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February 13, 2024

Life Beyond the Disorder

Life Beyond the Disorder

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

Katie Mazzarelli (she/her) is a 23-year-old Registered Nurse who battled anorexia nervosa in her final years of college. With a little bit of hope and a whole lot of support, she seeks to motivate and inspire those struggling with the promise that there is a life worth fighting for beyond the disorder.

In June 2020, I was sitting in a dark, desolate waiting room next to my mom when I received the news from my doctor that I had been diagnosed with anorexia and should enter inpatient hospital treatment.

Before anorexia, I was confident in my future. I was a sophomore in college pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing; I was in a leadership program and a member of various extracurricular activities. My friends and family members would have described me as “always laughing,” “having everything under control,” and “looking to bring positivity to others.”

Sitting in this room, hearing these words from my doctor, I was someone who never smiled, isolated herself, and was completely out of control as I suffered from a vicious eating disorder that begged me to abandon my identity. I was left with a whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty about my future. My mom was quickly whisked away to assist in developing a meal plan for my hospital stay, and I was left alone with a decision to make. I could reject these words and return home to my “in-control life,” which was very much out of control. On the other hand, I could accept the help that I so desperately needed. I called my dad, who, with a tearful voice said, “Katie, please do this for us.” While the eating disorder may have overtaken my brain, at that moment, my heart won the battle, and I agreed to be admitted.

Facing the Consequences

At first it was easy to pretend that I didn’t have a serious illness. It was harder once lab results and medical tests signaled that I had done potentially irreversible damage to my body systems. Over the course of my hospital stay, as I began refeeding, I began to grapple with the consequences of my illness. There were my parents who cried as my cardiac monitor loudly alarmed nurses about my weakening heart.  There were my friends who suffered through text message updates about my health condition, uncertain when I’d be coming home. There were my siblings, who were forced to step up in a situation they never asked to be in. During my stay, I found the strength to recognize that I had a choice. I could give myself a fighting chance and follow through with my treatment plan, or I could hand over my life to the illness. Upon stepping out of the hospital, I made the choice that I would fight. No matter what it took, I decided that I would not succumb to my eating disorder.

The Cloud Slowly Lifts

I would be lying if I said the road after this decision was easy. There were many moments when giving up felt like the easiest and most painless option. However, behind the countless blind weigh-ins, therapy sessions, dietitian meetings, and doctor appointments was a young girl who dreamed of graduating college, becoming a nurse, pursuing her dreams, and who wanted nothing more than to say, “I beat it.” When battling an eating disorder, these aspirations become clouded by the eating disorder “voice” that relentlessly bullies, shames, and convinces you that your greatest achievement will only ever be the number on the scale. However, with each bite, each word of support from others, and a lot of resilience, this cloud slowly lifts, revealing the abundance of opportunity that life has to offer.

Never Turning Back

I am no longer defined by my eating disorder, the weight on the scale, or the image in the mirror. In the midst of my eating disorder, I did not realize that every effort to shrink myself only shrunk my identity. My decision to fight helped me regain control, walk across the graduation stage, become a nurse, and enjoy the gifts that life has to offer. While this choice took courage and many agonizing emotions, I would never turn back. To those who are currently struggling, I plead with you to consider life beyond the disorder that awaits you. You are so much more than how you look or how your mind makes you feel. You are someone’s child, a friend, a loved one, and you offer so much promise to the world around you. I urge you to consider the choice, and realize that while the battle may be hard, the outcome is rewarding. Life beyond the disorder does not have to be treatment programs, weigh-ins, and relapses. Keep fighting, keep making the choice, and know that you have the resilience to do so. The clouds will lift, life’s uncertainties will instead turn exciting, and the words “I beat it” will welcome you back to a life that is so worth living.

We want to hear your voice of recovery! If you are interested in participating in our Recovery Conversation series, please email blog@emilyprogram.com to learn more.

If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder, help is available. Reach out to The Emily Program today by calling 1-888-364-5977 or completing our online form.



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