Important Information About Eating Disorders
This post had me stuck. I’d been on an eating disorder awareness campaign on Instagram for the past two days (with five more coming to finish out the week), sharing my own journey with disordered eating, sharing statistics, and offering advice I had sourced from those in recovery to help others.
When it came down to figuring out how to distill all of that down to this ONE post, I was quickly overwhelmed. Do I make it educational? Do I make it personal? Do I source content from other people to contribute?
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and because they, like so many other things that have earned their own month or week throughout the year, have had a significant impact in shaping the person I am today, I feel that it’s important to help in whatever way I can. So I blended things. It’s a combo of education, personal tidbits, and really just a plea for people to take the time to understand. I hope it helps some.
An eating disorder is complicated. There are a myriad of factors associated and different varieties. Unlike substance abuse, where recovery starts (notice I say starts and not ends as there is more work to do) with the cessation of substances, eating disorders revolve around food, which we all need to survive. That’s one thing that makes them complicated. The other is that they’re not about the food.
Eating disorders and an addiction to substances have a lot of parallels, which is why it’s no surprise that I suffered from them both. At the root of things, they are both an attempt to grasp for control when feeling out of control due to unprocessed trauma, maladaptive coping strategies, and an inability to deal with life as it comes. For me, what started with years of body image issues and attempts at manipulating my outside appearance morphed into using drugs and alcohol to escape feelings altogether. When I entered recovery and was no longer able to turn to the things I once did, and before I had learned anything about appropriate emotional processing, I fell back on another familiar coping mechanism — controlling my food and my body.
It’s not necessary for me to detail this almost 20 year struggle, as I’ve done so already here and there, but I guess what I hope to accomplish through this post — and any post where I tackle serious issues like these — is awareness.
Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. Until very recently, they had the number one mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Since the opioid epidemic has reached crisis proportions, it has fallen to number two, but it’s important to understand that they’re not a phase and they’re not a choice.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, there are nine accepted truths about eating disorders.
- Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.
- Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.
- An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.
- Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.
- Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.
- Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.
- Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.
- Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.
- Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.
If someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is educate yourself. Learn the facts, some of which are found in the list above. Know what not to say. Know what TO say. Know how you can best support them. Figure out where to get treatment. Figure out where to get therapy. I understand that it’s not always accessible to everyone, so look into affordable therapy options.
Whatever you do, don’t turn a blind eye. Eating disorders can be fatal if not dealt with appropriately, so if they’re affecting someone you care about, it’s important for you to reach out (after doing your research, PLEASE).
If you’re personally struggling, I’ve been there. I’ve been there with drugs, I’ve been there with food, I’ve been there with exercise, I’ve been there with mental illness. It’s hard. It’s scary.
But it’s comfortable.
I know that even though you’re miserable, it’s a feeling you know. Healing isn’t. Healing feels like the largest mountain you could ever scale, while your other choice is simply to sit down where you are, at the dark bottom of that mountain. Why climb it? What’s the point?
You can’t see it from where you are, but at the top of that mountain is the sun. It’s the air. It’s being able to see your whole life ahead of you in the greens of the grass, the blues of the water, and the whites of the clouds.
The more people you have to come with you, the easier the climb. Please ask for help if you need it.
For more information about eating disorders, please visit the NEDA website.