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What is an eating disorder? | Alison’s Story | Community Writing

Here’s a piece of writing by Alison, a Chinese-born high schooler living in the United States. Thank you, Alison, for sharing your experiences with eating disorders in this article, and for your hard work volunteering for CandleX. If you are interested in getting involved with our work, see the links below.


I once spent a winter in an inpatient treatment program for eating disorders because I couldn’t sustain a life on my own due to anorexia. As I came out of treatment, I found that I had gained so many things: my life, friends, love, care, and an understanding. Eating disorders are more than simply struggling with food.

Every anorexic has a different story as to how their eating disorder started; however, there are more ways in which they are all the same.

Abby is a friend that I made at the treatment program. On the day of her discharge, when we congratulated her on this milestone of her recovery, she surprised us by bursting into tears.

“Why are you crying? Aren’t you excited about going back home and finishing up the school year?” We asked.

Abby confessed that, though recovery saved her life, she missed having her eating disorder:

“I am afraid of going back to school because I don’t have any friends… anorexia has been my friend for so long that I don’t have anyone else; it kept me company, and made me feel worthy.”

Her words hit home for me, as they spoke to the underlying reason behind my eating disorder.

Coming to new school thousands of miles away from my home country as a teenager, I was all by myself. I struggled, yet I was reluctant to reach out for help. This, combined with many other factors that I wasn’t used to, made me feel like I was losing control of my life. Amidst my despair and confusion, I was tricked into believing that restricting my food intake would be the ultimate cure for my difficult emotions. For a long time, I felt accomplished for starving myself all day without eating, because it showed that I had willpower. Little did I know back then that once fallen into the trap of anorexia, one feels more pain than pleasure. Indeed, to maintain this fake sense of self-discipline, I dealt with anxiety and obsessive thoughts about food almost all of the time.

So many people, including myself (before I learned what an eating disorder truly is), downplayed eating disorders as “having the discipline to go on a diet but just going too far”. The truth, however, is that those who suffer from eating disorders are not driven by determination, but rather by anxiety. Unlike a diet that people can start and quit, we are stuck in the trap of disordered eating. It confines us in loneliness, isolation, anxiety, depression— but we can’t let it go. We dread that feeling of failure: What could possibly happen if we stop our self-sabotaging starvation? We dread losing control of our eating, even though most of us don’t realize that in reality it is the food that controls us.

It’s not just about starvation. What makes us suffer is the anxiety about what could happen if we give in to our hunger.

Anorexics don’t hate food. An eating disorder is not a diet. Only by acknowledging its existence as a mental illness and overcoming the stigma around it, can we help ourselves and protect those around us from falling victim to eating disorders.


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