Today, I’m honored to present my interview with Sam, a freelance writer who authors the cooking blog (Cool name, right!)

Below, Sam talks about how her symptoms spiraled into an eating disorder, what helped her recover and how she copes with setbacks.

If you’d like to share your story of recovering from an eating disorder, ditching dieting or overcoming body image issues, don’t hesitate to email me! You can reach me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I’m 26 and have lived in upstate NY my entire life. I spend part of my time freelance writing; part of it maintaining a vegan food blog; and the rest reading, knitting, and enjoying time with my family.

Q: How and when did your eating disorder start?

A: It was sometime in early 2009. I’ve had issues with body image since I was in middle school and was on and off the diet, exercise, and general “self improvement” train through most of high school. Oddly, fall of ’08 was the first time I started on a track that was anywhere close to healthy in terms of dieting. I started trying to balance what I ate, ate more regular meals, and began a consistent exercise program. I lost a few pounds at a reasonable rate, but at some point during the process that little voice took hold, the one that says, “A few more pounds wouldn’t hurt.”

Near the beginning of ’09, I developed an unrelated digestive issue that no doctor was able to diagnose. The recommended treatment was a daily dose of weak laxative. That was pretty much it for me as far as reasonable dieting was concerned. I had an excuse to use—and abuse—laxatives whenever I felt I needed to. Nobody noticed or questioned what I was doing.

The subsequent weight loss got attributed to the digestive condition rather than ED. In fact, only one doctor I saw during that time even thought to ask about what I was eating. None of them suggested that ED might be a factor in my body going from relatively normal to too-thin and sickly.

Q: What motivated you to seek treatment?

A: I didn’t get any formal treatment, but I did finally hit a point where I realized that what I was doing was dangerous. I was trying to run a small business at the time and kept finding myself unable to finish out days because I felt too weak or sick to keep working. Sometimes I would get to the point where I couldn’t stand up any more and had to stop what I was doing and lie down.

And after I dropped almost 24lbs, the number on the scale stopped looking impressive. Instead, I was scared. I’ve read a lot about ED and was well aware of what could happen if I went on as I was.

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

A: When I got to a point where I was able to think more clearly about what was going on, I searched a couple of ED information websites but was unable to find any specific treatment in my area. I briefly saw a general counselor, but their approach was distant and unhelpful.

[MT: Keep in mind that seeking treatment is key for recovery; if you can’t find a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders in your area, try seeking services at a near-by big university, which may have specialists, and check out surrounding areas for specialists, too.]

Q: What have been the toughest parts of seeking recovery and how did you get through them?

A: The single hardest part, at least at first, was learning to be open and truthful about what I was going through. I found my disorder embarrassing and beat myself up about it a lot. I felt that other people might think I was “screwed up.”
But when I started talking, first to my mom and then to a couple close friends, I realized that it was much easier to be open than to keep things private. People who cared about me weren’t judgmental; they were worried, and did their best to be supportive and understanding.

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

A: I find that doing things like weighing myself and keeping track of my caloric intake still make me feel “safer” than when I don’t. I also have a tendency to undereat when left to my own devices; in fact, the only reason I still bother to count calories is to make sure that I’m eating enough. There are days when I feel drawn to the scale a ridiculous number of times. When I find that I’ve lost weight through the natural fluctuations of my body, I have to remind myself not to use that number as a new “goal weight” or “base weight.”

Despite these setbacks, I’m now much more able to recognize disordered thoughts and behaviors for what they are. I’m working every day towards a healthier lifestyle where food and weight don’t control me.

Believe it or not, becoming a foodie has helped a lot. I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan a couple of years ago and, since then, have done quite a bit of vegan cooking and baking. I take joy in planning full, healthful meals for myself and my family, and am a huge fan of baked goods.

Prayer is also a big part of my recovery. As a born-again Christian, I recognize that God gave me the body I have and doesn’t want me to abuse it. It took a long time to come to that realization but, now that I have, I want to honor what’s been given to me by taking care of it. That includes eating well and exercising reasonably.

Sam and I talked more about what led to her recovery, and she elaborated on the importance of faith in her life, viewing food as pleasurable and seeking support from loved ones. She said:

But believe it or not, one of the biggest factors for me in overcoming ED and ED-related thoughts has been cooking for myself and for my family.  I find that when I focus on putting together meals that we can all enjoy, food becomes something fun rather than something to be afraid of.  I’ve also grown to enjoy exercising as a tool for strength and health.  I love being able to lift and move things I could barely budge before, and am grateful for the physical strength to tackle difficult household chores.

Faith is another big part of recovery for me.  I truly believe that God helped me to see that I was on a dangerous road and needed to change my
path before something really bad happened.  I hit a point where I didn’t want to feel sick any more and was starting to get scared by how much
weight I was losing.  I made a promise to myself that if I hit 100lbs, I would check myself into a hospital or something.  And, since I really,
REALLY didn’t want that, I started working in the opposite direction.  God has given me a strength that isn’t my own to resist when ED starts trying to lie to me.

It’s still hard.  I find that my ED threatens to relapse when I’m under a lot of pressure, and sometimes I have to ask other people for help so that
I don’t start believing “that voice” again.  All in all, though, focusing on food as enjoyment and healthful nutrition rather than the enemy has helped a LOT.

Thanks so much, Sam, for sharing your story! Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.