Trigger Warning: Article mentions topics of weight, eating disorders, and disordered eating.
I have been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time now…. It’s scary for me to post this, but it’s time. It’s time to own my own story. This generation needs more voices speaking out about eating disorders and the dangers of dieting. There’s too much, too many lives at stake. I have seen kids as young as 8 and 9 years old who have eating disorders. It’s so important for teachers, leaders, friends, and parents to be educated and aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders because they are real, they are out there, and they can be deadly.
I know that sharing personal experiences is a powerful healing agent and can bring a deeper trust into any relationship – and that’s what I want to build with you. I want to be real and authentic with you. It’s SO important for us to talk about the “hard” things in our lives, and eating disorders are the perfect example of something that is not talked about often but should be talked about more.
So here’s my story-
I had an eating disorder. It was a very real and raw eating disorder. It’s pretty common in the eating disorder world to name your eating disorder, because it is literally like a separate personality. I could feel the difference of when it was me and when ‘ED’ was in my head. My eating disorder became all that I was. It controlled me. Every waking thought was about food, calories, and weight. The voice in my head was always trying to manipulate my choices. With every rejection, every disappointment, every rude comment made from a peer, and every double take from a passerby, ‘ED’ never missed a chance to tell me that it was because I was fat, short, and ugly. It endlessly told me that I wasn’t good enough no matter what. ‘ED’ was addictive, mean, obsessive, secretive, shaming, and to sum up: a very dark place.
The funny thing is that it took me a very long time to call my struggle for what it actually was- an eating disorder. I didn’t experience weight changes in my eating disorder, and because of this I, myself, didn’t think that I had a problem. The people around me didn’t know I had a problem either, although upon closer inspection, the behaviors would have been immediately clear to them. It took a lot of education and experience in the dietetics/nutrition field to recognize that I had experienced an incredibly real and painful eating disorder. Eating disorders come in all different shapes and sizes! Every single one looks a little different than the next. If your food issues don’t match up with the diagnostic criteria, that doesn’t mean that it’s not real! And that it’s not a problem! I have heard leading eating disorder experts talk about how the diagnostic criteria filter out people who are struggling and how the criterion are far from perfect. I tell you this to say again, that eating disorders really do come in all shapes and sizes. You do not have to have a skeleton-like appearance to have an eating disorder just like you don’t have to have a fever in order to not feel well.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Here are some signs and symptoms of someone who may fall victim to an eating disorder. (Disclaimer: This is not an all-inclusive list nor does it mean that you have an eating disorder if you engage in some of these behaviors. However, these behaviors do exhibit a diet mentality which can lead to developing an eating disorder.) So if you find yourself or a loved one struggling with any of the following things, delve a little deeper and find the truth about what it means:
about food, weight, and calories
-planning your meals
-associating your worth with how you eat or your weight
-weighing yourself daily/weekly
-letting the scale determine whether the day will be “good” or “bad”
-switching between periods of fasting and overeating
-compulsive and/or rigid exercise
-strict food rules
-avoidance and restricting of foods and/or food groups
-food rituals (i.e. cutting food in tiny pieces, eating foods in a specific order, weighing and measuring food, only eating at specialized places and times)
-frequent weight fluctuations (may not be present, see above:)
-eating in secret
-frequent bathroom trips soon after eating
-engaging in purging behavior
-binging (overeating an excessive amount of food in one sitting and feeling out of control)
-avoiding social gatherings and/or parties
-becoming withdrawn and isolated
Now some of you might be saying, well some of those things are just healthy behaviors! I mean isn’t planning your meals out and exercising a good thing? Well yes, yes they can be. It becomes an issue when the behaviors interfere with daily life.
For instance, if your friend calls you in the morning to go out to lunch with her and all you can think about is “Do they have “safe” foods there? But I already planned out my meals and snacks for the day to equal XXX calories! I would have to run XXX amount of miles to work that meal off. No no, I don’t think I should go, it’s too stressful, etc.” instead of being excited to see your friend and eating good food, that’s a problem. Another instance may look a little like this: You went to bed late, but you force yourself to get up early in order to get your work out in even though you know your body would have been better off resting. Can you start to see what I’m getting at?
Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize an eating disorder, but if you are interested in more information, NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association has some great information about specific eating disorders which you can find here. It also has a page to help you find treatment which you can find here. There are numerous places that you can go for help like trusted teachers, parents, leaders, friends, or me. Even if you are not necessarily struggling with an eating disorder, but feel restricted, scared of food, and/or stuck in the rut of dieting, please reach out.
All I can say is that being free from my eating disorder and all my dieting has brought more joy and satisfaction to my life than I thought was possible. Life is meant to have some spontaneity and freedom. Eating disorders keep you behind bars (metaphorically) and when you can finally let go, you will experience a whole new life. Go enjoy a night out with your friends or to the lake and have a BBQ with all the hamburgers and hot dogs you can eat. There is SOOOO much more to life than worrying about what you eat and how you look. I promise. And despite a difficult journey, I can now say that I love MY body (most days, I’m human), and I definitely love MY food. You can too. Be you, breathe easy.