November 27, 2023

Meghan Ochs’ Eating Disorder Journey

Young adult woman smiling

This is a firsthand account submitted through SWHR’s Share Your Story portal, as part of SWHR’s Women’s Health Perspective series.

The summer of 2019, a month after I graduated from college, I traveled to Paris with my mother. It was a life-altering trip: my first visit to Europe and the experience that forced me to face my anorexia.

What would become my recovery started in the same place that my disorder had begun: with me, having a face-off with food. Since I was 14, I had always won this game, limiting the calories that entered my body. At 22, while I sat on the bed in the dim lighting of our cozy Airbnb, gazing at a bar of raspberry milk chocolate, recovery won its first round.

My mother and I had just finished eating lunch—a salad, baguette, and protein bar—and I had decided I was going to eat some chocolate, too. And I kept going. Going, going, until my mother looked down in shock at the change in my typical actions, at the empty silver wrapper in my hands. For some reason, this behavior shocked my mother more than it did me. I think I was so calm because, to me, Paris wasn’t reality. I was in another world, where I felt beautiful, inspired, and free. Everything was new: sights, smells, tastes, languages. Even garbage cans sparked wonder.

Old stories in my head, like the ones that told me not to eat, could be ignored because Paris was a world that didn’t count, where the now was all that mattered. Through travel, I entered the magical present, not the depressing past or terrifying future. I relaxed. And my body sighed with relief, and said, “Now, we feast.” I ate so much that my bloated belly pressed against my tight jeans—a new sensation for me. Cheese, wine, chocolate, butter, bread. Squishy cookies and weird pink protein bars and ham-and-egg crepes. Chocolate croissants that made me question my belief in God. All glorious and delicious and safe for eating.

I (almost) rejoiced at the new, slight softness of my body and the muscles I formed from walking so many miles. Certain habits had yet to be overcome, though—body checking, for one, particularly my constant vigilance over the nonexistent layer of fat on my lower belly. But something inside me was letting go.

When I came home, I could no longer live my old life—the one where I was depressed because my mind could only find room for calorie counts and self-hating dialogue. So, I started to relinquish the calorie counting. I wanted to be the kind of person who went on adventures and met new people and spoke foreign languages; someone who knew interesting facts and was well-read and witty; someone who was free.

It wasn’t an immediate fix. Anorexia had been my best friend, my safety, my comfort, for almost a decade. This makes little sense when considering how miserable anorexia made me. But I had no idea who I was supposed to be if I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room. I was scared that I was going to gain too much weight. I was scared that I hadn’t had a period in almost a year. I was scared of losing control.

Three real meals and two snacks every day: the required bare-minimum regimen for recovery. Slowly, I regained my energy. My passions. I wrote and read and sang and danced and laughed. I felt this thing called “zest” that used to mean little to me except as the fruit-skin topping for the baked goods I would rarely allow myself to eat. I learned to trust my own inner voice. In addition to the regimen, I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted, even if it meant an entire box of Lucky Charms or half a pan of Ghirardelli brownies.

One day, I saw red – In the toilet. And when I saw it, I cried. Bloody tears of joy. I smiled and winced through the cramps. After two years, I reached my set point weight. I became used to my larger body. I got a job, a new routine, new friends.

It’s been four years since my trip to Paris. I’m someone my past self once dreamed of being. I get scared about the future sometimes. But I’m living more in the present now than ever before. I’m experiencing real freedom. And food is mostly just…food. It’s not more powerful than me.