I thought I knew what it looked like. I had seen the Lifetime movies and heard the rumors about my high school classmates who had spent time at an inpatient facility for their struggles. It seemed easy to recognize and it felt like a far cry from anything I would ever experience.
Then at twenty-one years old, I was that girl who had an eating disorder—only it didn't look like I expected. I lost a noticeable amount of weight rapidly, but I wasn't underweight according to the chart at the doctor's office. My hair was falling out, but I still had my period. I never went an entire day without eating, although my meals had been whittled down so that what once was considered a snack now paraded as my dinner. I never made myself get sick, but I exercised excessively.
While serving in my student ministry job, I was overwhelmingly exhausted from malnourishment, increased anxiety, and culminating depression. My brain was fuzzy and my thinking was consumed with numbers—the number of calories I had consumed over the past 48 hours, the minutes until I would eat again, the level of exercise that I would require of myself in order to "undo" my lunch, and then there was the number of ever-growing items on the list of my forbidden foods.
In the beginning of my disorder, friends told me I looked great, and they were in awe of my weight loss. Their praises soon diminished, though, and they were replaced with sincere concern. My hope that someone might comment on my slim figure was exchanged with a fear that someone might point out how pale and emaciated I had become.1