How can I explain my eating disorder to other people?

It’s hard enough to wrap your own mind around what you’re experiencing, but it can be especially frustrating to explain your eating disorder to other people. It’s been said that describing what life is like with an eating disorder to someone is like “a football player trying to coach a swimmer how to golf.”

Living with an eating disorder is not a choice. It affects you physically and mentally, morphing the way you see yourself and the world around you. As life responsibilities and stressors develop, you find yourself processing new information through the lens of the disorder. Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t like a common cold that lessens with each passing day; recovery is a roller coaster of struggles and triumphs, with some days worse or better than others.

Imagine listening to music on your laptop, and then while surfing the web, you land on a page with a loud video advertisement. Suddenly, there are two sets of audio playing at the same time, both begging for your attention. The jumbled mess of Spotify and an OxiClean ad make it impossible to focus on either one. The noise is like the voices that grow louder and more overbearing when you face a meal, look in the mirror, or walk by a gym. Every encounter with your eating disorder is like winding the audio level up notch by notch. People with eating disorders must face this noise every day. Every time they eat.

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s experience with an eating disorder is different, so try to find a way that best describes your experience. Educate your support network about what language or phrases to use – and not to use – when referring to your eating disorder. Being open about your struggles and your recovery, as well as establishing boundaries, can help others better understand how they can support you. And that support can be essential to recovery.

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