Today, I’m honored to present another story of eating disorder recovery.
Michelle Miller is an accomplished woman who’s been in recovery for three years from various eating disorders. She lives in Mexico and has recently graduated from college. (How awesome is that!)
Below, Michelle reveals her struggles with eating disorders, how dieting and the desire to lose weight triggered them, how she overcomes the toughest parts of recovery and so much more.
If you’d like to share your story of eating disorder recovery with Weightless readers, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I’m a 21-year-old woman (almost 22!) and I just graduated from college as a psychologist. I’m doing my masters degree in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and I plan to open my private practice and to open a residential treatment center for eating disorders as soon as I finish my masters.
I’ve had an eating disorder (Anorexia – purging subtype, EDNOS) for 5 years and have been in recovery for 3 years now. It’s been a rollercoaster ride but it’s been worth it.
Q: How and when did your eating disorder start?
A: It was a gradual process (as you know Eds don’t start overnight) but I remember having disordered behaviors around food as early as 7 years old. I was officially diagnosed when I was 17.
It started with me going on a diet. I was always an overweight kid and other kids in school used to tease me about it. In the year 2000, my uncle got married and I was going to be a maid of honor, so my family took me to a dietitian to go on a diet for the wedding. I was 10 years old. I’ve been on diets ever since and I used to overeat a lot because I felt I was deprived of the food I loved because of the diet, so after the wedding I gained all the weight I had lost and I gained even more.
When I was in middle school, I started to overeat more and I only looked forward to meal times. That’s all I could think about. Then, I changed schools because of the bullying and it was a very hard change, since I don’t handle changes too well. At the new school, some boys started to bother me again because of my weight.
I was so sad and my self esteem was so low that I decided that I would never eat in front of anyone, so in school I didn’t eat anything for 7-8 hours straight and when I got home I binged on food because I was literally starving. That made me start to lose some weight (but not a lot), so I started seeing another nutritionist.
This nutritionist told me a lot about calories, so that made me conscious and aware of the calorie content of what I was eating, and that was a huge trigger for me to be afraid of food then. In middle school I saw like 5 different nutritionists because I always wanted to lose weight, and every time I did, my family and friends congratulated me and made a lot of positive comments on my looks.
That, of course, reinforced me to keep losing weight until, when I was in high school, I found out my best friend had an eating disorder and had been making herself purge after meals. She had lost a lot of weight and people complimented her on that. I got “jealous” and I told her I wanted to learn how to purge my meals.
After that, things went downhill pretty fast. I started using laxatives and vomiting sometimes, and almost never eating anything but “safe foods” for me.
I also started therapy but I only got worse, since I felt that I wasn’t “sick enough” to be receiving treatment.
One day, one of my friends found laxatives in my bag and called my mom. When I got home from school, my mom told me she was going to take me to a treatment center. She never took me there, because she didn’t want me to be inpatient, but I started seeing a psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders that diagnosed me first with EDNOS and then with Anorexia. He then arranged a treatment team, consisting of a nutritionist, therapist, equine therapist and himself, with everyone specializing in eating disorders. That’s when I started recovery.
Q: What motivated you to seek treatment?
A: At the beginning I wasn’t really motivated to begin treatment by myself. As I said before, my mother pushed me to go to therapy and to start recovery, because I was so deep in my eating disorder I couldn’t see beyond it.
A few months later, I started doing it for myself, and I found that my motivation was my career (since I can’t be a psychologist and I can’t treat people if I’m not OK myself), my family and friends (because I saw what I was putting them through) and myself, because I wanted to be someone other than the eternal patient, or worse, the eternal anorexic.
Q: Eating disorders are tremendously treatable but the key is to find the right treatment. How did you go about seeking services?
A: Like I said before, first I saw a psychiatrist who referred me to a nutritionist. Then, he also referred me to equine psychotherapy and I had my treatment team set up.
Eventually, I stopped equine psychotherapy and started going to regular therapy appointments. It was hard at first because not all the therapists are specialized in eating disorders or know how to treat them, so sometimes they would say triggering things. But eventually I found a team that was OK for me and that could help me the way I needed it.
Q: What have been the toughest parts of seeking recovery and how did you get through them?
A: The hardest part has been the stigma around eating disorders, because my family sometimes didn’t want me to go on with treatment since they were in denial.
In those times I asked my treatment team for help and I managed to stay in recovery and in treatment for myself, trying to handle the comments my family made and sometimes having meetings with my family and treatment team to help my family understand what I was going through.
It’s also been hard to separate the Eating Disorder identity from myself. I used to be so “proud” of my eating disorder, because that was my identity, so finding myself again and learning to know the real ME beyond an illness was very difficult.
I did this by realizing what the ED identity really brought me and what it really meant: a mentally ill, unstable person. That wasn’t the role and identity I wanted to have, so I started to dislike it and to get to know myself through therapy.
Q: Do you still struggle with eating disordered thoughts and behaviors? If so, how do you overcome them?
A: I struggle sometimes with eating disordered thoughts more than behaviors. I’m so used to negative thinking that I had to really work in therapy to stop this. When I have ED thoughts I try to remember what’s important for me in life and what my goals are, such as my career, my family, etc. and that I won’t be able to reach these goals if I’m sick.
These goals don’t include ED. I also think about how I could hurt myself and my family by relapsing or using behaviors, so that makes me have compassion for myself and for others, and that keeps me focused on the healthier side.
When the thoughts are pretty bad, I call my therapist and I talk to her for a while. She’s been a HUGE and very important part in my recovery, so she always helps me to stop the thoughts before they become actions. I think it’s very important to have someone who understands you and who you can talk to, so you don’t feel alone.
Journaling has also been a very good tool for me. When I feel overwhelmed I grab my journal and I write everything I feel and everything that’s in my head. That helps me put things in perspective and to realize what’s going on with me.
Since I’m a psychologist, when I have these thoughts I try to analyze what’s really causing them, instead of acting them out.
Thanks so much, Michelle, for sharing your story! I’m so grateful to you and all the other women who’ve talked about their stories and inspired so much hope. You and others remind us that while incredibly difficult, recovery is absolutely possible and oh-so worth it.
Please stay tuned tomorrow for part two of our interview.
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Last reviewed: 10 Aug 2011