Life is of great value, and when we take a deeper look, we can see that everyone has a story, full of unique and microscopic events that are important, that have shaped their very being. And as they are alive and breathing, their story is yet to be completed. At Conscious, we want to explore the lives of individuals on a personal level, and see the world through their eyes. February marks Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and to start the conversation, we are sharing Christina Zapata’s story.

Diagnosis: Anorexia Nervosa. Fifteen-year- old me, staring wide eyed in disbelief at the professionals in a cold small hospital room at Princeton Medical Center, eating disorder unit explaining to me why this is my official diagnosis and what it all means. It felt unreal. I felt like Dorothy, suddenly swept away in a heap of madness to a faraway land where people talk funny and you have no idea what is going on, why you are there or how to get back to the place you once called home.

Sadly enough, I am one among many who will have a similar story, who will have this diagnosis, this uncontrollable demon that leads to a life of strategic calorie counting, weigh ins, self-loathing, meal plans and endless therapy sessions.  But the story does not have to end there- mine doesn’t. I am but one voice and I am just an ordinary girl, with a story to offer. My hopes in offering it are far from wanting glory, pity or any of the like. My hopes are to help all people in different walks of life, affected by an eating disorder or not to view them clearly for what they are: miserable.

According to The National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders “24 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States” and a devastating 20% of individuals struggling from anorexia die prematurely due to complications from the disorder. I promise to not go on with a complication of statistics because quite frankly they are a bit boring and it is more impactful to put a face to the numbers, so I am going to do just that for you.

I struggled with an eating disorder for about four years. Unhealthy behaviors began sooner than slowly spiraled out of control when I hit thirteen. By fourteen I was noticeably sick and by fifteen I was inpatient at a treatment center. Eating disorders do not develop overnight and they do not go away overnight either. It takes time. I learned many things in treatment but one of the hardest things to accept was this simple truth: eating disorders are NOT a choice but (with help) recovery IS. I realized I could work hard in recovery and struggle for a few years or I could give in and be miserable for the rest of my life.

The recovery process took a while, I could write a book on all of the details but I can confidently say I have been fully recovered for about five years now. I am living proof that life after an eating disorder is possible. I look at my life and realize everything I would have lost if I didn’t fight for the recovered life I so deserved. I would have been so consumed by my disorder I would not have been able to enjoy all of the things that matter most in life, like my close relationships with my family, friends, boyfriend and even with myself. I’ve found who I am outside of this disorder which in no way defines me anymore and I have to say it’s pretty great. You can’t have relationships when you have an eating disorder because in a sense it becomes your only relationship.

Although painful to look back on I share some of my story with the hopes that it helps someone. I would not wish this struggle on my worst enemy but at the same time I am grateful that I went through this in some way. When you go through a life threatening circumstance so young in life it humbles you. It makes you realize you have a second shot at life- don’t waste it. I learned a lot about myself recovering and I mostly learned to not be afraid in life. Things we think are so big: job interviews, college applications, asking someone out. Why be afraid? When things scare me I think of how I could have lost my life but I didn’t and nothing else seems scary or too hard to face. I am not going to let any opportunity pass by without giving it a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Embarassment? Disapointment? You can handle those things. Trust me- life, love, happiness, going after your dreams- they are all well worth the risk. Life is short- live it FEARLESSLY.

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Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept & Live)
Recovery is possible but I could not have recovered without help. Thankfully I got it but many struggle. Eating disorder treatment is upwards of $30,000 a month and rarely covered by insurance. Many struggle to get proper lie saving treatment for this disorder. I co-founded the New jersey Chapter of a  501c3 non-profit organization called Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept and Live).  Project HEAL’s mission is to raise funds for their Help to HEAL Scholarship Fund which provides someone struggling with an eating disorder lifesaving treatment that they otherwise could not afford and insurance will not cover. Founded in New York in 2008 by Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran Project HEAL has since raised over $300,000, sent nine scholarship recipients to treatment and grown internationally through over 20 chapters. To learn more please visit theprojectheal.org.

From the Editor
At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight real human interactions and human dignity. You can read more stories like this when you pick up your copy of Conscious Magazine. Subscribe today via our Conscious Shop and sign-up for Conscious Updates.