09/24/2014 05:51 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST

How I Live With Anorexia

Reportage on a woman suffering from anorexia. Christel, 32, has suffered from anorexia for 2 years. Her body mass index (BMI) is 16.7 and is extremely thin. The first thing she does every day is weigh herself. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
BSIP via Getty Images
Reportage on a woman suffering from anorexia. Christel, 32, has suffered from anorexia for 2 years. Her body mass index (BMI) is 16.7 and is extremely thin. The first thing she does every day is weigh herself. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

The moment I put on my dream wedding dress, I cried tears of disappointment and frustration. It was exactly as I had pictured, with a corseted top that tied like a ballet slipper in the back, shiny white beads on the front, and a flowing, silky train. The dress wasn't the problem. It was how I looked in it, which was far from what I had envisioned. My arms no longer looked delicate and fragile. The dress hugged my curves, curves that I didn't have just months ago. Every girl imagines how she will look in her wedding dress one day, and over the years, my vision of myself in my dress had come to be a vision of someone with a supermodel's lithe and boney physique.

"You look beautiful," my mother said, thinking I was crying tears of joy. In that moment, I knew I still wasn't "better." I thought I had recovered, and I thought this meant I'd love the way I look.

I hate that my eating disorder tainted this precious moment that I cannot have back. I use this hate to empower myself.

Today, five years later, I think I'm "normal." Well, as normal as any young female in a body conscious world can be. But every day remains a challenge for me. The eating disorder voice that I had thought was gone is with me even today as I contemplate having children. "You'll become fat and hideous," it says.

I have gotten better at ignoring this voice. Post-eating disorder, it is possible to eventually lead a "normal," healthy life. The advice I have for accomplishing this doesn't come from dieticians and therapists, though their advice helped. It has come from fighting my greatest enemy, and winning, every day of my life.

Step One: Kick Butt

I was kicked out of my outpatient program for refusing to gain weight. I was a rehab rebel, and I was proud that I was too sick for them.

Today, I satisfy my taste for rebellion by fighting against the fragile form my body once took. I do not run, because I used to run 6 miles each day obsessively. It was part of my drug. Instead, I take self-defense classes, where fragility only hinders success. Today, I proudly have muscles.

I leave self-defense class having satisfied my irrational need to exercise regularly, which still haunts me every day. Fortunately, I have turned this compulsion into something that enables me to feel like I can protect myself -- from an attacker, from my negative thoughts, from relapse.

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Step Two: Eat ice cream with your salad

In treatment, I needed a perfectly balanced menu in front of me to tell me exactly what to eat. But today, I have no limitations. By eating healthily, I am able to satisfy my urge to eat foods that feel "safe" like whole grains, fish, vegetables, and fruits. Then I allow myself treats, because I have come to accept the pleasure and peace in food. I get excited to go to the grocery store, because once, I would not buy myself any food that I had wanted. Then again, I also used to tell people that I hated ice cream. As my dietician once said, "No one hates ice cream."

Step Three: Check out

That's right, check out of the world we live in when you need to. While eating dinner with my family at one of our regular restaurants, a waitress who had seen me at my sickest told me that my cheeks now looked chubby. This was right after recovery, and it sent me into a tailspin. I refused to eat my meal.

I also remember opening my clothing drawer one morning, and realizing it was filled with size 00 jeans. I tried them on, hoping desperately that I could squeeze into just one pair. They wouldn't fit over my legs. I had to buy new ones, and I was embarrassed to look for a size other than 0.

Back in my post-treatment days, I also weighed myself each evening. Today I can't, because my dietician stole my scale. In one fell swoop, she walked into my house and just took it. At the same time, she covered the mirrors in my house and took my 00 jeans, knowing I could not bear to part with them myself.

Not everyone has someone to do this for them as they recover their true identity. So do it for yourself. Today, comments about my weight still don't roll off of my shoulders. But I'm proud that my cheeks aren't sallow. I don't own a single pair of "sick" jeans, and accept whatever size I need to wear. I still don't weigh myself, and I feel peaceful that way. These are all forms, for me, of pushing away the world: ignoring comments about your body, even if they hurt, ignoring pressure from friends and family to wear a small size, and refusing to judge oneself by a number. We need to be active in our own universe, of course. However, there are days when the voices and the pressure to assign a number to ourselves can be too much. We can't stop these things. We can distance ourselves from them.

I have been "better" for seven years now. They say the average recovery takes seven years. I still don't feel recovered. It's too strong a word. I instead measure my success by the mirror. Where once I stood in my wedding dress and cried at the disappointing sight, today I stand in front of my mirror and smile. If I don't like what I see, I stand in front of the mirror until I do. I like to think that now, even though I'm not a stick; even though I eat ice cream; and even though someone thought I had chubby cheeks; I would feel beautiful at my wedding.

By Jill Pohl

The Purple Fig is an online women's blogazine with an emphasis on realistic and inspiring personal stories from women of all age groups, lifestyles, and nationalities. We feature essays about parenting, the journey to womanhood, feminism, overcoming challenges in both career and personal life, and issues surrounding sexuality, relationships, and family life. This is where women go to be inspired by the knowledge they are never alone.

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