Patients Share Stories of Recovery after Eating Disorders
They ate when they had to, but they mostly moved food around their plates.
They were defensive, not willing to talk about the eating disorders that they saw as a means to control their lives. But three women who faced eating disorders recovered.
Now on paths toward healthier lives, they’re trying to help others through support groups, organizations and social media, reminding anyone facing this difficult disease that there’s hope.
“The voice is still there, but I can ignore it more now, and I can see the difference in my life,” said Tiffany Schaefers, 37, of Mitchell. “That’s what I try to express to people who are still finding their way: you can do this. You have to see the other side.”
For Schaefers, her anorexia and alcoholism created a reality where her survival was in question. She strictly enforced unrealistic rules about her eating, such as only having five bites or only preparing boiled chicken.
She’s now on a better path.
“My family stopped me from riding horses, something I loved to do. I was too frail, and any fall could have killed me,” she said. “I ate meals with a photo of my niece next to the plate. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her if I could not overcome the disorder.”
Sioux Falls native Stephanie Klemann, 32, said that like many people who face eating disorders, she saw it as a coping mechanism.
“It started with small changes when I was in high school, and it was a way to cope with anxiety – it’s how I dealt with tough things,” she said. “It spiraled out of control and I felt miserable. My family helped me see the light: I needed help, but it took time to truly accept it.”
For Rhonda Van Donge of Sioux Center, Iowa, her eating disorder took the form of multi-hour daily exercise routines, isolation and a diet that wasn’t healthy.
“I would make my meals separately from my family’s meals, leaving meat out of mine,” said the 41-year-old mom. “It took a lot of tough love from friends for me to realize I was too skinny and that I was isolating myself. It took treatment for me to realize why I was doing it.”
Treatment experts often refer to the “eating disorder brain” which can create a false voice.
“Now I can hear that voice and I say ‘That’s stupid!’ Before it was impossible for me to disagree,” Van Donge said.
“When you’re recovering, you start to realize all the things you were missing in life, and you’re able to ignore the voice and recognize your true self,” Klemann said. “The myths that drove my disorder can be stopped.”
Among the guidance Van Donge offers those who face eating disorders – and the loved ones who face them alongside – is to realize the person you love and the disorder itself are both operating behind the scene.
“You’ll face the eating disorder when you’re trying to share your concern or reach out to the person who has one – but realize that and remember you’re fighting for the person,” she said. “It is difficult, but it can be done. It’s like any disease; you have to take care of it. I got my life back – and it’s so much better than it was.”
Screening tools like this can help those facing disorders - and their friends and family - get control over the conditions. You also can call 605-322-5890 for help.