By: Eva Romanoff
When I was nine years old, I asked my mother if I could buy a new sweatshirt. They were this new brand that were super soft, and each one was unique with a special design and color. My parents gave it to me for my birthday, but as my mom placed in my excited hands, she said that, while it was a very cute sweatshirt, she didn’t think it was like my style had been in the past. The next day at school, my friends and I all obsessed over our new sweatshirts, until a week later when a girl bought a new type of backpack. Then I wanted that. I didn’t particularly like the bag, but I began to think, if my friends all liked it, then they wouldn’t like my bag if it was different, and therefore wouldn’t like me. A perpetual system of self-doubt and comparison began to form. At twelve years old, my friends began to diet. I had worried about eating certain foods in the past, but I had never followed a strict meal plan. When my friend group at school began to diet together, I assumed I should join in, because what if they resented me for eating “junk” food in front of them while they were eating “healthy” food? At thirteen, when my friends began to work out intensely, my actions immediately followed theirs. What if their bodies began to change and mine didn’t, what if I stood out too much? My eating disorder, the loudest voice in my head, was shouting that I should follow the other people in my life.
For me, my anorexia focused my thoughts on my general body shape and appearance rather than specific weight and numbers. Instead of counting calories or weighing myself, I placed my life on a different scale, those of my peers. If my friend dressed a certain way, I mimicked her style. If my sister cut her hair, I scheduled an appointment at the salon immediately. If my friend talked to a boy with a certain attitude, I needed to talk to a boy and use the same attitude. I needed to be the best, the first, the most accurate. I placed myself on a metaphorical scale of self-worth and comparison rather than pounds. I was able to deceive myself, convincing my brain that these weren’t connected to my eating disorder, that these thoughts were normal and consistent with teenage life. Unfortunately, I was very wrong. Without realizing, my eating disorder voice crawled into my common sense, and they morphed together to sway me against my values. My goal had always been to be my individual self and to hold true to my values, yet my brain was telling me that acting and looking exactly like my friends were my values. The scale that my eating disorder forced me onto wasn’t just about weight or appearance, but included weighing my intelligence, my emotions, my athleticism, and my personality against the people around me.
When I went into residential treatment at fourteen, we did a group activity about two months into my stay. We gathered around a scale, wrote the cruel things that our eating disorder told us on the plastic in a big sharpie, and then took hammers and smashed the scale until it was screws and broken pieces. My therapist called it “scale bashing” and it was a way for us to visibly take power away from our eating disorders and the pressure to be a certain weight. I had a difficult time with this exercise though, because what if my central problem wasn’t my weight? What if it was the weight of my values? How did I bash that scale? I grappled with this for months, even after I was discharged at a much healthier place, and especially when I was reintegrated into school and my social life. My eating disorder voice and my healthy voice were separated, and my healthy voice was winning each daily battle. Yet the squeaks of my eating disorder that I still heard were centered around comparison. It wasn’t about being the funniest in the world, but simply the funniest in my friend group. It wasn’t about being the smartest girl in the school, but just in my grade. My obsessiveness around food was gone, yet here lingered these thoughts of comparison. After dealing with these ideas for the better part of my freshman year of high school, I realized that my eating disorder hadn’t morphed into a new disorder, but rather the core of it remained. It was like an apple; the skin and flesh of the fruit were about food, weight, and appearance, but the core was based on my position within a larger group of people. This isn’t how everyone experiences their eating disorder, but for me, the revelation that it hadn’t been about food was life changing. I didn’t need to bash a real scale, as much as a needed to bash the scale of my self worth. What I began to understand was a simple concept that I had never previously grasped; respect for oneself cannot and should not be based on other people’s life and actions. It should be based on your own perspectives of the world and your own opinions. My experiences are what should shape my values, not my friends experiences. This shift in thinking was my first step to understanding the personal scale I had built for myself. I didn’t need to ‘fix’ myself, I needed to change my focus from my friend’s opinions to my own.
When I realized this was the root of my eating disorder, I began to look at the larger picture. Throughout my life, I was raised with the same set of children surrounding me. My best friends, my sister, my classmates and my acquaintances. I had spent the last fourteen years of my life with these people, and we had essentially raised each other. How was I supposed to find my own voice when the people I loved seemed to be expressing kind and helpful things as well? Why did I need to have my own values when my friends believed in kindness and acceptance too? I grew to understand that my friends and family could have good values that I related to, and they could guide me in my own journey, but the end result had to be discovered on my own. I couldn’t blindly follow others opinions just because, I had to analyze the purpose of my perspectives before I could connect them to myself. Through discovering my own thoughts independent of others, I am able to engage more fully in vibrant discussions, and hold true to my own personality, something that was previously hidden beneath the scales of my eating disorder.
About the Author: Eva resides in New York City. Eva is a high school student who works with other teenagers to instill a sense of hope regarding the possibility of full recovery, as well as what that means and what that looks like in a teenager’s life. At Project HEAL, Eva is dedicated to providing others with a sense of community and security throughout the process of recovery, spread education and awareness to fellow high school students, rand to promote a healthy lifestyle that allows everyone to discover their true selves and purpose. She is passionate about horse back riding, learning about history, and spending time with friends and family. Eva’s favorite ice cream flavor is coffee ice cream with chocolate chips and caramel sauce.