Living with Anorexia Nervosa – My Lessons, by Mina Roukbi

WARRIOR (noun): a person who shows or who has shown great vigor or courage; one who is centered or strong inside and out

ethical muse has often written that a true sustainable luxury is creating the time to take care of sustaining our mind, body and spirit. In support of that, two of our summer posts have highlighted the joys of clean eating and foraging through farmer’s markets in our quest to continue making healthy choices.

However, what happens when your greatest fear is food? 

Today we are sharing an honest and heart-wrenching viewpoint from Mina Roukbi, who at the age of 18 was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa . She is ethical muse’s #WARRIOR this week…

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My Lessons as an Anorexic

by Mina Roukbi

So listen to me when I tell you I have been there.

I have cut from my diet what our society has labelled as “bad.”

I have read countless books and articles to justify my restrictions and to “educate” myself on the horrors of sugar, dairy, processed foods, red meat, oh and God forbid, carbohydrates.

So trust me, just an apple the whole day does not keep the doctor away.

I have stripped my body of the nutrients it cried helplessly for.

I have done tea detox and juice cleanses.

Have spent two hours running on the treadmill burning off that day’s “mistakes.”

Have drowned my Instagram feed with posts of emaciated Victoria’s Secret models, striving to one day have a thigh gap big enough for someone to walk through…and a flat stomach.

I have kneeled in front of the toilet and stuck my fingers deep down into my throat leaving teardrops on the seat.

I have shrunk myself until all that was left was skin and bone.

A lifeless lost girl with her main concern behind how many calories she has eaten that day.

I have been from doctor to doctor, from hospital bed to hospital bed.

Have been force-fed my worst nightmare…..FOOD.

I have spent hours in the shower as my tears cleanse me and my hands search for those bones that would once protrude.

I am not your average dieter.

I HAVE AN EATING DISORDER.

This may sound extreme to you because most people can do what I did, deprive their bodies and be totally fine,

but me, I almost died.

For so long I wished I was normal like you so I could diet and shape my body into society’s perception of beautiful.

I got a lot of comments throughout my disorder about how I have such “willpower,” “such control,” ” I wish I could do that.”

Oh you are so mistaken.

Not taking a bite out of my own birthday cake or staying at home instead of eating out with my friends to avoid the unknowns was not control.

THAT WAS FEAR.

I WAS CRIPPLED BY FEAR.

I stood on the sidelines and watched my friends, my family, strangers, cooking contestants dive into foods I so desperately wanted, but was not allowed, as I sat there wide-eyed with drool trickling down my chin.

The thing you and I have in common is the fear.

WHAT IS DIFFERENT IS HOW WE REACT TO THAT FEAR.

You might punish yourself for a day or two, but me I could go on and on and on, day after month, after year.

We live in a society where we are so afraid of one of our basic needs.

Food rules swarm us from left, right and center, so much so that we give in and completely believe everything we are told.

STOP BEING AFRAID.

Dive into that last slice of cake and eat a jar of ice-cream with your friend who just got dumped.

Eat asparagus because you love asparagus.

Eat dessert everyday that you are on this planet.

Whatever it is, eat the things that you crave.

Your body is your home.

Since birth our bodies have endured everything with us.

Do not deprive your body of what it yearns for.

Deprivation is a cycle.

You don’t allow yourself, but it stays on your mind, nothing else satisfies the craving, so you say, “just one bite,” but then the next thing you know you have eaten twenty bites.

That is because when we limit ourselves, restrain ourselves, our bodies react.

So I ask you to be curious.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

LISTEN TO WHAT IT WANTS OR DOESN’T WANT.

THIS HAS BEEN SUCH AN IMPORTANT LESSON IN MY RECOVERY.

There is so much nonsense talk in the media and in our society in general about how certain foods change the way your body looks.

To be honest, that was my biggest challenge throughout my recovery.

At first, just like many of you out there I did not believe it.

But I ate foods that were scary to me, and that is how the trust developed.

If I eat a piece of molten chocolate cake tonight, when I wake up tomorrow morning I will look the exact same, and to take it further, my weight would have remained the same.

Cake, pizza, french fries, juice, cheese, vegetables, whatever it is, food does not change how your body looks.

SO PLEASE, PLEASE LISTEN TO ME WHEN I TELL YOU, I HAVE BEEN THERE

AND I NEVER WANT TO BE THERE AGAIN

And neither should you.

Mina, we know that the last year has had both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments. Are you able to share a few of these with us? This was the hardest year of my life. I can recall many days where I didn’t want to be alive. I did not want to recover during the first few months. This caused a lot of tension at home. A lot of fights broke out between my mom and me, and there was no trust between us whatsoever. There were definitely plenty of dark days, but there were sunny ones too. I had a lot of fun with my cousin Shido. He never fails to crack me up. A dance party would always breakout. He helped me uncover my love for food that I once had. Together we indulged in our favorite foods. Ice cream every night, and teriyaki from this tiny place down the road every Saturday night. The heartwarming moments definitely came more towards the end, once I was in a better place with my recovery.

