Waging war on an eating disorder - one student's story

By: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
October 15, 2013

One Indiana State University student is opening up about her experience with an eating disorder in hopes of raising awareness and helping others seek help.

Sarah, who wants to use only her first name to protect her privacy, said her eating disorder began when she was a child.

"I think it was sometime in elementary school," she said, adding that she watched her mother battle an eating disorder and her grandmother wrestle with body image issues.She was a perfectionist and struggled with control of her life and her emotions.

"The more I tried to control my emotions, the eating came out," Sarah said.

According to Sarah, eating disorders are usually a symptom of something else - usually with a deep emotional root or significant trauma. She was diagnosed with bulimia and binge eating.

"Eating disorders don't fit into one category - you can have symptoms in more than one area," she said.

Eating disorders don't discriminate, Sarah added. They affect people from all walks of life - young, old, men, women, children, people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds and people with a variety of body shapes, weights and sizes. But no matter the diagnosis, eating disorders have a life of their own and can inflict damage physically, mentally and emotionally.

"When you notice the destructive thoughts or triggers affecting your mood or how you feel about yourself, you have to call it out and gain control," Sarah said. One way she has done that is by giving it a name.

"I call mine Ed," she said.

After seeking treatment earlier for anxiety and depression, Sarah began treatment two years ago, by drafting a declaration of independence from her eating disorder.

"I made it look very official - very much like our federal document - using parchment paper and staining it with coffee. I outlined all the charges against my eating disorder," Sarah described. "I signed it, my therapist signed it, my dad signed it and my best friend signed it."

That piece of paper is very valuable to the psychology major, who is also battling Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

"That was the pivotal moment when I waged a war against Ed," Sarah said. "It was a powerful moment."

Her treatment consists mainly of cognitive behavioral therapy, supplemented by yoga, her faith, support from her dad and best friend and two books she considers "life-changing resources."

She pulls out a heavily tabbed book - "Women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth.

"I make time to read this book every day," Sarah said. "It has made me stronger. I'm finding the inner strength to battle Ed. I'm learning to believe in myself and trust my instincts."

"Ed messes with your beliefs and who you are as a person," she said. "I have an on-going struggle with control and if I'm a weak person."

When she can't reach for Roth's book or her other favorite, Jena Morrow's "Hope for the Hollow," she looks to two pieces of jewelry to regain her focus.

"I have a necklace and a bracelet with the inscription of ‘Life is a journey, not a destination.'"

Focus and balance is a component found in yoga, an activity she stumbled upon after seeing her therapist.

"My therapist is a certified yoga instructor," Sarah said. "Yoga is very mindful and acceptance based. Trust yourself. Accept where you are. Don't push yourself. Give yourself permission not to be perfect."

This has been a very emotional journey for Sarah, who has advice for people who are recovering from or suspect they might have an eating disorder.

"Reach out to someone for help. We can't do this alone," she begins, adding it's important to seek support of emotionally balanced people to serve as role models. She credits the support she's received from her dad and best friend, from the time they signed her declaration of independence to today.

"Trust yourself," Sarah continues. "It doesn't have to be this way. You have the power to change this destructive force. It's worth it."

Seeking help can be as easy as contacting Indiana State's Student Counseling Center, who can get students the support they need to begin the recovery process. It's also important for people to support the fundraising efforts by the National Eating Disorders Association for prevention, education and research. NEDA will host their first-ever walk on the Indiana State campus on Saturday, Oct. 19 beginning at 11 a.m. at the Michael Simmons Student Activity Center, located at the corner of Ninth and Spruce streets.

For now, Sarah is continuing her recovery while studying to be a child clinical psychologist. Some days are better than others, but she keeps it in perspective."This is a journey. It hasn't always been an easy or enjoyable journey, but I'm traveling down a more balanced path of wellness and trusting myself."

 

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or paula.meyer@indstate.edu