As a woman who has recovered from an eating disorder (ED), I’m still afraid to remember that period of my life. Like several people who have had an eating disorder, my ED symptoms developed after I moved out from my parents’ home which was in 2016, during my junior year of my undergrad.
I remember social media was full of body shaming content for women. For example, having a lower weight or a fit body meant better self-control. At the same time, there are many social media challenges which can trigger someone with an ED. Ironically, those challenges are not only towards the female body weight but also her body shape. For example, there is a belief that if a woman is under 110 pounds, she must have small breasts and be short in height. Under this inaccurate assumption, at 19 years old I started to have a negative body image. I wanted to be skinnier to look better. I spent hours exercising every day and was on a very restrictive diet. I weighed myself every day in the morning to see if I lost weight. At night, I would touch my rib cage to ensure that I was as skinny as I would like to be. One day, after I had a satisfying lunch, the feeling of guilt lingered in my head: how dare I overeat? I have to get rid of the food! Suddenly, I was shocked by my strange thoughts and started to look up in google: is it normal to throw up after eating to prevent gaining weight? A peculiar subject showed up on my screen: purging disorder. At that moment, I knew something was wrong. I searched online to see if my thoughts and behaviors were normal to have everyday. The words eating disorders popped up on my screen.
I knew I was sick, but I don’t know how to get better. I was losing my hair, and my period disappeared. I felt like I was no longer a complete woman. Anxiety and depression filled up my whole being. I tried to eat more carbs, but the fear was holding me back. I did some research online and figured out that I might have eating disorder symptoms. I learned that EDs are mental illnesses, and I needed to reach out to professionals.
However, only 3 to 5 hospitals in China offer specialized treatment for eating disorders. They are all located in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. It’s hard to make appointments with these hospitals because of the lack of resources. Also, I didn’t know there were treatment centers since none existed in China back then. But I found some help online through social media through Weibo, a Chinese Twitter account. People with eating disorders posted their diaries online with hashtags. I followed many accounts where the owners had the same symptoms as me, like losing their periods or having anxiety. By reading their posts, I knew that I was not alone. Those strangers encourage each other online to fight eating disorders. Luckily, I followed one blogger who had been struggling with eating disorders for years. He would post a lot of research articles from other countries on his website. His content taught me the treatments that were used to help with eating disorders. I threw my weight scale out and tried my best to stop looking at my calorie intake. Also, I tried to spend more time on other things such as learning English and listening to music instead of working out. Little by little, I was getting better.
Today I am fully recovered from my eating disorder. I started my museum career, and my research is about how museum programs can benefit people with eating disorders. I would like people to know that if you are struggling with an ED, even though things may feel hopeless now, know that you’re not alone. You can recover from an eating disorder. You can win the battle! If you have family members or friends suffering from eating disorders, please try to understand them from their perspectives. Please try to provide them with more patience and time to heal.