Today marks the last day of the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: seven days designated by the National Eating Disorder Foundation to raise awareness for the various eating disorders and the many ways in which they can present themselves. From bingeing to restricting, anorexia to purging, orthorexia to diabulimia, eating disorders destroy sufferers relationships with one of the most basic acts of human survival: feeding the body.
Anything that gets people talking about mental health issues of any kind makes me very happy, because I know from personal experience how extremely important understanding is to a sufferer. Secrecy and shame feed these disorders, and keep severely ill people from getting the life saving help they need.
I have personally suffered from ED from an early age, as well as watched many of my friends fight their battles against these disorders. Spending six weeks at a facility that specializes in treating eating disorders, among other things, it was shocking to me to see how many faces ED really have. You really can’t tell just from a person’s body size or shape, whether or not they are struggling with an ED.
Binge eating, and other unhealthy eating issues have been problems of mine since early childhood. Growing up as an overweight child, and teen I got all the wrong messages from the media as well as the community and people around me.
There was a lack of awareness of eating disorders among those close to me while growing up. I would see adults and role models of mine, that also struggled with disordered eating, punishing themselves harshly for their weight gain, calling themselves horrible names, viewing themselves as disgusting, and lacking proper self-control. It also became the way I dealt with my self and my eating issues. Hating myself, and telling myself how horrid I was for “letting myself” do this to myself. My thinking had become so destorted that when others made fun of me for my size, I believed I deserved it and that it was okay, because unlike a disability you were born with, being heavy was something that you were responsible for, a choice you made.
Through educating the world about eating disorders and their signs and symptoms, we can make sure that those that suffer get diagnosed faster, and get the healing they need. Otherwise, untreated and stuck in the distorted thinking traps of their illness they could inadvertently be passing their disordered habits, and beliefs to the next generation. In some cases disordered eating, and negative body image becomes sort of a family tradition, and it is important to break that destructive cycle. An eating disorder, just like any other mental disorder or illness, affects not only the sufferer but also those close to them. It is so important to remember that ED is not something a person "chooses" to engage in, it is not something that one can just "snap out of". It is a complex mental illness, that needs to be treated properly.
When people complemented me when I was heavier it would always sound something like “you have such a pretty face”, or “of course you’re always beautiful, but when you loose weight you are just gorgeous.” People acted as if it was tragic that I was overweight, but really the great tragedy was how much I hated myself and my body. It seemed as if becoming skinny was the only way to reach happiness and success. I came to believe that true happiness could only be obtained at a certain size.
I was convinced that if I could only become skinny, I could finally accept and love myself. What I didn’t realize was that my very lack of acceptance and love for myself was the thing fueling my ED, causing my binging behavior to increase, leading me to gain weight.
I attended weight loss program, after weight loss program starting as early as ten years old. There were the weight-ins, the calorie counting, the nutrition education classes and the exercising. Absolutely none of them treated the psychological side of it, the root core of why I couldn’t stop the bingeing, which seemed to be getting more and more out of hand.
My eating disorder really got out of hand in college. As much as I tried I just couldn’t follow a healthy eating schedule, and binges became a daily thing. I tried to purge after binges to control the weight gain, but I would just eat more after. Knowing that I had absolutely no power to resist the binges I would restrict all day to save up calories for the evening binge.
Thankfully, I had some healthy influences enter my life shortly after graduation that helped me work on my eating habits. I started exercising and feeding my body better quality food. The binges became less frequent, and less intense. My life however continued to focus on loosing weight, and it wasn’t until this year that I really changed the way I view things.
Through all of my illness, and treatment in the past year, you could say that my whole belief system has changed. I no longer believe that true happiness is found in being skinny, but instead the most important thing is to be healthy. I am learning that I am lovable and deserving at any size, and it is not my weight that determines my worth. But also because I love myself, and my body, I treat it well. I fill it up with high quality fuel to help it stay strong and healthy enough to be able to take me on all of life’s adventures.
It is not easy to recover from ED behaviors, and it can be so hard to quiet those damn destructive, negative voices inside. I bought myself these two necklaces the other day from a jewelry collection inspired by the sea. One of them had a little anchor charm and the quote: “Anchor yourself in love and everything you do will prosper” by Paul Frazier. The other had a ship’s wheel charm with the quote: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” by William Ernest Henley. I thought they perfectly summed up my goals for myself these days. I want to stay anchored in love for myself and others, as I take responsibility for my own wellbeing and steer myself in the direction towards healing and recovery.