We are in the middle of Eating Disorder Awareness Week here in Canada (February 1- 7). As an eating disorder survivor, this subject is very near and dear to my heart. You can read a little bit more about my recovery journey here, but today, I want to share some of my thoughts on what eating disorders are, and what they are not.
Now before you decide that this post does not apply to you, I want to urge you to reconsider. While you may not realize it, I am certain that you know at least one person who is currently living with an eating disorder (probably numerous more). Eating disorders have truly become an epidemic in our culture. And though it can be hard to understand what it is like to battle with this debilitating mental illness, it is possible to lend genuine and meaningful support to those who are in the thick of it. None of us were created to face our struggles alone. For this reason, I feel it is so important to draw attention to the rampant spread of eating disorders in our society and to raise some awareness in support of those suffering.
Eating disorders are not a phase.
While it is true that some experience more rapid recovery than others—and some recover on their own when they are ready—it is important to understand that an eating disorder is not a phase that someone will simply grow out of. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness which is often coupled with extreme anxiety, depression, OCD, and other mental health concerns. An eating disorder will consume the mind of its sufferer for years or even decades, to the point of complete hopelessness. If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder right now, possibly one of the most erroneous assumptions you could make is that “it is just a phase”.
Eating disorders are not about food.
Food is rarely the focus of an eating disorder. A person’s dysfunctional relationship with food is simply a coping mechanism that they are using to deal with deeper, underlying issues. An eating disorder is an addiction that becomes an all-consuming battle for control. Food is not the point—the point is that there is significant emotional and psychological trauma taking place beneath the surface in the sufferer’s life. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an eating disorder is merely a physical concern.
Eating disorders are not simple to overcome.
“Just eat more” seems like a simple solution, but it is one of the most damning things you could ever say to someone who is battling to overcome an eating disorder. While living with an eating disorder means a constant preoccupation with food and weight, it also means a constant preoccupation with value, worth, perfection, control, self-hate, fear, approval, failure. Getting proper nutrition will help improve a person’s ability to address the underlying issues that fuel an eating disorder, but simply eating more will not solve the problem. If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, please encourage them to seek professional help if they haven’t already.
Eating disorders do not have to be forever.
While breaking free of the psychological bondage of an eating disorder always seems completely impossible to a sufferer, I can tell you from experience that an eating disorder does NOT have to be forever. During the seven years that I lived as a slave to my eating disorder, I genuinely came to believe that recovery was impossible for me. I had been treated by every kind of mental health professional out there. I went through a hospital program and a private treatment facility. Nothing I tried worked for seven long years. I thought my eating disorder was forever. But here I am, nearly 10 years later, on the other side of this journey. I have experienced authentic physical, psychological, and even spiritual healing. My life is evidence that eating disorders do not have to be forever.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you don’t have to suffer alone. Primarily, I would urge you to seek help from a local mental health professional, or by contacting the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (toll free: 1-866-633-4220). Furthermore, while I am not a professional, I am always available to answer any questions that you may have for me, to offer encouragement and support, and to pray for you.
Let’s fight the epidemic. Let’s ensure that the proper treatment, support, and resources are available for those suffering from eating disorders. Let’s end the stigma. And let’s resolve to believe that there is always hope.