Written for NEDA week 2015, but still so relevant and applicable.
The reality is… you don’t necessarily have to clearly look underweight in order to be suffering from an eating disorder. There is not a typical mold or stereotype for what an eating disorder looks like.
The reality is… [to have an eating disorder] doesn’t mean that you’re shallow or just care about looks.
The reality is… you can’t just “snap out of it.” It is NOT a phase. Eating disorders are the deadliest of mental illnesses. I have found myself struggling a lot within my recovery, and my parents can’t understand that it is normal to struggle. Even after treatment or hospitalization, we will still go through tremendous amounts of hardships.
The reality is… eating disorders are NOT DEFINED by the amount that someone is underweight. In fact, weight often has LITTLE to do with severity of disordered thoughts. Also… the moment you say “eating disorder,” people immediately assume “anorexia” and have very little understanding of the many different forms eating disorders take.
The reality is… [they] really do affect people of any age, sex, or race.
The reality is… [eating disorders are] so misunderstood, and many people consider [them] a phase. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “oh yeah, I had anorexia for like two weeks in high school. Glad I got over that.” No, no, no! That’s not how eating disorders work! And it feels belittling when people treat them like a phase they had for a short period of time.
The reality is… They are NOT about food or weight—those are just symptoms or side effects. They compensate for something much deeper.
The reality is… people think I don’t like food with my disorder, when in reality, an eating disorder causes you to focus all your thoughts on food! When my eating disorder was bad in the past, I would bake ALL the time, but never eat any of it. I would look up menus for my favorite restaurants on the internet but not eat. I love food, and I did then too. It’s not about that!
The reality is… eating disorders don’t discriminate. You can’t always tell if someone is struggling.
The reality is… eating disorders are a disease. You can’t just decide to be anorexic.
The reality is… that even after someone is weight restored or looks “healthy,” they can still be struggling mentally. A healthy body does not necessarily mean a healthy mind. For me, when I was weight restored was actually when the mental battle was the absolute hardest! And even I had the expectation for myself that I shouldn’t be struggling anymore since I was weight restored. If only it was that simple!
The reality is… you don’t have to have a certain thing happen to you to have an eating disorder. They are not always triggered by traumatic events.
The reality is… eating disorders are… mental illnesses that have tremendous physical consequences on the body, and if not caught super early, will shorten a person’s life. An eating disorder abuses food in some way: avoiding it, eating too much, purging it, etc to deal with feelings, traumas, memories.
The reality is… no eating disorder is the same as another. Each person has different fear foods, rituals, safe foods, triggers, etc.
The reality is… it’s not a decision you make overnight. Once you start and the eating disorder has its grasp on you, it’s no longer you who’s making the decisions or calling the shots. And no, we can’t “just eat” to get better.
The reality is… it’s not always fully blown out obvious. Someone can be a normal weight and be destroying his or her body, and no one else realizes it.
And on and on I could go. This is not even all of the responses I got when I asked my followers on Instagram what they would tell others about the reality of having an eating disorder. Common myths about eating disorders circulate around society constantly. Too many people think that eating disorders are just phases, just diets, just people getting “healthy,” just happening to rich white females, just not a big deal. The reality is they are a big deal and are overlooked far too often.
Only 1 in 10 receive treatment, and even less receive treatment in a setting specialized for eating disorders. With eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and anorexia being the leading cause of death amongst girls 15—24, this just is not okay.
It’s not okay that 81% percent of 10 year olds fear being fat.
It’s not okay that even amongst girls of a healthy weight, 1 in 3 is dieting.
It’s not okay that 42% of our 1st—3rd grade girls wish to be thinner.
It’s not okay that 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy behaviors to control their weight.
It’s not okay that as a society, we care more about our looks than we do our health. Do I believe this obsession with physical appearance contributes to the rise of the occurrence of eating disorders? Yes, I do. Do I also know and want others to understand that this is far from being the only factor, or even the main factor, that contributes to the development of an eating disorder? Yes. I do not actually know a single girl who developed her eating disorder purely to manipulate her looks. Far more often it has to do with control, the belief that one does not deserve to be taken care of, a desire to disappear, a means of suppressing or dealing with stress/anxiety/depression. Diet culture does not help, but it also cannot take all the blame. Recent research is unveiling possible genetic links and other biological factors, and it is an accepted fact that susceptibility to the development of an eating disorder can be inherited. So many things socially, psychologically, and biologically contribute to these complex illnesses.
These complex illnesses that are still widely misunderstood and ignored. It’s time we get in the know, and I am thankful for everyone who did this week. I’m thankful for everyone who learned a little something about the reality because the reality is… this issue is not one that is going away anytime soon, and the more awareness there is, the better the chance that these disorders can be prevented in future generations.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s start a conversation. I’m always happy to chat and answer questions in the comments or face-to-face, but talk with others you know as well!
*All statistics taken from the National Eating Disorders Association’s website: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org