Living a Full Life

Rebekka Gondosch | Reporter 

Reclaiming my Life from an Eating Disorder

When I first discovered that I had an eating disorder, I had few words to describe exactly what I was experiencing and how profoundly it was affecting my life. I knew something was wrong; my health was declining, my ability to be around friends became a struggle, my relationship with my parents grew increasingly hostile, and my relationship with myself was one of intense competition, self-deprecation, and inconsolable loneliness. My relationship with food, unsurprising to me now, mimicked these feelings.

By not nourishing myself, I was sending myself the message that I was unworthy of living a full and happy life. I tried desperately to control my life by controlling what was on my plate. I equated food to failure. If I ate, I believed that I lacked self-control, that I was pathetic, and that there was nothing special about me. I believed that having an eating disorder meant that I had a purpose. What is particularly insidious about eating disorders is that they promise a life of meaning while slowly draining the life from those they affect.

The negative mantras of not feeling good enough, attractive enough, smart enough, or successful enough are ones that eating disorders take severe advantage of. For those unfamiliar with eating disorders, it is confusing why the person struggling does not just go eat. That way of thinking is similar to telling someone with depression to just not be sad. The complexities and nuances of mental illnesses require holistic approaches that take all aspects of a person’s life into consideration. Once I learned that eating disorders weren’t only about food, I began to look at my life in a different way.

I came to realize that the eating disorder was an external way for me to cope with anxiety and fears I did not know how to face. I was using food and body image as an external means of finding comfort. I eventually came to acknowledge that the eating disorder served a purpose in my life, but it no longer served me. It kept me on the periphery of experiences and prevented me authentically connecting with myself and the world around me. I clung to the eating disorder for fear that I would disappoint myself and others. I now realize that it is okay to have these fears; they are what make me human.

Shortly after my diagnosis, I found a treatment facility where I learned meaningful, healthy ways of overcoming the disorder. Those in my health care team are some of the most incredible individuals I have connected with on my journey. Because of them, and the work I continue to do, my previous shortage of words to talk about eating disorders has turned into nothing short of a dictionary as I fight hard to gain understanding and to reclaim my life.

Early on in my treatment, I remember wanting desperately to overcome the disorder so that I could put it behind me, never to look back on it again. I now believe that recovering from an eating disorder has made me a much more grounded, empathetic, and authentic person. I have always possessed a great capacity to love and care for others, and I now have the opportunity to give that same compassion to myself as well.

In anticipation of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) which runs from February 1st-7th, the Crown has placed posters from The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) around the Redeemer campus. The posters read, “Eating Disorders Are As Diverse As The People They Affect”, a message I believe is of deep significance.

Eating disorders manifest in different ways and affect many different people. Not all those who suffer from an eating disorder have physical indicators of their struggle. Eating disorders live and thrive in secrecy; the more awareness and conversations we can have about this illness, the more we can dispel its power and help those who are struggling.

For those who are new to eating disorders and their impact on those they affect, I would encourage you to ask questions, start compassionate conversations, and send support to those impacted by the illness. If you are someone battling an eating disorder I want to tell you that you are not alone in your struggle, and that you are worthy of love and of living a full life. Recovery is possible. Loving who you are is possible. This process begins with asking for help. Seeking support reveals incredible strength and I encourage you to reach out for this help.

I have now come to a place where the disorder does not rule my life. It certainly still peeks its head out when I’m trying to order a meal, when people talk negatively about their relationship with food or their bodies, or when someone innocently asks me what I’ve packed for lunch today. But it doesn’t dictate my life or prevent me from living it. Recovery is an active process, and I am proud of myself for arriving at a place in my journey where I can openly share that process with you all.

I remember telling someone very dear to me, when I was at a low point in my recovery, “When I look in the mirror, I don’t like what I see.” She responded with utmost sincerity, “Rebekka, when you love your life, you will love what you see.” As I continue to align with wellness and recovery, I am beginning to see exactly what she meant.