by Jessica Cushing-Murray
Jessica graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a degree in Psychobiology and continued her education at University of Hawaii for a Masters in Nutritional Science. Though she loved her first semester studying nutrition, she realized that life is not always a linear process and made the decision to apply for medical school with hopes to be accepted this cycle in 2020. But, as a former collegiate distance runner, Jessica will always have a passion for nutrition and helping people struggling with eating disorders.
I probably have never met you, I don’t know what color your hair is, what your family is like, or where you live. And yet, I know you. A big part of you. The part struggling with an eating disorder, the part that has probably taken over your life and is consuming all your thoughts.
Before you roll your eyes and get ready for a lecture you’ve probably been hearing from your family and friends lately, you should know that I get it. Because I used to be you. You wake up every morning and go exercise and probably put off eating for as long as you can. The question constantly running through your mind is “to eat or not eat.” Some foods are acceptable, you’ve deemed them “healthy” in your mind; other foods are things you will not even consider eating. For me, a big “can’t” food was pasta. I used to love pasta: all kinds, spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo, mac and cheese, you name it, I loved it… But then my ED developed and I just couldn’t, it gave me so much anxiety.
You probably have a routine down filled with things like exercise, coffee, maybe even laxatives. Your friends are worried about you and you’re sick of hearing that “you should talk to someone” or “you need help” because you think you’re fine. I used to think that too.
So I have a question for you: what’s the goal? What’s the end point? Do you even know? How long have you been stuck and unhappy in your eating disorder? Is there an end in sight? I had a goal weight. An “if I hit this weight then I will be done and I will be proud of myself.” Here’s what I know: your goal–whether it’s a weight, a clothing size, a feeling–it won’t feel like you think it will. When I had exercised to the maximum and avoided all the foods I used to love, I hit my ‘goal’ – and I felt more empty and lost than I ever had, and I sure as heck didn’t feel any better about myself. When you’re stuck in an eating disorder, you are trapped in a cycle of dieting, cravings, and exercising, and it seems like there’s no way to stop. You might not even realize yet that life isn’t supposed to be this hard.
Two major things I learned in treatment:
1) Nobody can make you want to get better. You have to want it for yourself. And that’s the hardest part about navigating through an ED: the fact that you have to be the one who chooses recovery. Maybe you think that words like “recovery” and “treatment” sound like total BS things that you don’t need. That’s how I felt too.
But now let me tell you the 2nd thing I learned…
2) There are no shortcuts in life. Every decision you make in your ED is going to have real consequences that you probably don’t know about. I broke bones because of my ED. I have friends with permanent heart problems from their excessive exercise/binging/purging. I know people who’s repeated “I’m fine” and “I don’t have a problem” phrases left them hospitalized.
So yes, it’s your life. And it’s your choice to listen or not listen to the people around you. But it’s your life. Don’t you want to be around to live it and enjoy it? My psychologist once asked me, “Jess, what are some things you are unable to do now [because of your eating disorder] that you would be able to do once in recovery?” The long answer was: I could sleep better, have less anxiety, enjoy ice cream and going out to eat with friends, and again ICE CREAM!
But when I really thought about: what could I do when I finally accept recovery? The short answer was: anything and everything.
This is what I wish for you.