Today marks the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the United States. So although I don’t intend for this blog’s focus to be eating disorders (I’ve spent enough time living that topic to be pretty tired of it by now. . .), as someone whose life has been shaped by one, the issue is one that I care a lot about. If I can do one thing to help spread information about the issue and possibly keep anyone else from having to go through what I have, then I’m going to do it. Therefore I’ll be posting on the topic throughout the week to help spread the message.
Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) chooses a theme to guide the week’s activities. According to NEDA’s website, “This year’s NEDAwareness Week theme is “I Had No Idea” to raise awareness towards the significant impact eating disorders have on individuals, families, and communities across the nation. The more people who learn about these life-threatening illnesses, the more lives we can save. This year the National Eating Disorders Association is stressing the need to address eating disorder misconceptions – as many individuals, families, and communities are not aware of the often devastating mental and physical consequences – and highlights available resources for treatment and support.”
I think this is a great theme because there are A LOT of misconceptions out there. I’ve heard them talked about in casual conversations among peers, spouted by the media and laughed about on television. One of the most hurtful misconceptions I’ve encountered is the idea that people choose to have eating disorders. As if those of us who suffer wake up one morning and think, “Hey, you know what sounds like fun?! I think I’ll start obsessing about and manipulating food to such a degree that it takes over and destroys my life! Yes! That sounds like a wonderful idea!” Now, my memory could be fuzzy since it’s been a while since my eating disorder began, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it started. In fact, I don’t remember really being consciously aware of what I was doing until I was about a year into it. So I’m going to keep today’s message short and sweet. Allow me to again refer to NEDA’s website:
“Eating disorders are serious illnesses, not lifestyle choices.
Eating disorders are complex illnesses that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social factors. As our natural body size and shape is largely determined by genetics, fighting our natural size and shape can lead to unhealthy dieting practices, poor body image and decreased self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction and thin ideal internalization are both significant risk factors for the development of eating disorder behaviors like restricting and binge eating. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are about much more than food. Recent research has shown that genetic factors create vulnerabilities that place individuals at risk for acting on cultural pressures and using food to feel in control or manage overwhelming emotions. ”
So there you have it. Eating disorders are a complex, often deadly, disease and can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or someone you know is struggling, please visit NEDA’s website for resources at www.NationalEatingDisorders.org, or call their helpline at 800-931-2237.
*Edited mid-week to change “every day” to “throughout the week.” I originally intended to post something daily but I’m lowering my standards ;p