How I Overcame an Eating Disorder and the Workaholic Mindset That Caused It

Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t about gaining or losing weight. It’s about making a shift in your mind toward self-love.

Kate Irwin
Dec 26, 2020 · 5 min read
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Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

When I was thirteen years old, I was scouted by a modeling agency in Canada and whisked into a world where everyone was six feet tall, with spidery limbs and eyebrows like untamed caterpillars. By the time I was sixteen, I was doing runway work. My agent gave me some food guidelines to follow, which, by any reasonable person’s standards, would be considered an extreme diet. If anyone followed that diet for more than a few days, they would feel lightheaded, suffer from headaches and faint with any physical activity. But that was the diet my agent gave, straight-faced, to an impressionable and depressed sixteen-year-old girl.

Sadly, the pressure to eat less and workout more haunted me long after I’d stopped modeling. Though I told my friends I’d quit modeling due to conflicts with school, the main reason I resented high fashion was because of the culture of eating disorders it promoted. It took me years to reframe my mind around the idea of what a healthy, beautiful body looked like — and now, the skeleton girls on runways today concern me.

While in college, I counted calories, worked out constantly and drank black coffee like it was water. It was unhealthy and dangerous, and now, looking back, it’s unbelievable that I was able to put my body under as much stress as I did while double-majoring and juggling multiple internships. I ran on fumes for years, so when I finally graduated from college and things settled down, I had to face what I had become:

Being alone for long periods of time allowed my bad habits to thrive. If I was alone with myself, my depression resurfaced, and this triggered my disordered eating habits of restriction, binging and purging. But once I started having roommates and boyfriends, my disorder became harder to hide. As I realized that they genuinely loved me for the person I was inside, the guilt surrounding eating started to slowly fade.

Initially, recovery was quite challenging. My stomach felt perpetually bloated and I felt like I was starving all the time. Truth was, I had deprived my body of nutrients for years, and now my body was trying to make up for it by sending me the signal to eat everything in sight.

So I started eating more and working out less. And guess what? I didn’t even gain much weight. I refused to weigh myself — because scales are irrelevant given water weight, anyway— and just went off what I saw in the mirror. My clothes still fit even though I was eating twice the amount I was before. How was that possible?

The answer: My eating disorder had destroyed my metabolism and my gut. So even though I was eating less and working out more, it didn’t make a difference past a certain point. And the binge-purge patterns made me look bloated, so when that finally stopped, my stomach flattened and my body had the chance to heal.

My issues with eating persisted for so long because I didn’t love myself. I had residual childhood trauma and low self-esteem. I felt worthless, that my only value was in the work I did and the achievements I accomplished on paper. But this toxic way of thinking is the product of our capitalistic society that encourages workaholism.

Taking time for relaxation, self-care and body positivity is essential in order to combat the toxic messages we’ve received over the years: That women’s bodies are only valuable if they’re a certain shape and size. Realizing that these toxic messages are the product of a patriarchal society where men objectify women also helped me let go of the toxic mindset I’d adopted before. I wanted control over my own body, after all, and the mental and physical state I’d been in just wasn’t sustainable.

So how did my mindset change over time toward body positivity? I realized that perfection isn’t possible. I know it sounds simple, but eating disorders give us unrealistic expectations and a false sense of control. You can’t control everything your body does. Hormonal fluctuations are going to affect the way you look and feel sometimes, and this is something to accept and move past mentally rather than punish yourself over.

Here’s what I did to help my mind and body heal:

  1. I unfollowed those on social media who made me feel bad about myself, promoted anorexia, eating disorders and unrealistic body types (i.e. models, influencers with photoshopped pictures, fashion icons, celebrities).
  2. I followed people on social media who made me feel good about myself (women who have overcome eating disorders, LGBTQ+ advocates, body positivity advocates)
  3. I stopped self-isolating and spent time with family, friends and loved ones who love me no matter what my body looks like
  4. I talked to my friends about my struggles and finally confided in them about my eating disorder
  5. I wore comfortable clothing, prioritizing comfort over style (I wore all-black baggy clothing for years. Think oversized t-shirts, drawstring pants and black A-line dresses. This helped so much!)
  6. I slowly re-introduced foods restricted in the past (for me, it was sandwiches, pasta and pizza)
  7. I gave my body time. It can take your gut years to fully heal from the trauma of an eating disorder
  8. I gave my mind time. It will take even longer for your mind to fully heal from the trauma of an eating disorder. It’s okay if your healing journey isn’t perfect. There may be hiccups along the way, and that’s just fine!

For me, patience was key. I was so used to quick turnarounds and deadlines that it was initially hard to accept how long it would take my mind to recover from my eating disorder. But now, six years later, I can safely say that I’ve left that shell of a woman in the past. I’m a much happier version of me, and let me just say this one thing:

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Kate Irwin

Written by

Writer, PC gamer and content creator. I have an MFA in writing from Columbia University. Let’s connect on Twitter: https://linktr.ee/pixiekate

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Kate Irwin

Written by

Writer, PC gamer and content creator. I have an MFA in writing from Columbia University. Let’s connect on Twitter: https://linktr.ee/pixiekate

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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