explained to me that what this well meaning family member meant was that I lacked drive. Unlike this anonymous family member who could discipline herself to do anything she felt she was “supposed to do”, if I didn’t have a satisfying reason for doing something then I wouldn’t make myself do it. Being healthy is a journey of mindfulness and moderation.

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