Column: Eating disorders are a mental battle that may not be visible to others

Ginger Stephens
Oxford Stories

I was never diagnosed with anorexia or anything else that represents a medical resentment to eating. A diagnosis would have given my issue a name, which would have made it real. 

Senior year of high school was the first time I became obsessed with my weight. I never had a problem with my weight before. I was a healthy and fit girl. I was playing basketball, softball, and cheerleading and was always active. I had a fast metabolism and my sleeping schedule was nearly perfect. I had friends and life was great.

My lowest point was right after I realized my three best friends, that I had grown up with, were not my friends at all. I felt alone, so I became obsessed with my size. I looked in the mirror and saw an unattractive girl that needed to change.

I decided I would under-eat and overexercise. I even started to feel guilt and shame when I thought I was gaining a few pounds.

I started by eating less of my lunch. I would only eat half the food on my plate, and I did this for a couple of weeks, but I did not see much of a change. I was not satisfied. I knew if I wanted to reach my ideal weight, there had to be more of a change.

I started not eating breakfast. For lunch, I would eat a small salad or small potato. For dinner, I would eat less than half my plate my mother would give me. I was eating less than 700 calories a day and exercising for a total of more than three hours. I also had recently changed my diet to gluten free, so I barely consumed any carbs during the day.

When I was at my lowest weight, my clothes were super baggy. My leggings did not even fit. My uniform skirt size was the same size as my 13-year-old sister’s. Because I was underweight, I was always freezing and rarely slept. I was exhausted. During sports practices, I felt weak and super light-headed.

People at school eventually began to notice I was losing weight and made comments like “You are so skinny” and “You look great.” These comments gave me validation that I looked great, and it made me want to lose even more weight.

I was constantly tired and irritable, but I was losing weight, and that is all I cared about. As a result of this, I lost about 25-30 pounds. Due to under-eating and over-exercising, it caused different health problems for me. I could not finish a basketball game without passing out. I thought this was normal.

After about a year, I realized my habits were extremely unhealthy. I noticed how much of a grip it had over me, my thoughts, and the choices I made every day. It was physically and mentally tiring to be something that was not good for my body.

After three years, I still have those days when I stick to the type of meals I know will not make me feel disgusting, and sometimes I cut back on certain foods. I sometimes still experience feelings of shame and guilt.

National surveys from the National Eating Disorder Association, estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders can be shown in many different ways.

Yes, the usual image is a person who has withered away to just skin and bone, but this is an extreme result. Many people actually may look healthy from the outside. Eating disorders are a huge mental battle, and it may not be visible to other people.

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder or you still struggle, you are not alone. Find the people you know you can talk to about anything. Talking about your issue helps release emotions you have been holding inside.

Take everything one day at a time and remember you are important. Seek proper help. This is something I wish I had done. You can get help from a therapist, your best friend, your roommate, or your parents. Do not isolate yourself because suffering in silence will only make the disorder stronger.

Even though I still struggle from time to time, I know one day I will be able to eat what I want without feeling guilty, and look in the mirror and feel satisfied.

If you are struggling, you should check out the National Eating Disorder Association’s website. Their 2019 theme is Come as You Are. According to their website, Come as You Are sends a message to individuals at all stages of body acceptance and eating disorder recovery that their stories are valid.

“We invite everyone, especially those whose stories have not been widely recognized, to speak out, share their experiences, and connect with others,” the website reads. “We aim to start conversations with a variety of communities that struggle at comparable rates to those traditionally thought of as struggling with eating disorders.

“We hope to offer them an opportunity to share their stories, see themselves in others’ stories, and recognize that their experiences are valid and welcome, no matter where they are in relationship to food or their bodies. So, this NEDAwareness Week, come as you are, not as you think you should be.”

If you would like more information about the National Eating Disorders Association and NEDA appreciation week, visit their website at

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