I do not know when exactly my eating disorder started. I used to think there was a distinct moment in time when it all began. But now, it all blends together. There is no sole reason for the development of my anorexia. For me, the development of my eating disorder can be viewed as a puzzle. When you start putting a puzzle together you start with the edge pieces and then move to the inside. Eventually you begin to see how everything fit together perfectly. The same goes for discovering the root causes of my eating disorder. The edge pieces were the things that were the easiest to spot: my competitive, perfectionist attitude, my constant desire for approval, and success. However, each of those puzzle pieces were part of a larger picture. In the beginning when we are working on the edges we cannot always see how all the pieces are going to fit together. We just have to keep trying them and see what fits. Eventually, I put all the pieces together, and uncovered this picture I like to call, “My Story, My Struggle, My Triumph.”
In seventh grade I was preparing for my bat mitzvah, which is the most meaningful spiritual time in a Jewish adolescent’s life, however, it was also one of the most stressful. Between learning the Torah portion and planning the reception, I lost sight of what was really important. It was around this time that I went on my first diet. I remember shopping for my dress and telling myself that in order for it to be the perfect event I had to lose five pounds. I did not set out to have an eating disorder. I did not plan to lose more than five pounds. I did not plan to lose control. But for a while, I did. Control it. That diet “worked.” I lost weight. Freedom! I was a new teenager! People commented on how great I looked. But, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t skinny enough. I was not perfect. Each month passed and I would set a new goal for myself. I told myself, this month you are going to lose “x” pounds. And I did. For the first few times I stepped on the scale I had a euphoric feeling. I can relate it to a drug addiction. Once a person is addicted, all they begin to care about is getting high, and once the high wears off, they need to take more just to feel normal again. My addiction was not a drug, it was the scale. I became addicted to seeing the number go lower and lower. Instead of monthly goals I decided to make it a weekly goal. That euphoric feeling I got the first time I stepped on the scale and saw that I reached my goal was never felt again, or if it was, it was only for a short moment.
This cycle continued in eighth grade. I was still very active; I continued playing soccer, basketball and swam four days a week for two to three hours each day. During the spring I decided that all of the sports I was participating in was not enough, so I joined the track team. It was around this time that my passion for sports, and really every aspect of my life disappeared. I was constantly preoccupied with how many calories I was eating, how many calories I was burning, and my newer goal weight that I had planned for myself.
When I first got diagnosed with anorexia, you can say I was shocked into recovery. I did not know what an eating disorder was, but I knew that I did not want one. I used my perfectionist attitude for good. If the doctors said I needed to gain “x” amount of weight by my next appointment, I did it. If the nutritionist told I needed to eat “x” amount of calories each day, I did it. I was on the path to recovery; I complied by their orders. It was the first time in awhile that I felt free. It was as if I was awaiting someone’s approval to tell me that I needed to gain weight and eat. But I was not doing it for myself; I was doing it for them.
My eating was improving, but when I entered high school things began to slip. The first week was the hardest because everyone spoke about their amazing summer at camp, vacation, or parties with friends. My summer consisted of countless doctors’ appointments. I did not see my friends for the longest time because I missed the last two months of eighth grade. I felt like a different person. I did not think that my friends understood me, and I did not really give them a chance. I was social, but anxious. Conversations that used to come so easily with my friends now seemed much more difficult. I also started dating for the first time. It was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I did not understand why someone would like me. I did not feel like I deserved his love, or really anyone’s love for that matter. We dated for a brief time, but he wanted to do things that I was not ready for. At this time I began to stop playing the “perfect patient” role and turned back to my old behaviors, and added new ones as well. To say that the next three years of my life was a challenge is an understatement. What used to be weekly sporting activities quickly turned into doctor, nutritionist, psychiatrist, and psychologist appointments.
At the beginning of my sophomore year of high school I knew I needed help. On October 31st, 2006 I entered treatment for the first time. After a month of not making any progress my parents pulled me out. They could not understand why I was not trying. Reflecting back I can honestly say that I was not ready to give up my eating disorder. At that specific time my eating disorder was all that I was. It was my identity. Instead of defining myself as a teenage girl who loved sports, valued friendships, and loved spending time with family. I allowed anorexia to slowly strip away all the things I loved, and let it define me. For years counting calories, stepping on and off the scale, and living in constant fear and anxiety is what my world had come to. Anorexia, simply put, was my reaction to stress, emotion and pain. It was much easier to not eat than it was to actually deal with the pressure I faced and the high expectations I had set for myself.
When I was released my parents did not know where to turn. They discussed the option of going to a therapeutic school or residential treatment. I did not want to partake in any of these options, but at the same time I did not know how to avoid them. The angelic voice that was once there to tell me, “No, Liana you cannot skip a meal” was completely taken over by the devil voice, or my eating disorder voice. The voice was always there to tell me that I was not good enough, smart enough or thin enough.
I was obsessed with what I was eating and how I was eating it. I only allowed myself to eat at specific times during the day. If my family went out to celebrate for a special occasion I would bring my own prepackaged, pre-measured food. I had everything to a specific science. I would not let anyone or anything interrupt my schedule. Except, one night I was interrupted. My parents were preparing my dinner as I watched carefully from the side. I assisted when I felt the need to, especially when it came to the amount of ingredients being used. I went to measure something that was immeasurable. My parents questioned my actions and took away the measuring cup. I broke down. I lost it. I did not know how I was going to survive without it. One thing lead to the next and I ended up in the hospital on suicide watch for three days. I would consider this my rock bottom. Those three days having someone watch my every move made me realize what my life had come to. My life was being manipulated by anorexia. I was the puppet and the eating disorder performed my every move. I realized that I needed to cut the cord. That I could no longer feed into the lies.
When I started to think about my future, as I came close to the end of my high school career, it became apparent that I could no longer lead the life I was living – not if I wanted to accomplish anything, not if I wanted to survive. I thought that recovery from anorexia would be simple. I always heard analogies about cars- Your body is like a car. If you don’t give it fuel (food) then it will eventually shut down. I thought that when I entered treatment for the first time it would be like I was a car in the auto body shop. You go in, they fix you, and you’re out like brand-new. It doesn’t work like that. Recovery is not something you choose once; you have to choose recovery over and over again. The hardest part was accepting how my recovery would not happen overnight. I soon realized that the only way to defeat the one thing that was, quite literally, eating away at me, was to fight it with all the strength and courage that I had.
Recovery has taught me that my life is now is beyond my imagination. I see and experience life in ways I never thought possible. Recovery is more than just overcoming an eating disorder, it is finding beauty everywhere in the world- including myself. It is about acceptance, acceptance of my body and myself. It’s about accepting that life is not perfect, nobody is perfect but that’s okay. Recovery is a full range of emotions. It is taking those emotions and expressing them in a healthy manner. It is about living life to the fullest, leaving fear behind.
Recovery is about courage. It is about the courage to take small steps, trusting that they will lead to great accomplishments. Recovery is about patience, compassion, and persistence. Most importantly, recovery is about possibility. Being sick may keep you safe, but it also prevents you from experiencing and ENJOYING all that life has to offer. Recovery is choosing to thrive- not just survive.
So I leave you with this, there IS hope – once you “decide you want it, more than you’re afraid of it”.
Liana Rosenman graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelor's’ degree in Education and History in May 2014. She is currently serving as the Chief Communications Officer of Project HEAL. Liana was named a 2017 Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneur, and has been profiled in The New York Times, Fast Company and People Magazine. Liana also works as a 3rd grade NEST teacher in New York City and is earning her master’s degree in Special Education at Hunter College. She believes an education should empower a child and help him or her make a positive contribution to our world.