Eating Disorders: It Takes One To Know One

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

It’s been said “It takes one to know one.” I now see this concept repeated in my life.

The first occurrence? Well, that was at the apex of my anorexic condition. I was a college freshman, hell-bent on distancing myself from my teenage overweight body as possible. Hence, the serious restriction of calories, interspersed with starvation periods and excessive exercise (up to six hours a day).

My freshman year, therefore, found me whittling to smaller weights. To those unfamiliar of my former self, I was only seen as thin. But, to those who knew me “way back when?” Well, I couldn’t quite convince them everything was okay.

Carrie (not her real name) attended both the same high school and now the same college as I did; she was also a recovering anorexic. As I started the year, she was keenly interested in my changed appearance. It started out casual; she remarked about my weight loss. However, by spring, I was at a disturbingly low weight- and that’s when she pounced.

During that term, we took the same world history course and Carrie pulled me aside one day after class. She, once again, remarked about my weight loss. And then she revealed her battle with anorexia and expressed concerned that I was veering down the same path.

I was “caught,” but, as eating disorder sufferers are often prone to do, I told her I was “fine.” No, of course, I was not anorexic. My racing mind panicked, “Don’t be ridiculous! That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me.” But Carrie read my mail.

Once I extricated myself from that encounter, I thought I had fooled everyone.


Cut to the middle of that following summer. Carrie and I both came from a small town; it wasn’t unheard of for us to run into each other. Both of us were living at home until the fall term started. And, because there was only one major shopping mall in our small town locale, this was the meeting place of yet another “It takes one to know one” encounter.

Because of my already intense eating disorder behaviors, I tried to occupy my mind with anything I could think of. One of my latest “answers” was crafting.

Yes, that’s right, I said crafting.

I guess I believed pipe cleaners and glitter could save me. So, I was a regular at the mall’s hobby store.

I was close to my lowest weight, attempting to keep from passing out, while looking at the dollhouse miniatures section. I was staring at teeny furniture when bam. Carrie appeared out of nowhere. I felt busted. I had lost another ten pounds. She and I started some chitchat, but, c’mon, we both knew the score. Eventually, she brought up the dreaded words, “eating disorder.” And I had no where I had to be. I had no class I needed to escape to. I just had to stand there in the hobby store and be cornered by the truth.

“It takes one to know one” was getting too close to home.

And it wouldn’t be until many years later when I would experience the other side of this phenomenon. After the publication of my book, I had a signing event in Oregon.

A young anorexic woman was eyeing me for the entire four hours of the event. She kept pacing in front of the bookstore. But she kept her distance. There was this weird synergy of “I know you know” going on between us. Finally, after four hours of her pacing, lurking and eyeing me, she rushed the book table, spurting, “I had gone through it, but not the six hour exercise stuff you did.” And then she took off. I think she left skid marks.

In that moment, I saw how when we are in any kind of dysfunction or disorder, there’s still a part of us which wants help.

Sometimes, it does “take one to know one.”

Right now, is there someone out there who is experiencing the exact same thing? Is it you? It’s worth reaching out.

Disordered eating and image issues can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or socio-economic factors. Just because someone doesn’t “fit” the stereotype, doesn’t mean they’re not afflicted. If you suspect someone is suffering, please reach out with love and support. Here are some helpful strategies to do just that.

When You Want to Help Someone You Care About

What to do if…

If your child is younger than 18

Get professional help immediately. You have a legal and moral responsibility to get your child the care s/he needs. Don’t let tears, tantrums, or promises to do better stop you. Begin with a physical exam and psychological evaluation.

If the physician recommends hospitalization, do it. People die from these disorders, and sometimes they need a structured time out to break entrenched patterns.

If the counselor asks you to participate in family sessions, do so. Children spend only a few hours a week with their counselors. The rest of the time they live with their families. You need as many tools as you can get to help your child learn new ways of coping with life.

If your friend is younger than 18

Tell a trusted adult—parent, teacher, coach, pastor, school nurse, school counselor, etc.—about your concern. If you don’t, you may unwittingly help your friend avoid the treatment s/he needs to get better.

Even though it would be hard, consider telling your friend’s parents why you are concerned. S/he may be hiding unhealthy behaviors from them, and they deserve to know so they can arrange help and treatment. If you cannot bear to do this yourself, ask your parents or perhaps the school nurse for help.

If the person is older than 18

Legally the person is now an adult and can refuse treatment if s/he is not ready to change. Nevertheless, reach out. Tell her/him that you are concerned. Be gentle. Suggest that there has to be a better way to deal with life than starving and stuffing. Encourage professional help, but expect resistance and denial. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink—even when he is thirsty—if he is determined to follow his own path.

ANRED: When You Want to Help Someone You Care About.
Used with permission.