Mina and Shido

Moving forward, what would you like to share with others who may be experiencing the same fear of food that you had? Life is way too short to be afraid of food. For those of you fighting an eating disorder out there, there is so much more to life, don’t let it take over. I remember in June this year,  I went for my final checkup with the doctor who saved my life and admitted me into the hospital. I was sitting in the waiting room where a scene so relatable to me unfolded before my eyes. This beautiful teenage girl was suffering from anorexia while her family tried to get her back on her feet again. The mom gave her a bar to eat and ordered her younger sister to watch her attentively to make sure she didn’t hide any. And of course she tried, and failed. And of course she examined the nutritional information on the back of the wrapper as her mind focused on the amount of calories she has just consumed. I had the strongest urge to go up to the poor mother and give her a big hug and tell her,”This is the hardest part. It gets better, I promise.” Another huge thing I want to say is about the brainwashing that occurs in the media. Do not waste your time striving for a photoshopped body. Do not believe everything you hear and see. Listen, I have been there. It is not glamorous to be sickly skinny looking. Strong is sexy. Be strong, be you. Do the things, and eat the things you enjoy. Life is way too short!

What kind of treatments are available for those with eating disorders? Please share your treatment regime. There are four main levels of treatments. The first of which is residential, and the most intensive.  Because my heart rate was so low, I had to do my residential treatment in the hospital. You are basically just force-fed. You are monitored at all times. No standing up, unless to go to the toilet. Your fluid intake is monitored. You have 15 minutes to eat snacks and 30 minutes to eat meals and if you don’t finish it in that time they will give you a supplement. And if you refuse the supplement they put a tube up your nose and that is how you get the nutrients. Yeah, not very glamorous. I remember I was there on Thanksgiving and I was bawling when they put a tray of mashed potatoes and turkey in front of me. Most of my meals at residential were full of tears.

After residential, you can go to a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).  There are many treatment centers throughout the US that offer PHP. Being in Seattle, I attended my first treatment center starting in December. My experience there was horrible. It felt like prison. It was 11 hours a day, including the weekends. I saw a therapist, a nutritionist, and a psychiatrist. I felt like I was in Orange is the New Black. There was drama between the other patients and constant planning of how to get out of things or where to hide food. Meals were very strange there. We would arrive to the table with our food already there and have two therapists eat with us. My therapist and I did not get along at all in this treatment centre. She kept telling me I was going to die. I ended up moving to this amazing center called Opal where I continued my time in PHP. It was a very different approach compared to the previous centre. Opal uses a very holistic approach to things. It was a very small group of women, just 12 of us. I was so overwhelmed on my first day. I walked in for breakfast and had to plate my own oatmeal. It took me a long time to actually want to recover. Meaning, I had to let go of my coping mechanism, my eating disorder. On February 22nd I decided I wanted to recover. I was fed up not living my life to its fullest potential. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided I would fight. Opal’s PHP is only 5 days a week, so they give us the weekend to practice what we learn and prepare us for the real world.

Next, you step down to Intensive Outpatient Program where you have a lot more freedom. You are only there for one meal a day, and a total of 15 hours a week. Finally, you step all the way down to Out Patient, where you simply meet with a dietitian and a therapist once a week. There are many different treatment options out there; not everyone goes to a treatment center. At the end of the day it is critical to get help, because for the longest time I thought I could get over anorexia on my own, but boy was I wrong. Don’t make that mistake. If you notice any disorder behaviors in yourself or in a close friend or family member, reach out and help.

As you return to University this year (congratulations!) what are you most looking forward to? Thank you! I am so looking forward to meeting new people and making friends. I want to make deep connections with people and have fun with them. I am ready to paint the District red with my best friend, Nayla, now that I have the strength and energy. Definitely excited to dive into the food scene in DC. Lastly, I am super pumped about my new major: women’s studies and writing. I have definitely found my passion through those months of treatment, so I am excited to learn, learn, learn!

We hear you are starting your own blog. Tell us more! I have found my passion for writing during my time in treatment and it has been a great way for me to process what I am feeling and thinking. I write a lot about body, love, sexuality, belonging, and depression. I want to share my experience and what I have learned with other people, but I want to do it through my writing. Through a lot of therapy, I have learned that I want to be heard. I want people to understand me and what I am thinking. So my hope is that my blog will allow me to finally be heard, loud and clear. Hopefully my blog will be up and running by this fall, so stay tuned!

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What has been the most important lesson that Mina Roukbi has learned about herself? Oh I have learned a lot about myself. I am more, so much more than just a body. Being more of an introvert is not a bad thing. I do not need to make people worry about me to get attention. And finally, my emotions are forever changing; one emotional state does not define me.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers? I just want to thank my mom for all she has done for me. She dropped her life to save mine. I love you mom. I owe you the world, my angel. My whole family, and of course my friends, have been so supportive through this time so I am forever grateful for them.

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Mina and her mom, Reem