Your stomach is grumbling and you’re starving for food. You reach for the granola bar by your side but immediately draw your hand back. Negative thoughts flood your mind: This is why you’re fat, If you eat that you’ll get fatter, you don't deserve to eat, you’ll never be skinny if you keep eating, if you eat that you’ll have to skip eating tomorrow.
That is the mindset of someone who suffers from a restrictive eating disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that causes extreme weight loss by restricting calorie intake. Many people with anorexia also suffer from body dysmorphia and see themselves as overweight no matter how much they weigh. According to Mirror Mirror, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with 10-20% dying from complications related to starvation. Currently at least 30 million Americans of all ages and ethnicities suffer from an eating disorder. Although many do not realize it, someone they know probably is or have suffered from anorexia. In fact, right now at Asheville Middle, there are students with anorexia and other eating disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders typically occur in teenage years. During March 2017, 13-year-old Viktoria T. started developing anorexia symptoms. Like most girls, Viktoria was teased about her appearance and wanted a change. She would wake up earlier than anyone else in her family and pretended to eat breakfast. She would make toast, throw away the toast, and leave a plate with crumbs in the sink to make it seem like she had eaten. At school, her lunch would go straight into the trash. During dinnertime, where she couldn’t fake eating, she ate very small portions. At the end of the day, her caloric intake was close to nothing. In addition to eating very little, Viktoria exercised excessively.
The result? Viktoria lost 40 pounds and was hospitalized at the end of October. Without food, she struggled to do basic tasks like getting up the stairs and walking. She was weak and her heart had no power. She had dry skin and constantly felt cold. The hair on her head was falling out. This horrible disorder completely messed up her body in the short period of 5 months.
Now, Viktoria is in recovery. Her parents decide her every meal and stay by her side until she finishes every bite. However, even with the support of her parents, it’s still a struggle.
When asked about the one thing she wanted people to know about anorexia nervosa, Viktoria responded “It is not an easy disorder to overcome. But you have to push, you have to fight, you have to prevail and conquer. In order to thrive and stay alive, you must oppose what the voices tell you. They may be strong, but you are more powerful. You are worth more than numbers and the illness. If you are struggling or see symptoms of it, reach out immediately. The longer you wait, the higher chance you have of losing the battle.”
One of the biggest myths about anorexia nervosa is that being thin is all there is to it. However, for many people, the center of it all is control, and being thin is just an effect. According to Psychology Today, “Control of food and eating might be the most obvious anorexic behavior, but the control illusion stretches its tentacles into all the rest of life: you have seemingly complete control over how much you work, say, and when; how much you spend; how many people you spend time with, how often, and in what context. And all of these things, being so controlled, shrink and shrink away as your body does.” Another part of anorexia nervosa is the anxiety disorders that go hand in hand with it. According to ANAD, about half of people with anorexia suffer from comorbid anxiety disorders like OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and social phobia.
When people have eating disorders, they often think that they’re not sick enough to recover or get help. They think they have to be a certain weight or look a certain way. However, according to Psych Central, an eating disorder is a mental illness, and you do not have to experience physical symptoms to seek help. No one would say that their cancer is only at stage I and wait until stage IV to receive treatment. There are so many reasons to choose recovery and your life shouldn’t be controlled by what’s on your plate. You’re worth more than the number on the scale and deserve to eat without guilt. Eating disorders should not determine who you are, and like with any mental illness, there is no shame in reaching out.
If you experience any of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa or any eating disorder, seek help IMMEDIATELY. Talk with your parents and the adults in your life. Talk to teachers and school counselors. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with those in your real life, hotlines and online resources are available. You don’t, and shouldn’t, have to go through it alone.
National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
Available 9 am - 9 pm EST Monday-Thursday. 9 am - 5 pm EST on Friday
Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207
Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330
Available Monday-Friday from 9 am - 5 pm
Everyone has one life, don’t let anorexia live yours.
Story by Erin Chen
Photos from Viktoria's Instagram (with permission).