What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, meet ten inspirational women who have battled eating disorders.
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Meet Kari Adams:

Kari Adams

“I felt as though no one understood me or knew who I really was.”

Kari Adams is 41 years old and is the CEO/Owner of “Princeton Elite Club” and a TV Host/Producer for “The Kari Adams Show” on Princeton’s TV30. She is a professional matchmaker and lifestyle expert. She was 15 years old when her eating disorder first started.

What your day to day struggles with your eating disorder like?

During the times when I was at the height of my eating disorder my days were very depressing, isolating, and completely centered around my eating disorder. When my kids were off at school, there were many days I either spent in bed because I felt too disgusting in my skin to move, severely depressed (even suicidal at times) or I spent hours upon hours working out on my treadmill in my house. I obsessed about the next meal I would have, which would most likely be in the evening.

Sometimes I would obsess about when my next binge and purge session would be and what foods I would binge on before purging. When I went several days in a row without so much as eating a morsel, I would have dreams at night about food. I would suffer from low blood sugar attacks, have bouts of dizziness, and feel very lethargic and confused at times.

The more I thought about and obsessed about my body, my weight and my appearance, the more it perpetuated the obsessive thoughts. Each morning I awoke I would take off all my clothes and weigh myself, sometimes up to 5 times in a row looking for the most miniscule change (drop) in weight. Before even getting out of bed I would do body checks and measure my wrists and ankles with my thumb and each of my fingers making sure I could touch each finger to my thumb on the areas I was measuring. If my weight or body checks were not to my liking, I would punish myself all day long with abusive thoughts, restricting my food, over exercising, and bingeing and purging.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

Even though I have suffered since I was 15 with one form or another of an eating disorder, it probably wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I admitted to myself I had a problem food when a therapist brought it to my attention. At around 10 or 12 I went on my first diet and by the time I was 15 I began restricting and bingeing and purging. I have been a binge eater, starved, binge and purged, compulsively exercised and chewed and spit. I even took drugs, alcohol, diet pills, ipecac syrup and drank coffee excessively in order to lose weight.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

Throughout the years of suffering with an ED, I have had physical issues such as decayed teeth, loss of my period for 3 years, loss of hair (I still have a spot that is slowly growing back now that I’m healthier), excessive gum bleeding, low blood sugar attacks, severe confusion and loss of memory, three broken bones in my foot from a minor fall, knuckle marks/scars, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, loss of toe nails from excessive running and working out, etc.

In your opinion, how much did Photoshopped/airbrushed/stick thin images of women/men in the media shape your opinion of your body?

It impacted it immensely and I found myself being obsessed with media images of celebrities and constantly comparing myself to women on the front of tabloids and on TV. I would cut out pictures of stars like Jennifer Aniston and tape them on my wall and over analyze myself in the mirror compared to their photos and wonder how much more I weighed than they did. I now have to be very conscientious NOT to even look at the magazines in the racks at the check-out counters and supermarkets and in bookstores so that I don’t fall back into that cycle. Media images can be incredibly triggering for me, and other people in recovery from eating disorders, because our society puts a ridiculous and unrealistic emphasis on appearance and thinness.

What was your breaking point?

My family intervened and sat me down and said I was too thin and spiraling out of control and that I needed to get help. At 41 years old, I was tired of living this way and ready to receive help for my 25 year struggle with my eating disorder.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery (or attempted recovery) process?

Gaining weight, having to buy all new clothes in bigger sizes, and accepting myself for who I am and not caring what other people think of me. It’s also been difficult to hear comments from people about how I look different now. When it comes to food, it was incredibly difficult to eat certain things like ice cream and waffles when I never allowed myself to eat foods like that before. I had trained myself to believe that there were “bad” foods that would make me a disgusting human being if I indulged in them and to stifle that voice while eating them was very challenging.

What did you wish more people knew about eating disorders?

I wish more people realized that eating disorders can affect anybody, at any age, and at any size. You don’t need to look like a concentration camp prisoner to have an eating disorder. Many women, especially those with bulimia, are of average weight and most people have no clue that they are suffering. The worst thing someone can say to a person who is suffering from an eating disorder is, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder!”

Meet Jenni Schaefer:

Jenni Schaefer

“When I lost weight, people actually patted me on the back and told me how good I looked. I actually received compliments for having an eating disorder.”

Jenni Schaefer is a 35-year-old singer, writer, and public speaker. She claims that disordered thoughts around eating first started at the age of 4, when she was in dance class and thought, “You are bigger than the other girls,” and “You aren’t good enough.”

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

I first realized that I had an eating disorder my senior year in college. I distinctly remember trying to make myself throw up for the first time, and I knew that wasn’t healthy.

Other aspects of my eating disorder — like restricting food and losing weight — had been accepted and even celebrated by society, so I didn’t recognize those behaviors as a problem. When I lost weight, people actually patted me on the back and told me how good I looked. I actually received compliments for having an eating disorder.

I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. At points during my struggle, I might have been diagnosed with EDNOS and binge eating disorder, too.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

My eating disorder negatively affected every part of me from the hair on my head to the tip of my toes. I was even diagnosed with osteoporosis at 22 years old. Emotionally, I was a disaster. I was miserable and couldn’t function in life.

Were you stigmatized or alienated for having an eating disorder?

I was never stigmatized or alienated! In fact, I always received positive words of support and encouragement when I told people about my struggle. People often said, “I know someone who has an eating disorder, too.”

What effect did your eating disorder have on your personal relationships?

In therapy, I learned to personify my illness (I called mine “Ed,” short for “Eating Disorder”) and “divorce” myself from it. My primary relationship was with Ed. There wasn’t room for anyone else. We were married, and it was truly like an abusive relationship where a woman is battered. I hated Ed and wanted to leave, but he convinced me to stay for so long.

Did you receive professional help for your eating disorder?

Yes, I saw a treatment team that consisted of a therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, and internist for years. I also attended group therapy, 12-step meetings, and body image group. In treatment, I learned that my eating disorder was not really about food and weight. It was about underlying issues like low self-esteem, perfectionism, and constant self-criticism.

What was your breaking point?

I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I didn’t want to live one more day if it had to be with Ed. But I did, in fact, want to live. This desire for something more pushed me to get help.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery (or attempted recovery) process?

The most difficult part of my recovery was letting go and having faith that being recovered didn’t just mean that I would be fat and miserable. (If I had to choose between “thin and miserable” and “fat and miserable,” I thought I’d choose thin.) I had to let go of rigid food rules and embrace an intuitive approach to eating. I had to let go of society’s thin ideal and learn to love my body at its natural size. These were the biggest challenges.

What did you wish more people knew about eating disorders?

I wish people had known that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. A big hurdle to my getting help was that I didn’t “look” like I had an eating disorder much of the time. The truth is that there is no certain way a person with an eating disorder looks.

Are you now involved with organizations that help others with eating disorders (or have you written a book, make speeches, etc.)?

Today, I work to spread the message of full recovery through my writing, singing, and speaking. My first book, Life Without Ed, talks about my marriage and subsequent divorce from Ed. My latest book, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, takes the journey a step further—from recovery to liberation. It talks about jumping into life and being fully recovered. (Period.)

I recently released my first CD titled phoenix, Tennessee. This was a huge feat for me, because Ed stole my ability to make music for years. I am honored to be the Chair of NEDA’s Ambassadors’ Council as well a Consultant with Center for Change treatment program in Orem, Utah. For more information, please visit jennischaefer.com.

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3 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

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