My name is Jacalyn Kai Webster, and I had an eating disorder for 8 years. I’ve been a leader, a teacher, a performer, a musician, a writer, an artist, a world traveler, a mentor, a recipe developer, and a blogger—all while another part of me only knew life as an anorexic and later on, a bulimic. On the outside, I maintained an image of pretty, poised, perfect, positive. And inside, many dark, mixed up, confusing, and ugly things swarmed. It is quite a chemical process, what is happening in your brain and what signals are being sent throughout your whole body. An eating disorder is just as physical as it is psychological.
From when I was 12 years old until 20 years old, I suffered internally to an extent that I will not attempt to describe here, which created lasting and damaging effects. See, an eating disorder causes one to split. You don’t trust yourself, you don’t understand yourself, you can’t recognize your own thoughts, and your reality becomes utterly distorted. Even after recovery, that kind of split can take on new forms: dissociation, mania, and depression are all words I have grown far too familiar with over time.
I kept my eating disorder a secret from most people in my life for several reasons, one being that I simply could not believe it was happening to me. No one wants an eating disorder. It is not a choice, but a product of many things that can be different for each person. Because of this, I will not generalize other than saying brain chemistry, evolutionary-encoded coping mechanisms, and exterior world-complexities can all be contributing factors. Another reason I didn’t want people to know is because I thought I was “above that.” I didn’t want to be a statistic, another young girl fallen victim to society’s pressures, preoccupied with something as trivial as weight. I thought I was too special to be one of them. Let me pause here and say very clearly, eating disorders are not just about weight. At a constant height of 5’1”, my weight would fluctuate up and down by over 50lbs throughout my eating disorder years. No number corresponds with peace or fulfillment. And no number equals whole body health. What caused, continued, and transformed my eating disorders was far beyond appearance, and took years of relentless effort to put words to and “solve.” I say that wearily, because sometimes you discover that your problem is not really a problem at all, but a very facet of your own nature or wiring, and that you have to literally rewrite how you go about being yourself. You have to make a strategic plan not only to live, but to thrive as well.
I went vegan in high school and started a plant based nutrition website to show people how to be healthy. Yes, it was a mask. I was and forever will be vegan for ethical and environmental obligations, but being vegan is not synonymous with being healthy. Eating “healthy” food doesn’t even equate health. Anorexia and bulimia have just as much to do with what you are eating as they do with how you are behaving, and even more significantly, what your inner dialogue is like throughout the process. My blog was an outlet for me to keep painting a pretty picture of my life, but it was also a hope for what I actually wanted my life to be and feel like in reality. Some of the stories I have written on the blog, ones that have been loved by friends and have even made it into books and won awards, were being typed during a binge, and published after a purge. Through pain comes art.
So how did my eating disorder stop? Honestly, I don’t know. It didn’t happen overnight or with some big revelation—trust me, I tried that many, many times. That being said, what I do know is that the steps I took to be free were the hardest ones I’ve ever taken because they required being honest, vulnerable, feeling reduced as a human, feeling weak, and asking for help—asking for a lot of help. I got so tired of hitting rock bottom, each time lower than before, and it got to the point where I quite literally couldn’t hide anymore. That was the first glimpse of freedom. By breaking down, speaking up, and allowing my eating disorder to not be a secret, I took away its power and asserted the voice that was fighting for Good. I asked people who I could trust, not to help or even understand, but to simply see me, to know, and I hoped that they would love me despite my ugliness. And they did.
I let myself slow down, change directions, and take a break from being the me I had devoted years to perfecting. I knew that how I was living and treating myself up to that point was not sustainable, and I knew I had a heck of a lot more goals to accomplish in the future. During that time, another step in healing was jumping off of my holistic high horse enough to see the naturalistic fallacies I had given into. I had to acknowledge that no amount of good vibes, kale, and sunshine would cure all mental illness, nor make “pure” the darkness I saw in the world and in myself. I gave myself space to seek treatment, and to give the patience and acceptance necessary to make this treatment a part of my daily life.
So, why am I sharing this story? Because for me, to truly make peace with my past selves and to claim this voice of recovery writing right now, I have to remove the veil that anorexia and bulimia were hiding under. I have to acknowledge that they were a fundamental part of my life for many years, and despite their control, I kept going. I have to honor the part of me that kept going and found a way out. But the main reason I am writing this is because it is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and I know I am not unique in suffering. I have my own story with my own combination of causes, factors, and experiences, but I know I am not alone in being inhabited by such a manifestation of self-sabotaging darkness. Speaking out gives voice to the light. And we all—no matter how many layers cover it or opposing identities constrict it from view, we all harbor that light.
I started counting stretches of good days. 4 days. 10 days. 25 days. Back down to 0…start again. I am now at 486 good days—almost a year and a half. Of course, progress is something to celebrate and I am proud of who I am and what my life has been amidst it all, but I am writing this for those of you who are still silent. Trade your pride in for courage, and get help. You won’t find all of the answers, and life won’t suddenly become easier, but you can find a way to live that is kind, that is real, and that is for the good of you.