Health & Body
Re-enter dance slowly to keep yourself healthy. Photo via Thinkstock

After spending a year away from the studio to recover from anorexia at age 12, Jillian Verzwyvelt admits that she was extremely nervous to return to class. "I was terrified I would be far behind not only technically but socially," she says. Fortunately, she encountered strong support from both teachers and peers, who treated her the same as they always had, even though she was only strong enough to take part of class.

Returning to the studio after recovering from an eating disorder is not unlike coming back from injury, except that the challenge is deeply stigmatized. For most dancers who suffer from eating disorders, the impulse to control their physical appearance and their passion for dance are closely linked.

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Health & Body
It doesn't have to be diagnosable by the DSM-5 to be dangerous to your health. Photo by Dominik Martin/Unsplash

When the cat food started smelling good, I knew I had a problem.

I'd always considered eating disorders to be extreme. Someone who never eats. Someone who weighs less than 100 pounds. Someone who gets hospitalized.

My behavior didn't fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder. I ignored it because I didn't know how to articulate it. It took me several years after the cat food smelled good to have the language to describe what was going on.

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Advice for Dancers
It's common for therapists to advise patients with eating disorders to distance themselves from people with similar struggles. Photo by Unsplash.

My best friend confessed that she's been avoiding me because of my eating disorder. She's scared of triggering her own eating issues that she's coming to grips with in psychotherapy. I feel horrible about getting so caught up in my problems that I didn't see what it was doing to her. While I'm glad we spoke about it (and I've made an appointment to get professional help, too), the awkwardness hasn't completely disappeared.

—Katherine, Boston, MA

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Advice for Dancers
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It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.

—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT

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