Trigger warnings: Disordered Eating.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hmmm, let’s see. I’m a junior, and I’m pre-med. I come from a big and supportive family. In high school I was a three-season athlete, but at Yale I love to run on my own.
What prompted you to reach out to us?
My mental health, and particularly my relationship with food, eating, and my body is something I have been silent about for a long time. It is something I struggle with every day completely on my own. I tend to be pretty independent, but when it comes to most things, I usually have the support of my friends and family when I need it. But since this is something nobody knows about, the isolation began to feel suffocating.
By bottling up my struggles, the internal pressure started to pile up. I started getting more anxious, which fueled my unhealthy eating habits, and vice versa. I reached out because I wanted to get it off my chest. I did not want to carry this burden alone anymore. I saw opening up about my struggles with eating as a safe opportunity to alleviate some of that burden.
That’s really brave of you to reach out. Can you tell us a bit more about your relationship with food?
My relationship with food is pretty complicated. First of all, I have a medically necessary dietary restriction, so that creates boundaries around what I eat already. It’s my reality. Where that has become dangerous is the interplay between that and the control that I exert over all aspects of my life. In high school, I began to really restrict what I ate and saw eating and food as something in my life I could control. I’m generally a perfectionist, so it became another thing on my perfectionist agenda.
Now, I do go through periods where I appreciate and enjoy food. But I can also get into cycles where food becomes the ultimate evil. Food becomes a beast I have to avoid. I play games with myself to consume as little of it as possible.
That sounds like a pretty hard thing to struggle with alone. Why have you never told anyone before?
I find a lot of the people around me to be pretty self focused--I am too sometimes. So I kind of assume that people won’t be supportive. That being said, I don’t know that that’s true because I’ve never really put myself out there in order to see how my friends and family will react. I’ve never given anyone in my life the tools to support me through this.
That makes sense. That’s amazing that you’ve started by reaching out to us, and we hope you find the strength to start opening up to more people in your life too. Now, shifting gears slightly. Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with your body?
In some ways I really do appreciate and like my body, but only within very slim parameters. Again, it’s something I like to control. For me, it’s much more psychological than it is physical. If I’m in a bad place, I convince myself that when I eat a bowl of ice cream, I can feel it adding fat to every inch of me. Sometimes, I see myself sitting in lecture, hyper-aware of every inch of skin and fat on my body. Sometimes I think my body is great, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it feels like a prison. Sometimes I literally just want to shed my skin. It’s exhausting to always be so consumed by thinking about my body.
That sounds like an experience that a lot of people will be able to relate to. If you knew that a friend or peer felt as you do, what would you tell them? What advice would you give them?
I think first and foremost, I would say “I understand what you’re going through. I know how hard it is. I know why you haven’t gotten help. I get why you just can’t stop and eat normally. I get it. Even if you really want to get better, I get why you can’t by yourself”.
Then, I guess I would tell them to actually follow through on seeking professional help.
Do you see yourself opening up about this to anyone else in the future?
Yes, for sure. Opening up to someone about having a hard time can give them the opportunity to love and support you through it. One thing I’ve learned is that people cannot support you unless you give them the tools to.
What do you want other people to learn from you?
I would want people to remember that mental health is so internal that you cannot make a judgement on someone based on how they look or act. Even if someone is outgoing, they may be ridiculously lonely. Someone who is smiley could still be struggling with depression. I want people to learn to be gentle with their views of other people and their mental health. Allow people to have room to struggle, without letting it consume their identity.
That’s great advice. I think a lot of people really need to hear that. Can you tell us a little bit about your goals in terms of taking care of yourself and dealing with your mental health during this upcoming year?
To be honest, in a way I don’t want anything to change. The disordered patterns are controlled. Thinking about changing that is anxiety producing. However, my goal is to get to a place where that’s not the case. I want to see food as something that nourishes me.
This semester, I want to open up to a couple key people in my life, and get a little bit of support from them. I also do want to get professional help. I want to make use of the resources that I have here at Yale, and take the advice I would give someone else in this situation.
Thank you so much for opening up and sharing your story, and we wish you the best of luck moving forward.
If you are struggling with disordered eating, you can seek professional help at Yale Mental Health and Counseling at 203-432-0290.