I’ve already had the great opportunity to speak with many women about their recovery from eating disorders and emotional eating (you can find the interviews here). I hope to regularly feature Q&As with individuals who’ve recovered from eating disorders, binge eating, negative body image or any kind of disordered eating. If you’d like to share your story of recovery, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at [email protected]

I’m so pleased to feature my interview with Michelle Myers, who recounts her struggles with anorexia. Below, she talks about how a near-death experience and her faith inspired her to seek recovery, the important role her family played, the misconceptions about eating disorders and more. Her story, like all the women who’ve generously shared theirs, is insightful and uplifting.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Michelle Myers, and I am living a life today that I never thought was possible: one that is free of calorie counting and obsessive exercise. Food is no longer my enemy. I am not afraid to eat. I have bigger concerns in my life than worrying about getting fat. There was a point where I was enslaved to starving myself, and I couldn’t see past the bondage.

Ironically enough, I actually work in the health and fitness industry now. I own my own business called Myers Cross Training. I focus on helping others get spiritually and physically fit using fun-focused workouts, balanced nutrition and moderation in all areas of life. My husband, James, is the young adults pastor at Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, so our occupations continually overlap. We love working together to point others to a greater purpose in life.

2. How and when did your eating disorder start? What do you think contributed to it?

While I’ve always been hard on myself regarding my physical appearance, my eating disorder really began late into high school. My family moved before my junior year of high school to a small town, and it was very difficult to break in and make friends. I had never had trouble making friends before, so I didn’t really know how to handle myself. Being diagnosed with depression was not how I expected “Sweet 16” to turn out.

In high school, I was able to keep my weight relatively normal. I would go through cycles of not eating enough, then bingeing. It was easy to mask. However, when I got a new start in college is when everything took a turn for the worst. Always a fan of setting goals for myself, I decided that instead of gaining the “freshman fifteen,” I would lose it.

I began by spending more time at the gym, but it went from bad to worse quickly. When I saw results from working out, I began eating less…and less…and less. Eventually, I was barely eating anything at all, and I was working out several hours a day. Whenever doctors hear my story, they always tell me that science says I should be dead.

3. What motivated you to seek treatment?

After a near-death experience (You can read my story on my blog here), I decided enough was enough. Though the thought of dying had intrigued me for a while, once I was almost there, I realized I desperately wanted to live – and REALLY live.

For the past four years of my life, I had merely existed. Avoiding food, pushing people away in my life, spending all of my time alone on the treadmill was no way to spend my time here on earth. I lost four years of my life, and my motivation to get better was my determination not to lose any more time.

4. Eating disorders are tremendously treatable but the key is to find the right treatment. How did you go about seeking services?

I was so fortunate to have the most amazing support system in my very own household. My parents and my sister were there for me every step of the way – whether that meant encouragement, accountability, or even a little tough love. Since my dad is a pastor, we went straight for the heart of the issue. He knew there had to be something deeper than just food, and he was right.

I was addicted to controlling something in my life. Restricting my food gave me some sick and twisted pleasure of being superhuman. I could do what no one else could do – I could survive without food. I had accomplished this incredible feat in my mind…yet I had no one to celebrate my “victory” with.

5. What led to your recovery?

My recovery had several stages. I would say I had a major breakthrough, though, when I met my husband. There was a difference between his love and the love of my family. He didn’t HAVE to love me. I knew that I had to have this part of my life under control before he would ever consider spending the rest of his life with me. His patience, his understanding and his coaching helped me develop a much healthier relationship, not only with food, but with myself.

However, the most critical moment of my recovery was when I realized that my food intake and my workout schedule were the only two things in my life that I refused to give control over to God. It gave me a reality check of what my real priorities were. Once I finally submitted those areas over to the Lord, He took care of me and let me experience freedom with food and fitness that I didn’t know existed.

