Recovering from an eating disorder
Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. A girl with an eating disorder tries very hard to control the foods she eats, and she may worry a lot about her weight. She becomes so focused on eating (or not eating) that she hurts her body. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (say: an-uh-REK-see-uh nur-VOH-suh) , bulimia nervosa (say: buh-LEE-mee-uh nur-VOH-suh) , and binge eating disorder.
Laura Boyer developed anorexia as a teen. She was very afraid to gain weight, and the disorder took over her life. Laura thought about food nearly all the time and became depressed. But with treatment and support from friends and family, Laura recently celebrated her five-year anniversary of recovering from anorexia. Read Laura's story.
How old are you?
I am 24 years old.
What do you think caused you to develop anorexia?
That’s a really complicated question. I don’t think there was one specific thing that caused the anorexia. It was a variety of things: my urge and desire to be “perfect,” many years as a ballet dancer, and looking up to media figures where the “pretty girls” were always skinny.
How did your eating disorder affect your life?
My eating disorder was a disease that took over my body and my mind. I became obsessive and depressed. I cried all the time and thought about harming myself. I wanted so badly to be “perfect” that it became the most important thing in my life. Even now that I am recovered, I still have to be careful. I need to watch my food intake to make sure I am eating enough and go to a therapist to keep myself healthy.
How much did you limit your diet?
My diet was incredibly restrictive. I ate just enough food to keep myself from passing out. Most days I would eat half an apple or a few bites of a granola bar. Some days I ended up passing out anyway. It was awful. I was always hungry. I always felt weak.
As a dancer, how were you able to keep up with practice with so few calories?
Honestly, I was not doing as well at dance class while I was starving myself. I had a hard time keeping up with the dance combinations and got tired easily. I have learned that to be the best dancer I can be, I have to nourish my body. Dancers, like all other athletes, need to eat a healthy diet to perform at their best.
Did your family and friends notice your anorexia?
I had always been a short and skinny kid, so most people didn’t see my weight loss as unusual. As I lost more and more weight, my friends started to notice. People reached out and tried to help me, but I was very stubborn about accepting help from anyone. Unfortunately, some people actually praised and complimented me on my lower weight, which reinforced my anorexia.
When did you realize that you needed help?
The winter of my senior year of high school, I kept getting really sick. I would faint at school and dance. I had trouble staying awake while driving. I caught the flu and became so weak that I couldn’t even manage to get out of bed. That’s when I realized what I was doing to my body and that I needed to get help. I went to my mother and asked her to help me.
What kind of treatment did you go through?
I was — and still am — extremely lucky that I have a supportive family and lots of friends who were willing to help me fight anorexia. I started outpatient treatment at Children’s Hospital of Washington, DC. I worked closely with doctors, therapists, and a nutritionist to help me learn to eat again. My mom and dad gave up all their free time to drive me to the doctor, make me lunch, and sit with me while I ate. They listened to me, held me while I cried, and never, ever gave up on me. I had to stop dancing completely, which broke my heart. But I knew I was doing what was best for me.
You recently celebrated your five-year anniversary of recovering from anorexia. How does that feel?
Amazing and bittersweet. Overcoming anorexia was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life, and it took some sacrifices. I will never be “cured” of anorexia. It will always be something that shaped my life, but I am happy and proud to be living a healthy life now.
What advice do you have for girls who may have an eating disorder?
Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are beautiful just the way you are, and there is nothing wrong with needing help sometimes. Sometimes people forget that eating disorders are diseases just like cancer or diabetes. Nobody would be ashamed or embarrassed to get medical treatment for cancer, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to get treatment for an eating disorder.
What do you think girls should know about building healthy self-esteem and body image?
In our world, we have so many negative images of women in the media. We see airbrushed and Photoshopped models on TV and in magazines. Try to remember that these women are not real. You are beautiful no matter what you look like or what challenges you go through.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
You are not alone! Once I started talking to people about my struggles, I realized that a lot of the women in my life had struggled with body image. The worst thing you can do is try to fix your problems all alone. Whether it is your parents, your siblings, friends, or teachers, I promise there is someone in your life who wants to help you be healthy and happy.
Content last reviewed April 01, 2015
Page last updated April 01, 2015