11 Survivors Of Eating Disorders Share Their Personal Journeys To A Triumphant Recovery

"I don't want them to see a mom who let a scale determine her worth."

February 26 through March 4 marks this year's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week which is dedicated to providing resources for those struggling with eating disorders, dispelling stigmas associated with them, and raising awareness. Eating disorders affect 20 million American women and 10 million American men in the United States at some point in their lives. This includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or any other specified feeding or eating disorder. 

"The goal of National Eating Disorders Awareness (#NEDAwareness) Week is to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need," according to the National Eating Disorders Association's website. "This year's theme is It's Time to Talk About It and we're encouraging everyone to get screened. It's time we take eating disorders seriously as public health concerns, It's time we bust the myths and get the facts. It's time to celebrate recovery and the heroes who make it possible. It's time to take action and fight for change. It's time to shatter the stigma and increase access to care. It's Time to Talk About It!"

And many people are using this week to talk about it, by sharing their personal experiences with eating disorders on social media using the #NEDAwareness hashtag. Both men and women have been posting photos of themselves with captions that reveal their struggles with the disease as well as their journey to recovery. 

We rounded up some of the powerful, personal triumph several eating disorder survivors shared on Instagram in hopes that it will help to raise awareness and bring hope to those currently struggling. 

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1. "I have found healthy coping mechanisms when dealt with stressful situations and problems, instead of turning to my control around food as I have done in the past."

"This week is a week for me to reflect on how far I've come myself. I'm so incredibly thankful to have received the wake-up call I did when I was rushed into hospital and luckily received a place at the intensive station of Austria's best hospital. I arrived on a Friday and would not have survived the weekend otherwise. I was in a semi-comatose state, was given blood transfusions, my organs started failing, I developed refeeding syndrome and couldn't do anything by myself anymore as my muscles had deteriorated – I had to relearn how to walk, I needed help showering and brushing my teeth. I was connected to so many machines I lost count. They ensured I was kept alive at the beginning. The hospital bed was my home for 6 months, before I transferred to a treatment centre for an additional year to continue my recovery. 

I'm fortunate to say that I was able to recover fully and it's in the past. I still have bad days where I don't feel good about myself, however those are minimal in comparison to the good days I have and I know that realistically, not everyday can be excellent. In those moments, I remind myself of how much I've achieved and that recovering has only benefitted me in so many ways. I have found healthy coping mechanisms when dealt with stressful situations and problems, instead of turning to my control around food as I have done in the past. I'm able to live my life and enjoy food again, and that's amazing." 

2. "I don't want them to see a mom who let a scale determine her worth."

"Sometimes it seems as though I'm blazing new trails with my motherhood. By no stretch did I have a dreary upbringing, and nobody but myself is to blame for the period of time that my life was ruled by an eating disorder, but there are so many habits that I've had to unlearn. Let me tell you, never before has there been such a time I've had to give my body grace and acceptance because, to put it lightly, postpartum this last time around has been nothing short of brutal. 

But I never want my girls, or even my boys, to think that there is some sort of perfection that is to be achieved physically. I don't want them to remember a mom who cursed her thighs and called every treat 'cheating,' I don't want them to see a mom who let a scale determine her worth, or a mom who has to exercise to cancel out an extra large coffee. They see us, and surely they hear us especially when we think they don't. Mamas, my hope is that you see the beauty around you, and in others, without forgetting the beauty within you. Your body is perfect, and you are enough." 

3. "I read, I hike, I sing, I make music. I do things that make me happy."

"In the beginning of 2013, I hit a breaking point with my mental state when my first boyfriend broke up with me. I thought I couldn't live without him. And immediately after, one of my best friends left me. It destroyed me mentally. I started thinking everyone was out to get me, so I stayed in my single dorm by myself, skipped meals, and whenever I did eat, I decided [it] had to come back up. I started cutting myself, and it drove me to almost killing myself. These thoughts lasted through my SMCC days in the fall of 2013. The photo on the left is me (pretending to be happy) weighing 100 pounds in October. I was unhappy. Sleeping until 1:00 in the afternoon and staying up until 3AM. I would skip classes, be in my room, etc. It wasn't until the summer of 2014 that I cut everyone off in my life. I deleted Facebook, worked, and stayed in the woods 90 percent of the time. I had a spiritual change that lead me to loving myself, my life and others. 

The photo on the right is me in 2017. I eat normally, especially going vegetarian. I haven't self-harmed in three and a half years, I do yoga, and meditate. I read, I hike, I sing, I make music. I do things that make me happy. I still get down on myself for not having friends, being alone with no job, but at least I'm not hurting myself. I hope you take a minute to do the survey on NED site. Make sure your mind is healthy, your body is healthy, your heart is healthy and YOU are happy. Make sure you live life with love. Tell people they're important to you if someone is. Know that it does get better. It may take a little time though. Just wanted to share something personal."

4. "This photo goes to show that ED looks different on everybody."

