Health

How Recovering From An Eating Disorder Helped Me Embrace My Femininity

By Julia Canzano··  7 min read
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Everyone has awkward stories from when they were going through the constantly confusing time of puberty. Maybe it was that first time going bra shopping or that awkward first date. What no one talks about is the way in which eating disorders can harm your understanding of what it means to be a woman.

When I think of that period in my life, I can only remember how it launched a nine-year battle against an eating disorder, causing me to reject my femininity. It was only on the road to recovery from my eating disorder that I was able to embrace my femininity and reclaim all that it represents. An eating disorder may have stolen important moments in my life growing up, but I now have a much deeper understanding of what it means to be feminine and a woman. 

Puberty Kickstarted My Eating Disorder

Rather than embrace and celebrate the changes my body was going through, I so desperately didn’t want to become a woman. I wore a sports bra every day because I hated seeing any growth in my chest. If I wasn’t wearing my uniform at school, I dressed in only baggy clothes to hide any growth in my hips or to hide how skinny I was getting from starving myself. 

My primary focus was having a flat stomach and getting that by any means possible. Whether it was exercising so much it became a full-time job, counting calories, or over-analyzing how much I was eating, my eating disorder consumed my thoughts. I struggled to focus on schoolwork, my relationships with my friends and family, and my performance as an athlete. I was stuck in a negative cycle of thoughts where I hated everything about myself so much that I alternated between starving myself, over-exercising, and throwing up meals. 

I Was Happy I Lost My Period

It’s common knowledge that eating disorders often interfere with your period, and I was no exception. I remember the first time I missed a period. Rather than feel alarmed, I was excited. I no longer worried about feeling bloated or more emotional in the week leading up to my period, and, like my desire to stop my body from looking like a woman, I was happy that I was more “like the boys.”

The first time I missed a period, I felt excited – I felt more like the boys.

Somehow, I figured out that eating very little and exercising like it was a full-time job was the reason why I lost my period, and rather than fixing the situation, I continued on that self-destructive path. I’ve lost my period twice in my life, once for six months and another time for nearly a year. It was only later that I learned how much damage this was doing and how important your period can be as a general marker of your health. In recovery, I’ve learned to embrace having a period and use it as a reminder that someday I’ll be bringing life into this world and can only do so if I’m healthy and taking care of myself. 

I Thought Everyone Was Criticizing My Appearance

Life obviously isn’t all about materialistic things but wearing outfits that make you feel your best certainly helps with your self-confidence. Having an eating disorder made me paranoid that everyone around me was criticizing what I looked like, and so I avoided anything that would bring attention to how I looked. When you don’t think you’re good enough for basic items like food, it’s hard, if not impossible, to think you’re good enough for the finer things in life. I refused to wear jewelry, makeup, nail polish, or cute outfits and simply opted for running shorts and a t-shirt as much as I could. 

My eating disorder was telling me not to draw any attention to my body, but this also meant missing out on activities that help build friendships with other girls. I didn’t go on trips to the mall to try on outfits or do my friends’ makeup at sleepovers or go to the nail salon with my mom and sisters. Since recovering from an eating disorder, I’ve tried my best to catch up on those memories. Trying on outfits in a dressing room used to give me so much anxiety I’d leave in tears; now, it’s something I have fun doing with my sisters and it doesn’t stress me out. 

My Eating Disorder Distracted Me from Important Relationships

Growing up, my best friends were all boys. I interacted with plenty of girls at school, on the different sports teams I was on, and at home, but I always felt more comfortable spending time with a group of guys. To me, being friends with only boys meant less drama and was time for me not to think about food or how I looked. Boys didn’t say negative comments like how fat they felt in a certain outfit or how little they needed to eat so that they could get really drunk that night. 

Feminism had been such an influence in my life growing up that I believed that to be equal to men, I had to act like and look like the boys as much as possible. Recovering from an eating disorder taught me that it’s okay to embrace becoming a woman and that female friendships are so important to personal growth. For so long I was afraid of having lots of female friends. Recovering from an eating disorder has reminded me to push through that fear and be more open to having female friendships.  

I didn’t go to the mall to try on outfits with friends or go to the nail salon with my mom and sisters.

My eating disorders made me act selfishly; all your thoughts are constantly focused on your appearance and food. I started the process of recovering for me and my health; eventually, my motivations for recovering included other people and what I could do for them once I was healthy. I wanted to recover so that I could replace my time spent throwing up in the bathroom on Thanksgiving with time spent with my grandparents. The memories I’ve made with them over the last year during the holidays are irreplaceable, and I’m constantly thankful that I recovered so that I can continue to make those memories, as their time is precious as they grow older. 

I wanted to recover so that someday my body is healthy and strong to bring life into the world and grow a family of my own. I wanted to start fixing my relationship with food so that I can cultivate a healthy relationship between food and body image in my children. I wanted to recover so that I had the energy and time to give to my family, my friends, and my community. It’s incredibly difficult to care for others when all your thoughts are consumed by an eating disorder. 

Closing Thoughts

In the year since recovering, I’ve grown to love being a woman. I currently work for a women’s organization, and I love that recovery has given me the energy to empower and support the women in our group. I’ve come to appreciate how my body looks and no longer look in the mirror and critique every inch. During my eating disorder, the thought of having kids was completely out of the question; now, I look forward to the day I can have a family and know that I will embrace the changes to my body during pregnancy rather than fight them. 

I feel empowered that I’ve recovered from an eating disorder, and I know that I can handle any difficult situation thrown my way. Recovery has helped me reject modern-day feminism and has helped me embrace my femininity and be more supportive and kinder towards others. 

Every day I am thankful that I chose recovery and have embraced my femininity. For anyone fighting an eating disorder and wondering if recovery is worth it – it 100% always is. It was a long fight, but I haven’t looked back, and I know that my life is so much better without an eating disorder than with it. 

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