Ever since I realized I was anorexic, I did my damnedest to hide it. I was ashamed and embarrassed and definitely not looking for help.
But anorexia is pretty hard to hide. After all, people tend to notice when you spend multiple hours at the gym every day, religiously shun previously innocuous substances like oil and butter, pick up every item in the grocery store to scan its nutritional label, and shrink until you are thinner than any healthy person should be.
Despite how obvious it was to everyone that I was not OK, I pretended otherwise for two years.
“No cake, please, I’m full from dinner,” I’d say politely as I glanced down at the barely-touched serving of salmon on my plate. (The salad, of course, had been devoured.)
“Oh, I actually prefer my coffee black!” I’d enthuse to my friend as we stopped at Starbucks, while staring enviously at her delicious-looking cream-and-two-sugars cup.
Finally, I got so sick of the charade that I gave up pretending and let the world in on my dirty little secret — but I did so in the worst possible ways. I tumbled from bad decision to poor judgment and back again. I did everything wrong (and you can, too!). This is my formula for how to make a difficult step in a long journey worse: how not to come out as a recovering anorexic.
1. Don't Tell other people before your loved ones
I told other people about my eating disorder before I told my family, and I really regret that. I avoided the conversation because it was with the people who would be the most affected — much easier to tell my friends what I was dealing with than my family. My friends definitely cared, but the announcement didn’t alter their worlds.
Even though it sucks saying, “Mom, Dad, I have an eating disorder,” it should be the first thing you do after you decide to come out. You owe it to them, or whoever it is that makes up your family.
2. Don't overplan what you’re going to say... and don't wing it
You may be really, really nervous to reveal the truth, but a call-to-order meeting and presentation are probably unnecessary. Unsure of how to go about the process, I actually created a PowerPoint titled, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t Gone Out to Dinner With You Guys in Two Years… Here’s Why.” (Actually, I think the utter ridiculousness of the situation helped diffuse the tension. But I still wouldn’t advise a slideshow.)
The casual mention may not be the right way to go about it either. My oops factor peaked when I responded to an aunt's carefree inquiry about dessert with, “Yes, it’s delicious! Especially since I haven’t eaten ice cream since I became anorexic.” This, of course, had a dampening effect on the conversation and she fled soon after.
If I were going to do it over again, I’d choose specific times to tell people, like, I don’t know, in a quiet room or when we could actually talk. I would also plan a mini-speech. Something like: “You may have noticed I haven’t been maintaining the healthiest habits lately. I’ve been diagnosed with anorexia. But I have good news: I’m committed to recovering. Want to go get some ice cream?”
3. Don't Get annoyed by every ignorant comment
I think that, when recovering, it’s very easy to become angry when people say ignorant things like, “You look so much better now that you’ve gained weight!” or “Now that you’re better, you should probably limit the cheeseburgers.” To the anorexic mind, the first comment equals "You got fat," and the second equals, “Don’t eat cheeseburgers, or you’ll get fat."
But the person talking to you doesn’t think like an anorexic, and his or her comment is certainly not intended to damage your fragile self-esteem or send you into a relapse. So be patient with people and take their comments at face value. And if they tell you to limit the cheeseburgers, smile and nod, and then head straight to In-N-Out.
4. Don't make a semi-anonymous Tumblr blogging about
Your blog will definitely not be read by a random girl in your History class. You will not have the awkwardness of knowing that every time you snack during lecture she will view it with special significance. You will not run into a fellow recovering anorexic randomly in Cape Cod. It will not be the most awkward and charged-with-unsaid-things interaction of your life.
Just kidding. A version of all of those things will happen.
I’m not saying the online Tumblr community wasn’t a wonderful recovery resource: They cheered me on as I confronted pizza and pad thai and comforted me when my body image suffered. But in this day and age, did I seriously think I could get away with having an online diary?!? I’d advise sticking to pen and paper. Or a therapist.
5. Don't write an article about your eating disorder for audience of several million
This is an incredibly efficient self-annihilation strategy. Everyone who hasn’t yet found out through you, the grapevine, or Tumblr, will now be informed, in one fell swoop! What could possibly go wrong?
As you can see, I'm not exactly a coming-out-as-a-recovering-anorexic role model. If you're thinking about coming out, then do what I say, not what I did. Or just come out however you want. The end result is the same: Your secret is out, and you can finally relax... and eat some ice cream.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, check out these resources: