No more secrets

Lying and keeping secrets are second nature to people with eating disorders. I don't really think of myself as a dishonest person, but when I am into my eating disorder, I feel compelled to lie, cheat, hide, and cover things up. A lot of this covering up has to do with protecting the eating disorder--the real problem isn't that I'm hiding food, the real problem is that everyone is watching me eat--but sometimes I don't come clean even after the fact.

And it's that not coming clean otherwise that really cuts to the core of who I am. The reason I keep some things secret is really rather simple: shame. I am ashamed that I have done XYZ. I am ashamed that I screwed up. I am ashamed I lied. So I lie again, rather than face the facts. It's easier--and I don't have to look or feel "less than."

This works in the short term--the very very short term--but in the long run, I just get more and more mired in the eating disorder. So I keep on lying until even I'm no longer sure what's reality and what's the nice little PR spin I've tried to put on my latest fiasco. This, of course, doesn't do me or anyone else any good at all.

In order to stop doing this, I've had to acknowledge two major things:

  1. I'm not perfect

  2. It is a big deal
Despite my epic perfectionism, I find it just as hard to deal with the second of these, probably because I have to crack through a pretty thick layer of self-delusion. I know I'm not perfect- in fact, I'm painfully aware of that. My perfectionism is more based on the twin facts of not wanting to hate myself for not being perfect and not wanting others to see just how really flawed I am. But I digress.

I believed for years that one skipped snack, one missed exchange, was really no big deal. I thought I was even dealing with issue #1 because I was being gentle with myself for screwing up. Which, like, ha! I was deliberately interpreting the statement of "Don't be so hard on yourself, Carrie" with "My snack is hard today, therefore I will skip and not be hard on myself." When I started going to the gym several times each day, I didn't really think it was worth mentioning because it wasn't that big of a deal, really. Or when I started skipping breakfast. It was just once, it's no big deal. But the next day breakfast rolled around again, and I was paralyzed by the guilt of needing to eat today what I didn't eat yesterday. So I skipped breakfast again. It still wasn't a big deal, right?

I've had to learn the hard way that one slip really is a big deal because it can so easily become one. I hate having to say "Mom, I, uh, threw away my snack last week," because it's super embarrassing, it lets on just how seriously flawed I am, and I also feel like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill (a skill for which I am legendary). I don't think I will stop hating having to say this, and so there is really only one logical solution: no more secrets.

I can't keep omitting things to TNT or my family because I'm afraid of looking "less than" or because I don't think it's a big deal. I can't keep up the ridiculous hubris that I will be able to handle it on my own, that I'm fine, that no one needs to know when things go pear-shaped. I would like to be able to handle it on my own, but the fact is that when recovering from an eating disorder, I need all the help I can get. Maybe I can handle it on my own, but maybe I can't. The worst that happens if I can is that I have a lot of people on my side; if I can't, well, let's not go there.

It's hard for me to change like this, to admit I need help sometimes, to admit I screwed up, to admit that the eating disorder might once again have gotten the upper hand. That doesn't make it any less necessary, though. So I can only reaffirm this: no more secrets.

posted under , , |


James Clayton said...

You've summed up the malign dishonesty and secrecy of eating disorders so well.

That's a really empowering thing to read when the nasty voice is scratching away and trying to derail you, so thanks Carrie.

Honesty is never a failure with eating disorders. Anorexia despises honesty and distorts truth to the detriment of yourself and the world around. The fact it makes you hate yourself for opening up and being honest shows that.

I've only ever managed to make inroads against eating disorders by being honest. It's always the secrecy of the eating disorder that acts as an obstacle to progress. That's ultimately a crucial part of why I talk about it, blog and express myself. It wants you to hold it tightly and have control all to itself. What goes unsaid lingers and doesn't get dealt wth.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is honesty always triumphs. Don't hate yourself for telling the truth, for 'the truth shall set you free...'

Melissa said...

I agree with your conclusion - and with James: honesty sets you free.

I lied about every aspect of my eating disorder - and life - for years, and not only did it allow the eating disorder to persist; but it undermined all of my belief in my self - making the eating disorder more necessary and powerful.

Now, I find it hard to lie. I know that the lie is only to myself - and that the truth, whilst far more uncomfortable, is better owned and managed, rather than avoided and disguised...

Thank you for reminding me of this. xx

Cathy (UK) said...

I always admire your honesty Carrie...

During the first few (teenage) years of my AN I told some real porkies about what I ate. I fabricated weight gain at my weekly weigh-in. At the time I didn't really think about what I was doing or why I was doing it; it just sort of happened in a mad panic.

The paediatrician who was caring for me knew precisely what I was doing and challenged me. When I thought about it carefully, the reason why I told ED lies was because I was absolutely terrified of being hospitalised and force-fed by NG tube. In addition, I was terrified of changing and trying to cope without AN.

I don't see any of this in the context of shame. My AN was an illness that I hung on to desperately because I was scared of the alternative. I didn't feel able to cope in the real world. It was much easier to fill my life with food rituals and routines that kept me occupied and gave my life a false sense of 'meaning'.

I am a perfectionist - in the sense that if I take on a task I want to do it the best I can. Mistakes and imperfections stress me. If I clean the kitchen floor I feel tense if I accidentally miss removing a crumb from a corner of the room. Interestingly, my perfectionism has never meant that I desire perfection in myself or my body. I cannot imagine what personal perfection would look or feel like.

The point at which I knew I was well on the way to recovery was when I actually wanted to ensure I stuck to my meal plan and maintained my weight, rather than doing it to satisfy others. Furthermore, my desire to recover occurred when I was referred to a psychiatrist/therapist who helped me 'get to the root cause' of my AN. This psychiatrist weighed me every week, but after the weigh in there was no more talk of weight or food. For me that was really helpful.

Kushika said...

I sometimes find it easier to lie to family and friends because I do not wish to worry them, not because I am ashamed. In essence, I entered treatment for them, not for myself. It is only once I realised that I need to do this for myself that I was really on the right track, although a lot of the time I still find myself doing things to please others.

However, I agree wholeheartedly with what James has said about being honest. Throughout my OP stay, I did not openly admit to behaviours most of the time, but when asked I would never lie. I also found it futile to cheat on my weigh-ins, and so I did not after I realised I would eventually be found out.

A major part of recovery is being more honest and not lying. But, in my view, the next step is telling the truth when you are staying silent (such as admitting things are going wrong instead of keeping quiet and dismissing things).

Abby said...

I'm not dishonest in any area of my life except this one. I have to let go, but that means letting go of control.
You summed it up--secrets keep you sick.

Edna said...

Oh how this resonated!

I've just begun the process of being honest and opening up to a few people about what is really going on as I seek to recover. And it is freeing.

Yet it is still oh so scary. Tonight I had the opportunity to tell 2 other dear friends. I am godmother to one of their children. I know they love me and will not think any less of me. But in response to their genuine, gentle concern about my weight loss I just laughed it off.

ED win :(

Anonymous said...

I feel like I could have written this post myself. I guess all of us who have/had eating disorders do the same thing. I lied to my friends and family for years to try to hide what I was doing (of course, they figured it out anyway). Not only that, but I lied to myself too. In the beginning I convinced myself that what I was doing wasn't dangerous and that it was okay to skip meals, cut back on calories, etc. As time went on and I got worse, I became EXHAUSTED from lying all the time. Actually, it was all the lying that made me decide that I wanted help. I was tired of lying to myself and the people who cared about me.

I realize now that when I relapsed last year I was lying again. I actually convinced myself that I lost weight again on accident and that I just slipped. It's not true, deep down I knew that my efforts to "eat healthier and exercise more" were jut the beginning of more disordered behavior.

Thank you for hsaring this. As always, it's nice to see that others can relate and that I am not alone.

Anonymous said...

Well crap. Way to be timely. I have a dietitian appointment and I haven't written several days' worth of food diary because of the shame over what I ate. Now I am more conflicted about not being upfront about this. That is probably a good thing, but it doesn't feel great right now.

Anonymous said...

there recently came a point in my own recovery where i finally think i met my quota on lying, on hiding, and on portraying things as great and well. dishonesty was so second nature for me for SO long that i finally cannot do it anymore.

so timely of a post as i JUST blogged about my shamefulness and self-hate from my past in a letter to my mom...if i could only give it to her...

Carrie Arnold said...


You're right- at certain times in my disorder, the lying was very much a fear-based response of avoiding IP treatment. And the shame I was talking of wasn't so much the shame of being sick and having AN as much as it was a shame that I wasn't recovering as well as everyone wanted me to.

My weight is still monitored, and I'm actually rather okay with that (it helps allieviate the fears that I will keep on gaining, and it allieviates everyone else's fears that I will start losing, wonder who's being rational about this... ;) because TNT treats it as a data point, some information, and nothing more.


You bring up another great point: that some of the lying was so that people wouldn't worry about me. It's tied up in the perfectionism aspect, partly, because I feel people shouldn't have to worry about me. It makes me feel uncomfortable and very, very flawed. And I think that in and of itself is worthy of its own blog post.

Everyone else,

Thank you so much for your comments- it's nice to know I'm not alone in dealing with this!

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

I've always thought I was an honest person, and I have always tried to be honest with my doctor about my ED thoughts and behaviors.

But ... I think about the times when I've said I've eaten (sure I have - about three grains of rice; that's eating, right?) or thrown away food my husband has made for me but never said anything (oh, I am too full for dinner; I had a late lunch, blah blah, blah) or refused dinner (I'm not hungry, right? Then I'm lying to him and myself; there are times I am hungry and I deny it, and then the feeling disappears.)

I've done because I sometimes don't want to have to gain weight, and sometimes I don't want to worry and/or bother people.

It hurts to look at myself, having thought of myself as an honest person, and yet realize at least in this area I have been a liar.

I'm trying to no longer keep secrets, but it's hard when someone asks how much do you weigh or how much do you eat each day. Then I want to lie, even if it's to a stranger who's opinion I don't even really care about. It's because I'm ashamed at times to admit I'm sick and need help.

Kim said...

Yep, anorexia made me really secretive and downright dishonest. It is liberating to just admit to things. Secrets have so much power. I relate so much to the "It IS a big deal" truth. I still try to dismiss this one. I don't want to have to say I'm struggling. I feel like that will let down loved ones, that then I'll be a failure at recovery, etc. But, smiling through it, falsely, is what allows the illness to fester.

Cathy (UK) said...

Thanks for the feedback Carrie. My psychiatrist/therapist monitors my weight too. I'm now glad about that because I don't have scales at home and am inclined to eat insufficiently even when adhering to a plan.

I don't think that anyone with an ED should EVER feel ashamed that they're not progressing as quickly as others may hope. Weight may change quite quickly, but it takes a long time for the maladapted brain to normalise. I'm 4 yrs into recovery and the mental changes have been painfully slow.

Anonymous said...

Your posts continue to inspire me to at least try to be a better person - not *the best*, but healthier, happier, more honest and more passionate. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Leaving behind both the lying and the shame is so hard but soooo worth it. This is a great description of the process.

Mindy said...

This post definitely encouraged me. I am doing very well in recovery and because of this, my therapist and I have trying to incorporate exercise into my life again...
and it's been really hard. I am really struggling with it, much to my dissapointment, but have been too scared to tell my therapist that I'm "failing" in this area and unfortunately seemed to have gone over the edge a bit again. This post has really encouraged me to somehow BE HONEST with her next week, even if it's uncomfortable. So thank you :)

Carrie Arnold said...

Anonymous (both of you!)

Thanks for your kindness and your sharing.


Good for you for sharing your struggle. Exercise is a tough issue, and I wish you well.

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping we are all able to keep things in perspective and manage to stay living in the real world. No more secrets, no more lies, no avoiding, no disguise. Good luck and keep strength on those bad this new book:
Angel Just-Rights, Rebecca Parker
ISBN 9781849914000
You are NEVER ALONE xxx

Abigail Gonzalez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

ED Bites on Facebook!

ED Bites is on Twitter!

Search ED Bites

About Me

My photo
I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

Drop me a line!

Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


Popular Posts


Recent Comments