real life

'I hid my eating disorder for 10 years. When I finally told the world, it made people angry.'

This post deals with eating disorders and may be triggering to some readers.

Let’s say you’re recovering from a doozy of an eating disorder, one that saturated a decade of your life and made you contemplate ceasing to exist.

I think we can all agree that it’s understandable that you may have moments of being angry that this happened to you, right? That’s reasonable. What about other folks—complete strangers—being offended that you had an eating disorder? Can you make sense of that?

I can’t. And I was the one with the eating disorder.

Singer Kasey Chambers shares what it’s like to have an eating disorder. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

In February of 2019, cloaked in the relative anonymity of the internet, I wrote publicly about my 10 years of disordered eating. As a 13-year-old, I had started using “healthy” diets to disguise my eating disorder not only from my family but from myself.

First, I was a vegetarian and occasional vegan, then I devoted myself to plant-based “clean” eating. A decade of this left me with a long list of mysterious, relentless symptoms (including depression and suicidal ideation) that continued despite dozens of visits to doctors’ offices. It was only with the help of my husband that, starting in late 2016, I slowly found my way out of the dark.

I’d hardly whispered a word about this to anyone aside from the tiniest handful of confidants, yet something propelled me to write about it in detail and send it out into the world. I wrote that story mostly for myself, figuring a few people might find it. Maybe, I hoped, the people who found would be the very people who needed to hear a story like mine. Maybe it would make someone feel less alone. There might be a troll or two, but beyond that, I had few expectations.

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As of one year later, that article has been viewed over 14,000 times (a number I can’t really wrap my head around), and I’m constantly surprised by the attention and warmth it’s received. It has reached readers who, like me, have a history of fearing food and felt utterly alone in that experience.

It’s taught other readers what the reality of living with an eating disorder can look like. If the writing of the article was part of my healing process, reading heartfelt comments and seeing the readership count soar is like balm on my bruises, a salve to help my scars fade.

But recovery is never an easy ride. I have also received comments that try to sprinkle salt in the still open wounds and pick at my scabs.

Certainly, I expected some readers to use the comment section on my article to defend vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based eating, and folks delivered. Although my article isn’t anti-vegetarianism or anti-veganism, some commenters choose to take it as such. Generally, they like to tell me I didn’t try hard enough at these diets (I did) or that I’m a failure for going back to being an omnivore (I’m not).

What I don’t understand, and never could have seen coming, were the rage-filled comments written by people who were mad at me for having an eating disorder.

They weren’t angered that I was calling attention to eating disorders, or that I had shared my personal, detailed story online. No, these readers were offended by the idea that I had existed in the world as a person who had had difficulty with food. They were livid that my (teenage) brain had glitched and sent me careening down the path of disordered eating and that I had stayed that way—disgustingly broken and ill—for years.

I never reported any of these comments, yet nearly all of them have disappeared.

Listen to Mamamia’s podcast No Filter. In this episode, Mia Freedman speaks to Kasey Chambers, who opens up about anorexia and her relationship with food. Post continues below.

There were those who gloated that they had never in their lives had an issue with any kind of food. They ate freely, why couldn’t I get my act together? One commenter said I was one of the “wellness dopes who play with food.”

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I was told that I was a symbol of how my generation has ruined America. One person rained down curses, telling me I would meet an untimely death not so much from my dietary habits but because I was sick in the head: “You must be an idiot… or did you feel righteous as a vegan? You were, and probably still are, a food nazi. Serves you right. Your wrongheaded, anxiety, and swift righteous judgement mindset, will forever plague your life.

“It will make you sick and miserable and more than likely give you a terminal illness ending your life before you blow out 60 candles. Your mindstate interferes with nutrient absorption. You need to retreat your smart ass back to square one, get counselling, throw out all you partly know about food and follow your tongue, not your wound too tight self-righteous mind.”

It’s the vehemence of these comments that gets me because I’ve heard it before. I know that level of hatred. It’s how I used to speak to myself when I had an eating disorder.

These commenters’ messages and my message to myself at that time were not dissimilar. Essentially they’re both this string of lies: You are stupid and worthless.

Seeing that much anger come from someplace outside of myself has also helped me mend. Yes, really. It’s made me see in a new light the emotional abuse I inflicted on myself for years, making me cling harder to keeping my internal monologue calm and kind. Comments like the ones above get deleted by administrators. Why should I speak to my own self that way?

Why would I be angry at myself now, when I know the courage it takes to overcome an eating disorder? All of us who have that in our past, we are all incredibly brave. I know the damage done by trolls from both ends of it: the troll itself and the one being trolled. I was both in my own mind. I’ve seen enough and done enough that.

It is time to speak with kindness, inside and out.

For more from Ema Hegberg, read more of her articles on Medium or follow her on Instagram.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.  

Feature image: Getty.

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