The nightmare of living with an eating disorder

Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 12:45 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2016 at 6:55 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Imagine being so riddled with anxiety over food and body image, you just can't eat. Experts say in South Carolina, more than 150,000 people suffer from an eating disorder illness. It can be one of the toughest trials some families will ever experience -- watching a loved starving in front of them.

Because eating disorders are a medical condition that merit conversation and increased awareness, one young woman -- still in recovery but making amazing progress -- wants to help others. Ali Gray Deloache, 22, is very open about the darkest time in her life.

"I would never wish this on anyone, ever," Deloache said.

During a controlling relationship her sophomore year at Clemson, Deloache found what she could control was her weight. Before she knew it, she was obsessed with extensive exercising and eating far under what is essential.

"Nobody had to see what I was eating. Nobody knew how long I was at the gym," Deloache said. "And it got out of hand."

Clinically anorexic, Deloache said she was skin and bones -- down to 93 pounds.

"I was a slave to the scale," Deloache said. "I weighed myself I would say a dozen times a day. And I would judge what I ate based on that number."

Sometimes that meant only a handful of cereal. Her downward spiral continued into her junior year.

"I lifted my shirt up to wipe the sweat off my upper lip when I was home at my parents' and my mom literally was like, 'That is disgusting,' and almost started crying," Deloache said.

Chase Bannister is an expert on eating disorders and a founder of Veritas Collaborative, a specialty hospital system for the treatment of eating disorders based in Durham, North Carolina near Duke University. The hospital system treats ages eight and older -- children, adolescents, and adults -- diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and other eating disorders.

"It goes remarkably underdiagnosed, remarkably untreated, and they are remarkably, remarkably serious illnesses that are among the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses that exist," Bannister said.

Bannister said sadly way too many suffer in silence and never get help.

"I have been to too many funerals," Bannister said. "I have seen too many lives lost and if not lost, so much of their spirit and energy lost to living through the hell that is this illness."

Signs of an eating disorder include extreme emotions and behaviors surrounding weight and food, inadequate food intake, purging, use of laxatives and isolation.

And, as was the case with Deloache, those with the eating disorders initially often don't recognize they have a life-threatening problem.

"We are on the cusp of an epidemic and for each person who goes through it who is flailing and experiencing the eating disorder illness it is an epidemic for them," Bannister said.

After a few years being tormented in her own skin, Deloache called her mom and said she was ready to get help.

"I wrote Philippians 4:13 on my mirror: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," Deloache said. "I did not weigh myself that entire weekend. And that has been my motto."

She and her family sought professional help for her battle. That's something Bannister said is vital to recovery and should be multifaceted.

"We're looking at issues with malnutrition. That requires dietetics. We're talking about issues of neurochemistry. That requires psychiatry. We're talking about the work of family therapy and how to deal with this almost new visitor in the home, the eating disorder. That requires therapy," Bannister said.

That "new visitor" is so maliciously personified in their lives that those in recovery often name it Ed or Eda - both short for eating disorder.

"My family has been so amazing. And my little sister said, 'Ali Gray, you should start a blog.' And I was like, 'wait, I think I will.' So I just started it and I have to say all I wanted was to help one person," Deloache said.

The blog is called Overcoming Eda. She's very candid with her followers about what it's like living a nightmare.

"I still hate my body a lot of times," Deloache said. "The body image is the last thing to go. I've always been told that."

Blogging is more than therapeutic for Deloache; her hope is penning her raw truth will alert others to the prevalence of this illness.

"My number one thing right now is eating disorder awareness. My family is a big proponent of it now. And I think there is so much more needed and it's so important," Deloache said.

In fact, Bannister is relentlessly working Capitol Hill pushing for legislation that gets more training for professional providers and care and treatment -- including insurance coverage -- for those with the disease.

"Other illnesses have been able to regularly meet with government for a long time. To meet with the administration. But, just now, in 2016 is the first time we have ever been able to walk in those doors," Bannister said. "It's not going to be the last time."

That's because there are millions of others still plagued with the illness.

Deloache is now close to finishing graduate school and thanks her family and loved ones saying their support has meant the world to her. She's taken back control from her eating disorder and making up for years lost.

Following are resources available for help in the treatment of eating disorders:

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