Lumped into the “eating disorder” category

Living with an eating disorder is a constant battle between thoughts, urges, behaviors, emotions, etc. It can be claustrophobic where suddenly your entire life is clouded by Ed. Separation may seem impossible. I have felt this way for years. There have been times of strong recovery but also deep relapse.

Even with the eating disorder so intertwined in my life, I refuse to be “that anorexic girl” or “that girl with an eating disorder”(since no one would look at me and think anorexia). Yes I struggle with an ED, that’s pretty dang obvious if you know my story well. Being lumped together with all of the stigma and ideas about eating disorders is not acceptable. Unfortunately, I have been experiencing that more lately.

If the average person were to think about EDs and why they exist, there would be a few very common answers. The first obvious ones would be “they just choose not to eat” or “why would you make yourself sick like that?” I’m sure you get the idea. The characteristics will combine into one generic disorder or split into bulimia and anorexia. This leaves no room for the vast majority of people who struggle with BED, OSFED/EDNOS, etc. It really isn’t helpful to do so. While there are similarities between the different diagnoses, each case is individualized. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to symptoms.

Expanding beyond that, I have many recent examples of what the perceived causes of eating disorders are. As per my abnormal psych prof, the four warning signs/precursors are: perfectionism, not wanting to grow up, avoiding sexuality, and control. My psychiatrist, almost every time I see him, makes comments about how I can’t eat because I think I look fat, as if that’s the only contributing factor. I won’t deny that many of these points are valid. I struggle and see others struggling with some of these issues. The problem I have with it, however, is that there is no room for other explanations. Under these assumptions, how could you ever account for someone who wants to look ugly by restricting, a person with BED who has pretty much none of the factors listed, orthorexia, and a million other circumstances?

This all being said, I do understand that it’s important to have some idea of possible causes for eating disorders. I have no problem at all with lists that begin as “common causes of” or something similar. This offers suggestions and examples to look for (especially helpful in exploring treatment at first). It gives those of us with eating disorders something to possibly make a connection to.

Unfortunately, the negative labels and automatic conclusions come up far too often when someone has an eating disorder. Some that I find most hurtful: “you’re just doing this for attention” “just stop eating/don’t purge/eat your food” “you can snap out of this” “you want people to feel sorry for you” “you don’t have it that bad.” These make me sick to my stomach. I know that the people behind them are most-likely uneducated and fully believe in the stigma behind EDs, but this excuse doesn’t cut it. We are real people with feelings.

Eating disorders are not one-size-fits-all. We struggle with similar thought patterns and behaviors, but you cannot ever lump us into one person. If you hear of someone or find yourself believing these examples and others, please stop and think. Realize how much harm this can cause. Consider our feelings.

I am unique. I am not just some girl with an eating disorder. My story is all my own. Please see it as that.

You might have an eating disorder if… (stigma v reality)

Some of this may seem pretty darn ridiculous. This is because many people’s expectation for eating disorders is just that. I want to explore the general, uninformed thoughts of what someone with an eating disorder is like vs the reality of eating disorders. My hope is that this can help distinguish what is the truth.

Stigma

  • you look like a walking skeleton
    • Eating disorders have no weight or size limit. Have you ever heard of BED, OSFED, BN? None of these disorders are defined by weight (and anorexia to an extent can be the same). You could be severely underweight or obese and still your struggle is valid.
  • you believe you’re extremely fat
    • Feeling you are fat definitely can be a factor of having an ED, but isn’t always. For example, one study found nearly 50% of “normal” BMI women believe they are overweight. Not even close to all of these women have eating disorders, and not everyone with an eating disorder even struggles with this belief.
  • you order only salads and other”clean” foods
    • Under the premise of judging mental health based on foods people eat, every vegan or vegetarian would be labeled as an ED patient. Heck, tons of people have salads daily simply because they enjoy them.
  • you are an upper/middle class, white, adolescent or young adult woman
    • So, in order to debunk the myth about who can have eating disorders, let me give you a sampling of who I’ve met in treatment: adolescent and young adult men, people of color, a 70-year-old woman, children from 8-12, people with lower-income, middle-aged men and women. Hopefully, you get the point.
  • you are a vain person
    • The fact that some believe vanity is central to an eating disorder kills me. This has nothing to do with thinking you’re better than someone else or putting yourself up on a pedestal. For the most part, people with EDs tend to think very little of themselves.
  • you choose to have one
    • If I chose to have this eating disorder, that means someone would choose to have cancer, Parkinson’s or kidney disease. It’s clearly just for all of the wonderful attention we receive.
  • you just don’t eat
    • Finally, the “you just don’t eat” argument. Quite obviously, no one will survive if they literally eat nothing for an extended period of time, so that’s automatically false. Adding onto it, this assumes that the only/easy way to have an eating disorder is by starving.

