If you've never had an eating disorder, there's likely one pervasive image that pops into your mind when you hear those words: a young, white, extremely thin woman. It's not a shock that that's what you'd imagine — it's almost the only depiction of eating disorders (namely, anorexia) that movies and television have shown us.
But not everyone with an eating disorder looks like that. In fact, many people who struggle with the illness aren't thin at all. Which is why fitness blogger Carissa Seligman wanted to share her own story of disordered eating, PopSugar reports.
She posted two photos side-by-side on Instagram yesterday, one taken in 2005 when she was larger and one from the present day. Even though she looked to be a healthy weight in the first photo, Seligman revealed that she had been struggling with disordered eating for more than a year when that picture was taken.
"The girl with the eating disorder isn't always the one who looks 'scary skinny,'" she wrote. "In fact, she may not even be the thinnest in the room. But what you see on the outside doesn't always translate to what is going on inside."
Seligman went through about a four month period during which she survived "solely on caffeine and crackers," she wrote. After that, she couldn't stop eating.
"I felt awful. None of the things that spurred my starvation period had been solved, discovered, or discussed and I began to use food to fill a hole," she wrote. "So not only was I unhappy without really knowing it, BUT I was gaining weight which at the time was my worst nightmare. And I was doing anything I could to lose it again."
It wasn't until 2016, 11 years later, that Seligman started to develop a healthy relationship with food and eating. In the years prior, she kept trying to get back to the weight she was during the four months when she was eating nothing but crackers.
She credits a shift in her mental health as part of the reason she was finally able to stop working toward that goal. Realizing that she was good at her job boosted her self-worth, and she was finally able to feel happier.
"I got back to moving, getting stronger, & feeling better. Food became an ally in my life," she wrote. "Self love is WORK. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can't. There's no quick fix or simple solution. The inside has to be good before the outside will be anything you can love."
Part of the reason it took Seligman so long to get help, she tells Refinery29, is because she didn't look like the girl who is supposed to have an eating disorder.
"I refused to get help for my problems with food and my body for a LONG time because I did not 'look' like I had an eating disorder," she says. "Seeing the photo I shared of myself at 17, brought me right back to that time in my life. I finally realized that my issues with food were actually worse when I was at a 'healthy' weight."
For those who may be struggling with a similar feeling, she wants you to know that, "what you are struggling with is just as significant as any other eating disorder. If you don't feel comfortable with food; if you don't feel comfortable with your body, you can talk to someone about that. You can get help."
Of course, this is only one woman's experience, and the way Seligman experienced and worked through her eating disorder won't be the same for everyone — just like how the picture of an emaciated white woman does represent some people's anorexia stories, but is by no means a representation of them all.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
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