"Sarah and I, at the time, were both pretty deep in our disorders, and this photo goes to show that ED looks different on everybody and no disorder is the same as another. ED has touched many women in my life and now that I am on the road to recovery I want to burn this shame-based concept of what is beautiful and what isn't to the ground. we are built exactly how we are meant to be." 

5. "I have gained so much over the last 18 months ... I have gained life."

"Recovering from an ED is hard. It takes time and dedication. It takes tears, excruciating pain and anxiety. 

I have gained so much over the last 18 months. I have gained energy and spirit. I have gained friends and stepped out of isolation. I have gained strength, self-respect and the ability to stand up for myself and my needs. I have gained confidence and self-love. I have gained physical strength and determination. I have gained trust in a future and in myself. I have gained healthy bones that doesn't break and a body that experiences much less pain. I have gained the ability to experience living. I have gained the understanding that my self-worth has nothing to do with the digits on the scale. I have gained the understanding that my happiness has nothing to do with the size of my body. I have gained life. If it was worth all the hard work? Well, I guess the answer is pretty clear." 

6. "The negative body image hasn't gone away, but I can combat it by practice and showing myself every day how beautiful, worthy and fabulous I am."

"My ed stuck around for 10 years. It has ruined my life in so many ways. I hated my body. Tortured myself every time I gained any weight. Even at my lowest weight I pulled at my skin thinking how fat I was. I ate the same bland meals every day. I didn't go out. I couldn't make it through a full day of school. Doing anything fun was out of the question ... 

My thoughts are still there but I'm strong enough to ignore them. The guilt sometimes creeps in but I can now tell it exactly where to go! The negative body image hasn't gone away but I can combat it by practice and showing myself every day how beautiful, worthy and fabulous I am. So my recovery is not all sunshine and rainbows. It's hard. It's a battle and I'm not there yet. But I do believe in full recovery and I will never give in until I get there!! Because I deserve it!!! And so does EVERYONE ELSE!!!!!" 

7. "When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is strong."

"When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is strong. I see someone who is mentally and physically strong. Someone who can overcome whatever obstacle is thrown their way. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and I encourage everyone to view themselves in a positive way." 

8. "The day I gave up that control is the day I began to move towards peace."

"As far back as I can remember I have feared gaining weight and have been hyper aware of my body size and shape. I've spent a lifetime manipulating my body size in an attempt to feel worthy and valuable. The day I gave up that control is the day I began to move towards peace. 

The left picture is of me at my smallest weight of 135 pounds and on the right I am at my biggest at 250 pounds. The middle picture is exactly who I am meant to be for today. My eating disorder story is one that is familiar to so many, but because I am a man, it is one that too many have not heard. Today, by the grace of God and the most amazing therapist I will ever have, I am active in my program of recovery and proud of the journey I have taken. I thank the amazing friends and family who have been patient with me on this path and have cheered on my recovery. I am where I am today because of your support. Break the stigma."

9. "Our struggles are real, but they're also temporary."

"March 1 marks the start of Women's History Month and the middle of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I cannot help but think of women who've made history, but who've also either suffered or died from eating disorders. I think about 'everyday women' too, like myself. I know firsthand. I struggled with a form of one during middle school, intertwined with depression from my parent's divorce. Our struggles are real, but they're also temporary. Suffering does not have to be permanent. Love your body, it's the only one you have. Guard your mind, it's precious." 

10. "I was lucky enough to have been given the incredible opportunity to re-establish a healthy relationship with my body."

"It's National Eating Disorders Awareness week, and during this week I am always especially grateful. I was lucky enough to have been given the incredible opportunity to re-establish a healthy relationship with my body, to view its strengths and abilities rather than its flaws and weaknesses ... not everyone is so privileged. I have been supported by so many people, by family, by friends, by people who struggled alongside me and who helped to lift me up from a place I didn't think I would ever escape. This is a long road, and to those who have fought or continue to fight, you are strong. To those who are in the painful position of watching a loved one struggle, you are needed. Today, and every day, I am grateful for my body in honor of those who were not given the chance to learn to love themselves again." 

11. "I am grateful because when I look in the mirror this is no longer what I see. Because instead, I get to see myself."

"There aren't enough facts or statistics in the world to accurately depict what it looks like to live with an eating disorder. There isn't a drug that gets you as high as the elation you feel when you step on the scale and see the number drop. Alternatively, there aren't enough tears in your eyes to shed when you step on the scale and see the number rise. To the average person, eating disorders don't make sense. And to those struggling, they don't make sense either, because all we know is that our eating disorder is our heaven and our hell.

I lived with an active eating disorder for five years. Each day, 24 people die from eating disorder complications. I'll never know why I made it through every single day of those five years without being one of them. But for that I'm eternally grateful. I am grateful because when I look in the mirror this is no longer what I see. Because instead, I get to see myself. And if everything that ED ever told me was still written on my mirror, that wouldn't be possible."

To learn more about the resources available to people struggling with eating disorders, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org. To learn to help someone in need, visit here.

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