My Experience with an Eating Disorder following Sexual Assault
Updated: Aug 23, 2018
Since I was 18, I have struggled with Other specified feeding or eating disorder or OSFED.
It’s kind of a frustrating title, because it doesn’t sound serious and it’s a mouthful. It’s for people with an eating disorder who don’t fit the strict criteria of anorexia or bulimia. It’s kind of a grab bag of symptoms and behaviors. But in reality, most people with an eating disorder fall into the OSFED category. And developing an eating disorder after a sexual assault is actually incredibly common.
After being raped, I had lost control of my life. My self-image was shattered. I felt disgust towards my body and a need for a way to take ownership of myself again. I started eating less and banning any foods I didn’t deem “worthy” to be eaten. This left me with a diet of salad and eggs. Sometimes I would chew my food and spit it out and I became obsessed with working out and would feel anger with myself if I missed a day.
But I was never underweight. I lost weight. A lot of it. But I never recognized that I had an eating disorder. I still don’t fully recognize this. I was never dangerously thin and really everyone was just telling me how good I looked. I lost over thirty pounds in less than 6 months and went down 4 sizes. I had gone from a healthy BMI to a healthy BMI (on the cusp of underweight). What we need to understand is that you can have an eating disorder and not be underweight and you can have a "healthy" BMI and still be struggling.
The summer after my freshman year, I went to my doctor for a hip injury after working out for hours a day throughout that school year. I was in significant pain and could barely walk and even sitting was painful. I had torn my body apart from running mile after mile. To go to a hip specialist, I needed to see my primary care doctor first for a referral. When I went to my primary care doctor I had to get weighed. This is customary at ALL doctor
appointments in the US. Even if you are just going in for a sore throat. My weight loss was on display for all to see and my doctor complimented me. There I was with an overuse injury and I had lost over 30 pounds since I had seen my doctor just 10 months prior for my college physical. It was so clear that something wasn’t right, but she only complimented me. My weight loss was to be celebrated. If I had weighed just a little less, if we didn’t celebrate weight loss so strongly in this society and view it as always healthy, if my doctor had made the connection that any doctor should make- that I had lost a significant amount of weight and was clearly over exercising- I could have gotten help so much sooner.
If she had asked me about my weight loss, if she had asked me about college and my life, if she had asked me about my exercise habits- things could have been so different. Yes, I may have denied that anything was wrong, but who knows. But there I was at the doctors, clearly a part of me wanted to help myself, I just needed someone to care enough to notice this.
I did eventually see the hip specialist and I panicked during the exam. Getting my hip and thigh touched was too much for me. I disclosed to him that I had been at a party and “something had happened.” He immediately knew what I was talking about. He said that he would look into resources to help me and would call me with what he found out. He said, “I’ll help you get through this.” He never called me. I called his office maybe 3 or 4 times, desperate for help. On the last time I called, he spoke to me briefly and said he was leaving the practice so he couldn’t be my doctor anymore. No mention of what I had disclosed or his promise. I felt so stupid for trusting him and believing help was in sight. But that’s nothing to do with my eating disorder….just an example of people not helping when I was in the throes of depression and feeling suicidal.
During my sophomore year of college, I wrote a paper for one of my classes and it was
about my eating habits. I described my relationship with food and my feelings about my body. I got an A on the paper and the professor never said a word to me. I was begging for help and it was so so obvious. Sometimes it may not be so obvious. Why are we not helping each other even when it’s so obvious?
I still struggle with food and exercise.There are times when being hungry still makes me feel in control and gives me comfort. I still struggle with food restriction and making myself spit out my food. Chewing food and spitting it out is not widely recognized as part of eating disorders, but can be incredibly dangerous.
I go through cycles with working out. It’s hard for me to start working out and to not go into dangerous territory, but I genuinely love to work out, so it’s something I work on with my therapist. Therapy, meeting with a nutritionist, and working on the underlying causes for my eating disorder have been so key to my recovery.
If you are struggling, help is available. You are more than your disorder. I got help and I am so grateful for it. You can beat this.
I hope that by sharing my struggles I can help someone to get help with their own eating disorder and I hope I can help teachers and allies to recognize their role in helping sufferers towards recovery.
If you think someone has an eating disorder or you are personally struggling, please look into the resources I have provided or do your own research. I also have more resources on my resources page.
Here is a great list of resources, information, and a helpline from the National Eating
Disorders Association (NEDA). If you are in the US, you can call their number- (800) 931-2237 or instant message with a trained volunteer.
For people In the UK, here is a website with information and helpline numbers!
If you are looking for ways to help a friend or loved one, here are some tips for how to help people with eating disorders.
If you are a teacher, you have duty to speak up and help your students. Don’t be like my college professor. Here are some tips for helping your students.
Remember, you are more than a symptom or a disease.
Thanks for reading,