“I Am Worth Fighting For: Overcoming My Eating Disorder,” Ensign, August 2019
Remember near the end of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, where Frodo and Sam, covered in sweat and dirt, are climbing to the top of the volcano in Mordor? Sam asks Frodo, “Do you remember the taste of strawberries?” Frodo responds, “No, Sam. I can’t recall the taste of food.”1
I felt like Frodo three years ago, except I couldn’t remember what happiness tasted like, and the mountain I was climbing was a figurative one—a sharp incline created out of swirling thoughts about body image and food. I was in the darkest depths of an eating disorder.
It all started on my mission. Everyone told me I would gain weight, and our toxic diet culture led me to believe that my worth was tied to the number on the scale. So I ate as little as possible on my mission. Each meal became a silent competition to see who could eat the least: my companion or me. I always won (probably because my companions never even knew there was a competition), and I ended up losing an unhealthy amount of weight.
When I returned home, my biggest fear was gaining the weight back, even though weight gain isn’t always “bad” (it can be natural and normal due to maturation, environmental changes and stressors, etc.). But the diet culture and my skewed thoughts convinced me that being skinny would solve all of my problems—it was the key to happiness. Faced with this and some other distressing challenges in my life, I became obsessed with counting calories and exercising. Eventually, my body retaliated, and I started getting powerful urges to binge. I began binging, which terrified me, so I would restrict my food intake and skip meals to avoid weight gain.
It turned into an excruciating cycle: restrict, binge, purge.
Eventually I felt like I was in the deepest pit of hell. Once I wondered if I would ever again be able to truthfully say that I had had a good day. My mind was constantly spinning around two thoughts: food and my body. Food. Body. Food. Body. There was no room for anything else. I was trapped in my mind, totally numb, constricted by these slow, soul-sucking thoughts. Each bite of food was a reminder of my failure to control myself and my life. Day to day, I went to school and work, but I wasn’t really there mentally. Food. Body. I became withdrawn and antisocial, and I lost most of the jovial and silly side of my personality—I was a ghost. I pleaded with God for help, and nothing. At the time, I was certain He had abandoned me.
It wasn’t until I went on a grueling four-hour hike and felt guilty for eating a granola bar that I realized I had a serious problem.
One day I worked up the courage to tell my best friend, Hayley (name changed), what was going on. To my surprise, she told me she had also struggled with an eating disorder and recommended a therapist who had helped her. I finally started improving after many visits to that therapist and many talks with Hayley.
I realized, too, that God had been helping me in little ways all along—I just hadn’t recognized it. Hayley and I had been only acquaintances in high school. When I got back from my mission, we happened to run across each other in a remote part of the library at my small university and have been good friends ever since. Definitely not a coincidence. We needed each other, and God nudged us to be in the right place at the right time to reconnect. And He led me to the right therapists and treatments.
Most of all, He gave me hope and a continued will to keep fighting. That hope usually came in the form of other people, empowered by the Savior. I was often mean, empty, and reserved, but people never gave up on me—no matter how much I pushed them away. I don’t know how to fully express my gratitude to them and to Christ; I have a list in my journal of all the people who have helped me through my eating disorder so that I never forget them.
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be able to say that after years of extremely hard work, four therapists, lots of tears, and help from many friends, I have summited the mountain and thrown the ring into the fire. I’m still blown away that I made it to this point. I never thought I would be able to say this, but I love myself and my body. Truly.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like there was some magical potion that made me all better. Recovery has been a long and difficult journey. I had to fight for every inch. Freeing myself from my obsessive, debilitating thoughts about food and body was terrifying—they were part of my identity and how I had coped for so long. Eating disorders are a mental illness and usually about gaining some control over life rather than obtaining the perfect body. Meeting society’s standards of beauty was my way of excelling in something and finding some power in my unstable mission and post-mission environments. A big part of my recovery has been addressing the underlying anxiety and toxic perfectionism that made me susceptible to an eating disorder in the first place.
I thank God now for what I resented Him for before—having to overcome an eating disorder laid an important foundation for my life. Not only do I have more empathy and resilience, but I’ve also learned that emotional well-being is worth spending the necessary time, effort, and resources to achieve. Even if you think you are in a good place now, it’s always great to learn good habits and practices to maintain and improve mental health. Here are three things I’ve learned that you can try today:
Look how these sentences change with one little word: “I don’t have a job … yet.” “I don’t love my body or honor it with wellness behaviors … yet.” “I can’t handle my addiction/depression/anxiety … yet.” “I don’t know what I believe … yet.” This mind-set helps you focus on the future and personal growth. The word yet is a conscious acknowledgment that the way things are isn’t final and can change. It is recognizing your divine potential: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
An important part of progressing is learning to love ourselves. Psychologist Carl R. Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”2 When I think of patience and compassion, I usually think of it in terms of how I treat those around me. But shouldn’t we also treat ourselves with patience and compassion? The journey of life is going to be a very long one if you treat badly the one person you are guaranteed to travel with. Think about this: How does God see you? Do you treat yourself with the same gentleness as you would a child? Would you talk to others the way you talk to yourself?
We are constantly stimulated by music, TV, social media—the list goes on and on. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) once asked this question: “In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?”3 Take some time to detach yourself from technology or whatever else that’s distracting you, and live in the moment. The scriptures say, “Be still and know that I am God” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:16). So take a few moments every day to stop, breathe, and use all five senses. Look for the small, magical moments that happen every day. Find a hobby that makes you feel present and alive; for me, that’s hiking.
If you have an eating disorder, please read carefully: there is a light at the end of the tunnel—I promise. I hope my story will spark the tiniest bit of hope in you. Please get help, but recognize that there is no simple or quick solution to an eating disorder. Recovery is hard, and it’s painful. But it’s so worth it.
You can feel alive again. You can feel happiness again. You can feel comfortable in your own skin again. I know it’s probably the last thing you want to do, but lean on healthy, non-disordered, and non-dieting friends and family; don’t push them away or seclude yourself. Please know that you’re not broken—eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors and circumstances. Know that the Savior really is there for you. I hope someday you will be able look back and see how He was climbing with you the whole way.
Lastly, heed Sam’s words to Frodo: “In the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. … There’s some good in this world … and it’s worth fighting for.”4
If you are going through mental health challenges, know that it is a passing shadow and the sun will shine again. Keep going. Don’t give up. Happiness, your mental and physical health, and, most importantly, you are worth fighting for.