Tara is honestly Free(ED)

Tara DeAngelis

I used to be called the “Pancake Monster” when I was a kid. Why? Because when I was two years old, I could devour five pancakes and still run around the house like the Energizer Bunny. Needless to say, I loved food... that is, until I was 10. Suddenly, my entire world flipped upside down. My body was changing and I didn’t know how to stop it, and suddenly, food became my sworn enemy. At 10 years old, I didn’t make the connection that cutting food would yield weight loss, I just knew it was something I could control. And, as an avid control freak, I liked this feeling of power.

Don’t be fooled, eating disorders are never that simple. I honestly don’t know why my brain began to change on me and prompt me to self-destruct. If anyone can figure out the inner workings of neuroscience and read minds, please contact me. But in all seriousness, as a little girl who suddenly hated food, I was headed down a dangerous path. What started as self-control turned to shame, and I vividly remember going out to dinner with my family and feeling guilt and shame with every bite of food I put in my innocent mouth. At that point, I started to feel the beginning of Ed’s dangerous grasp. It would only get worse from there.

By 14 years old, I was dangerously underweight, and I was absolutely miserable. I was barely eating anything and exercising in secret, lying to friends and family, and crying myself to sleep every night. I was in a lot of physical and emotional pain because my body was starving to death in a world where food was plentiful and money was not scarce. As the symptoms grew worse and I spiraled out of control, I realized I hit rock bottom. I chose to tell my parents, and that was the best decision I ever made.

My parents immediately took me to doctors and therapists to get a second opinion, because my health was so bad that they thought I had a serious medical problem. At first, my parents were slightly relieved that the verdict was anorexia (they worried I had cancer) but the dark reality of the situation hit them: they were still at risk of losing their 14-year-old daughter. That’s when I was sent off to my first residential treatment center.

I spent the next year in and out of hospitals. I came close to death countless times between the eating disorder and depression and barely made it through my freshman year of high school. I cried at my dance recital that spring because just a couple months before that I was told I wouldn’t be able to dance due to being so sick; after staring death in the face earlier that year, I went into shock upon completing my first performance because I couldn’t believe I made it.

Dance is the first thing that kept me focused on recovery. I loved ballet more than I loved Ed (my eating disorder) and I fought hard every day to eat so I could dance. As I got older, I saw the effects my illness had on my family, and I fought even more intensely to recover so I wouldn’t cause so much fear and anxiety in my house. Ultimately, I fought for myself. I had lost so many relationships and opportunities due to anorexia, and I was determined to reclaim my life and regain my control. That’s right—what started out as a means of control nearly took everything from me. And I finally realized I wasn’t okay with that.

I committed to recovery and spent the next few years of my life combatting Ed. I woke up each morning half-dreading the day, but also somewhat excited to see what battles I would win before crawling back into bed that night. At first, the fight seemed impossible, but over time the battles grew monotonous and even became easier. Soon enough, Ed grew substantially weaker and lost his grip on me. After many years of tireless fighting, I finally earned my freedom.

Of course, I did not fight Ed alone. My parents sat with me through every meal and patiently coached me through when I didn’t feel like eating. They took me to and from therapy, and even participated in therapy with me. When my sword grew heavy, my parents picked it up and fought Ed for me. I knew I was never going to fight this battle alone, and I can’t put into words the impact my parents and their selfless love had on my recovery.

I also owe a lot to my therapist, Sarah Gibbs. From the day I walked into her office for the first time at 14 years old, I knew she would be the one to help me find the girl inside I lost so many years ago. Sarah patiently listened to my rants about why I would never give up my eating disorder, all the while knowing I would eventually come out victorious. Sarah is the reason why I am going to school to become a therapist, so I can be the “Sarah Gibbs” in another girl’s life. I still fight every day to stay in recovery so that I can save someone’s life like Sarah saved mine.

Looking back, I don’t know what form of treatment was the most helpful. Honestly, I have been through every type of eating disorder treatment possible, from inpatient hospitals to residential centers to day programs and outpatient therapy. I saw nutritionists; participated in DBT, ACT, CBT and countless other therapies; and attended group therapy, family therapy, and workshops. I really think that having such a wide variety of treatments gave me the giant toolbox that I have today, and the collective effort of all these experiences is what ultimately helped me get better.

The biggest piece of advice I could give to anyone struggling with an eating disorder is to be honest, and own your stubbornness. My honesty is what saved me from dying in a hospital—if I had waited another month to tell my parents, it would have been too dangerous for me to move and I would have had a feeding tube. My honesty is what kept me in check throughout my recovery journey. When I was doubtful that I wanted to move forward, I told Sarah the truth. When I threw out my lunch at school, I confessed it to my mom and she sat with me while I begrudgingly ate another snack. When I became suicidally depressed, I was honest with the day program therapist I saw that day, which provoked an intervention that ultimately saved my life. Honesty is truly the best policy in recovery.

However, honesty is nothing if you don’t pair it with good behavior. When I told my treatment team I was having doubts about recovery, they encouraged me to fight harder and give it another shot before giving up completely. I used my stubbornness to commit to recovery with 100% of my energy, and nothing would stop me from fighting hard to see if my treatment team was right (they were). Throughout all the relapses and moments of doubt, my stubbornness prompted me to fight again, push through the fear, and ultimately win.

If you are honest with your loved ones and treatment team, and if you hone in on your determination to reclaim your life, you too will become victorious over Ed. He has no power over you—he has simply convinced you that you need him and are too weak to give him up. You know what? That’s the dumbest lie I have ever heard. You are stronger than Ed, in fact, you are stronger than most people because most people never have to put up with Ed, and you deserve so much more than the crappy life Ed has fooled you into thinking you deserve. No more excuses; put on your battle gear, stare Ed into his beady eyes, and show that coward who is boss. You can, and will, win this war.

am living proof that life is better without Ed. I currently run a recovery blog called “Honestly Free[ed]” (check it out here: https://honestlyfree-ed.com/) which spreads a message of honesty and hope for eating disorder recovery. My blog has helped many people in their recovery from Ed, but it also keeps me in check and forces me to be diligent about my own recovery. I find it freeing to write about recovery and be this beacon of hope for others because it really fits with who I am. I have committed the rest of my life to spreading hope and awareness about eating disorder recovery and I am so thrilled to have the opportunity now to begin accomplishing my dream. I will not be silent until Ed is silent; I may have won the war inside my head, but I am determined to keep fighting to help other people overcome their demons, too. This is why will always choose recovery.