Today begins National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Just like last year, the theme is “I had no idea.”
Why? Because eating disorders are often misunderstood, stereotyped, or even just ignored. Common myths include:
-Eating disorders only affect white, middle-class women or models.
-You have to be skinny to have an eating disorder.
-Eating disorders are only about getting skinny, having a certain body, or attaining a certain “look.”
-You can’t recover from an eating disorder.
-You can’t die from an eating disorder.
I love NEDA’s concept for educating people about eating disorders and what they truly are. They are often lonely and isolating illnesses, triggered by a feeling of being out of control. Sometimes, people don’t even know they have an eating disorder until they’re already sick, which can make recovery even harder.
Honestly, there are many things “I Had No Idea” when it came to eating disorders:
1. I had no idea… starting a simple “diet” could go so far.
People praise you when you lose weight, saying, “You look so much better” and “What’s your secret?” Suddenly, it doesn’t seem too bad if you skip that snack or only eat egg whites for dinner. It’s making you better, more accepted. But then simply choosing healthy foods isn’t enough. 5 lbs lost becomes 10, 20, or more… Yet, it seems okay because culture says dieting is good.
2. I had no idea… you might not know you have an eating disorder.
Because eating disorders can start from dieting or exercising more, they can sneak up on you. People might tell you that you’re starting to look sick or lose too much weight. But, if you don’t believe you have a problem yourself, these comments are easy to ignore. Body dysmorphic disorder especially prevents you from seeing the illness that everyone else can.
3. I had no idea… eating disorders aren’t just about food.
Yes, food is a factor when it comes to eating disorders. But they aren’t the root of the issue. Often, food is just a metaphor used because you feel a lack of control in everything else. When you feel like you can’t meet the expectations of others or can’t control anything else that happens in your life, there’s always food. Physically, restricting or purging food can make you smaller–taking up less space because you feel you don’t deserve it. Emotionally, food can provide a crutch. And genetics can even play a role in developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are life-altering. They can cause severe medical complications, and they aren’t caused by one thing. Often, these illnesses are a combination of environment, mental health, genetic traits, and–yes–even media.
However, recovering from an eating disorder can also be life-altering in a good way. It provides strength, self-esteem, and the knowledge that you CAN conquer your personal demons.
Thoughts? What did you “have no idea” about eating disorders? What are your views on disordered eating?