6. What were the toughest parts of your recovery and how did you get through them?

Initially, I felt like I was “undoing” all of my hard work. I knew it needed to be done, but that didn’t make it any easier. Also, I knew I needed to gain weight, but as soon as I saw numbers on the scale go up or my clothes began to get tighter, I freaked out. I always recommend for everyone who goes into recovery to clean out your closet. It doesn’t matter how much you love the outfit; if it’s a smaller size than you need to be wearing, get rid of it. Fill your closet full of clothes that you SHOULD fit into. That way, when you put on clothes at first, they are a bit too big. It’s much easier on your mind to grow into your clothes than to grow out of them.

I also struggle with the unknown. I wonder if the damage I did to my body is irreversible. I wonder if I will never be able to give my wonderful husband the biological children he desires and deserves. I pray that we will be able to have children faithfully.

7. Do you still struggle with eating disordered thoughts and behaviors? If so, how do you overcome them?

Very seldom. God has been so good to renew my mind. However, if I ever catch myself falling back into old habits, I remind myself of the bigger picture of my eating disorder.

Mainly, it’s my desire to have children. I know that when I deny my body of proper nutrition and abuse it by overtraining, I am causing further damage to prevent my body from being able to conceive a child. This thought helps me realize how selfish those thoughts are, and it puts my mind where it needs to be – off of merely myself and on to my family.

8. What are some misconceptions about eating disorders?

People think it’s just about food. Recovery should be simple – just EAT! But it’s not that simple, and it’s not just about food. There are a plethora of life experiences that add up to disordered eating, and those issues must rise to the surface in order to experience recovery.

I think another misconception is that eating disorders never fully go away, and once you have one, you will always struggle with it. I believe that is only true if you only address the physical side of the disorder. However, the deeper issues behind an eating disorder are emotional, mental and spiritual. If you achieve peace in those areas, I believe full recovery is possible.

9. Many people don’t realize the physical consequences of eating disorders, including electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, osteoporosis, severe tooth decay and digestive problems. Did you experience any health problems as a result of your eating disorder?

I still struggle with keeping my blood sugar balanced, and I have had a few problems with adult-onset supraventricular tachycardia. I had a mild case of hypoglycemia before my eating disorder, and it is more severe now. If there’s one thing to be grateful for in being vain, my vanity prevented me from ever throwing up. I was afraid of having yellow teeth. Because of this, I do not have any problems with tooth decay or digestive problems.

10. Individuals with eating disorders are reluctant to seek out treatment. What can family members do to help a loved one start treatment and how can they help during treatment?

Encourage, listen and be there. Every eating disorder is different, and every eating disorder patient is different. There is not one set of rules that will apply in every situation. You know the victim better than anyone else. Respond to meet their needs.

11. Any resources (books, websites) you recommend for individuals struggling with eating disorders?

I’ve written a book that will be released spring 2010 from Cross Books Publishing called The Look that Kills: An Anorexic’s Addiction to Control. This book digs into the deeper issues behind my eating disorder that I had to work through before I was going to see changes in my physical habits. To anyone who feels like a chronic perfectionist, like you will never be good enough, this book walks you through my story of how I got to the root of my problem. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

Current helpful resources that are available include Life Inside the Thin Cage by Contance Rhodes, When Godly People do Ungodly Things by Beth Moore, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Elyser Resch and http://www.healthylifestylebalance.com.

12. For women who struggle with disordered eating or negative body image, what would you like them to know?

You’re not alone, and you’re not crazy. Don’t try and beat this on your own, and you don’t have to live this way. You are worth so much more than your pants size. You were created by a God who loves you – who created YOU specifically, just as you are, for a reason. Don’t mistreat God’s masterpiece. If you don’t like the way you see yourself, picture yourself through His eyes.

13. Anything else you’d like readers to know about your story or eating disorders in general?

I’d love for you to follow my blog at http://www.michellemyerswrites.blogspot.com to keep up with the release of my book. Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your story and see if there’s anything I can do to help you through your recovery journey. You can also check out our business at http://www.myerscrosstraining.com.

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Thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing your story! Congratulations on your book and we can’t wait till it comes out!

By the way, check out my guest post on empowering tips for improving your body image on Esther Kane’s wonderful blog. Esther is a clinical counselor who specializes in women’s issues, like body image. She’s also written a book called It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies, which I’ll be reviewing soon. I’d love to get your thoughts on the post.