“What started your eating disorder?” the doctor asked me as I sat in the cold examination room. I was in the process of being admitted to a residential center for anorexia nervosa at the ripe old age of 14. I did not have an answer to his question. “I don’t know,” I replied, anxiously staring at the scale and wondering if I would be put on bed rest, or worse.
The doctor didn’t like my answer. “Surely, something must have started it. Children don’t just stop eating for no reason.” I shrugged my bony shoulders. “Were you traumatized?” he asked. “Were you abused? Did your parents get divorced? Were you ever overweight?” The questions just kept pouring out of him, and all I could think about was how I could get out of eating the first meal I’d be forced to confront in treatment later that day.
The truth is, I still don’t know “what” caused my eating disorder. I know there are many factors, and perhaps something did pull the trigger, but in all honesty, I have no idea why I went from happily eating anything my mom put in front of me to truly believing I did not deserve to eat. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
Recovery does not require some profound knowledge of the cause for your eating disorder. Whether you battle an officially recognized eating disorder or something that lies on the spectrum of disordered eating, the cause of your behaviors is simply not relevant to your recovery. I know this opinion differs from many doctors, but I am speaking from personal experience.
Throughout my recovery journey, I pointed the blame at pretty much anything you can think of. Some of the blame made sense, others didn’t exactly fit, but in the end, the focus should be in the present rather than the distant past. I am 21 years old. Thinking back to more than 10 years ago will not help me move forward in my life today. I need to focus on what is working for my recovery now, and commit to doing that. I can’t afford to waste my energy pointing fingers at things that may or may not be relevant to my disorder.
Some people need to pinpoint one thing that started their eating disorder. If that helps you and you feel like it is necessary for you personally to recover, then that is fine. For me, and for many people, it is okay to never know the cause or causes of the war with ED. When I was in early recovery, I chose instead to identify the things in my current life that were keeping me sick. My treatment team focused on those few key pieces to the 1000 piece puzzle that is eating disorder recovery, and we worked our way up from there.
Now, I am at peace with my past. I couldn’t care less what started my anorexia; what matters is that I am now free. I didn’t need some magical answer to the infamous question in order to gain that freedom. I had to focus on the here and now and commit every day to regaining my life.
Looking back to the past will not free you from the demons you face today. As the saying goes, there is no gift like the present. My advice to you is to stop retracing your steps and start taking strides forward. You may be surprised by all the joys that come with letting go of the past and embracing the present, and committing to a future free from Ed.