Just Because My Body Looks Healthy Doesn’t Mean My Eating Disorder Isn’t Real

I have strong, broad shoulders and ropy back muscles. On my better days, I imagine that I have the arms of Michelle Obama and the abs of Ronda Rousey. I have the thick, defined quads and calves of someone who has been playing sports for over two decades. By most accounts, I adhere to conventional Western beauty standards. I am petite and trim. Since the dawn of the fitspo, athletic bodies are more “in” than ever, and I align with this idealized version of the female form. By all outward appearances, I am the Instagram-ready depiction of feminine health. I may look #swoleselfie ready, but what most people don’t know is that I actually suffer from an eating disorder. The truth is, eating disorders, like pretty much all mental illnesses, are notoriously difficult to diagnose. With overlapping symptoms, individual differences among patients, and subjective diagnostic criteria, it can be difficult for even seasoned therapists to diagnose an eating disorder. For the longest time, I certainly didn’t truly recognize the extent of my issues. After all, I wasn’t rail-thin. I wasn’t fainting in the hallway like Miranda from that one episode of Lizzie McGuire. I certainly wasn’t ready to be laid up in a hospital bed and hooked up to a feeding tube, like that one girl from freshman year homeroom, so I couldn’t possibly have an eating disorder, right? Ray Gallagher I was able to ignore some of the more subtle indicators that I had an eating disorder primarily because I didn’t experience too many of the very common ones. It’s the type of logic that alcoholics and drug addicts employ: if I’m not at rock-bottom, it can’t be that bad. Like many pre-teen girls in America, my body image issues began when I hit puberty in middle school. It was easy being the cute, scrawny kid with knobby knees, adorable bangs, and a wiry torso. It wasn’t so easy being the pudgy sixth grader with awful eyebrows. But with all of the awful changes that middle school brought, it did introduce me to the one thing that changed my life: field hockey. My eighth grade best friend encouraged me to try out for the team. “It’s not that hard, and you probably won’t get cut since you’re an eighth grader,” she told me. I made the team, and thus began my career as a varsity athlete. Now playing a varsity sport, I noticed that I lost a little fat and gained some muscle. My body composition changed with each field hockey season, accompanied by summers spent running on the boardwalk and spring semesters filled with lacrosse. It seemed obvious, but it was the first time I made the connection that sports and fitness could mean having a conventionally attractive body. I managed to make it through high school without having any eating disorder drama. I watched what I snacked on, I was busy with sports, and my mom cooked healthy dinners. What did I have to worry about? Everything changed when I got to college. I wasn’t used to the freedom of an all-you-can-eat self-serve dining hall. Field hockey practice was a lot different than at the high school level, with less in-season focus on conditioning and more focus on developing technical skills. Coupled with normal late-adolescence weight gain, I began obsessing over my appearance. I would...

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