This first list is either outside focused or under the assumption that mind-reading is possible.  News flash: no one has special mind-reading capabilities and can look into a person’s head to determine if an ED is present! An eating disorder is so much more than what you eat or look like. to me, the last three statements

Reality

  • you are a person
    • WHOA. So I’m telling you that just by being alive you can have an eating disorder?!? So weird, because you probably thought you must have some sort of obvious signs, maybe even a big blinking light. That would help.
  • you have ANY disordered eating patterns (ex: binge eating, eating in secret, eliminating all “unsafe” foods, purging..)
    • That’s right, folks. There is more than one disordered eating habit. The list here isn’t even comprehensive. Essentially, if something seems extremely out of the norm, it could be a sign of a subclinical or full-blown eating disorder.
  • your everyday existence is ruled by thoughts of food, behaviors, exercise, body image, calories, etc
    • Eating disorders are not something that only happens at meal time, while exercising, and as you look into the mirror. It encompasses your whole day (an average I’ve heard is around 12 hours a day!). Got a test tomorrow? Whatever you are studying will have the lovely background noise of the ED whispering or even screaming at you.
  • you have a body
    • Yet another mind-blowing fact. You only need a body? It doesn’t have to be a certain size or shape?
  • you have mass
    • Going along with what you look like, the amount you weigh is another false determinant for the presence of an eating disorder. EDs happen all across the BMI chart and a vast majority are in the normal-overweight range. (Another tidbit: BMI = bullshit meaningless information because it cannot begin to tell you a person’s health level.)
  • going into the kitchen creates a huge amount of anxiety
    • This is something that is pretty much a given. Whether you deal with binge eating, restriction, or anything in between, eating is a fear in some way. Since food is prepped and stored in the kitchen, it becomes a room full of all the anxiety.
  • you have different physical symptoms due to a MENTAL illness
    • I find this last one to be of utmost importance. No matter what someone may look like on the outside or even through their actions, you will never be able to tell what’s going on within. This is not a physical struggle, even though there are often physical results of the behaviors. So many people in this world have invisible illnesses – both mental and physical – that can only be seen by looking below the surface. You have to realize this when dealing with eating disorders as well.

I hope that this can serve as a (somewhat sarcastic) guide for those who aren’t quite sure what eating disorders are and aren’t. I hope that you have a few takeaways from it:

  1. Physical symptoms of anorexia are all too often used as a reference point in deciding whether someone has an eating disorder.
  2. It is way too easy to believe you can read minds and use this magical power to determine whether someone has an ED. News flash: mind-reading is impossible, even when someone shows *all* of the signs you know of.
  3. Eating disorders look different on everyone. A person of any gender, size, socioeconomic status, race, age, BMI, etc can be struggling. Never assume elsewise.

Thank you so much for reading! Do you have any others you would like to add?

NEDAW16 – Day 3: Real or not real?

mockingjay-part-2-real-or-not-real.gif

Real or not real? This is the question we need to ask ourselves when it comes to any belief surrounding eating disorders. This certainly isn’t the easiest thing, given how stigmatized eating disorders are. My hope is that this post will help you distinguish between the truths and lies.

REAL – Eating disorders don’t discriminate. When you’re asked to think of someone with an eating disorder, most likely you picture a white, adolescent or early adulthood middle or upper class woman who is stick thing. This image, although true for some, is not true for all. Eating disorder sufferers can be any race, body type, gender, sexual orientation, age, and socioeconomic background.

NOT REAL – You can determine if someone has an eating disorder and how “sick” they are just by looking at them. While there are some physical symptoms (dry skin, swollen cheeks, hair loss, brittle nails, bags under eyes, etc.), in general people with eating disorders look no different than anyone else. We are not all emaciated, and, in fact, most are within the “normal/healthy” range. Body weight and type is no determining factor. You can die from an eating disorder at any size. Even if you never get medically unstable, living each day with an ED is slowly killing you anyways. How sick, or severe the sickness is, is not something you can tell by appearance.

REAL – Treatment is essential to recovery. Just 1 in 10 people with eating disorders ever get treatment for them. Let that sink in a bit. If we were talking about cancer, diabetes, or basically any other illness, this fact would be considered outrageous. Just as treatment is necessary for any other disease its true for eating disorder recovery. Without treatment, most have no chance at all of recovering.

NOT REAL – Body image is the sole cause of eating disorders. Yes, body image can and does play a huge role for plenty of people with EDs. This is far from the only factor in the development of the disorders, however. There are so many possible underlying issues or situations including, but certainly not limited to depression, anxiety, abuse, self-harm, trauma, genetics, low self-esteem, perfectionism, dieting and stress.

REAL – Eating disorders are deadly. Around 20% of people diagnosed with eating disorders will die from either suicide or complications from the disorder. We lose someone to an eating disorder every 69 minutes, 23 people a day.

NOT REAL – Eating disorders go away after the bare minimum amount of treatment. Eating disorders simply don’t vanish that easily. We’ve had some treatment and therefor are expected to go back to a healthy relationship with food. Recovery takes so much more effort. It can be a very long time until you’re at a healthy place again, and that’s okay.

REAL – Eating disorders are NOT a choice. I really don’t understand why people would even consider for a moment that those with eating disorders would ever consciously choose to live that way. Its miserable, time-consuming, harmful to your body, and consumes you, leaving no room for anything in your life. Why would anyone pick that kind of life?

Please try to take this information with you. Everyone knows someone affected by an eating disorder and these truths and falsities will shape your interactions with them in a positive way.

A friend no more

I’ve lost quite a lot due to my eating disorder. Other people around me have suffered as well. Its been really hard on my family, especially my mom. Even with all the hell an eating disorder causes, I never expected my illness to cause our family to lose close friends.

I’m going to call this woman Carrie. She is a mom of a guy who was in early college with me and two boys near my brother’s age. Ever since I began early college, my mom and really our whole families grew very close. I mean we switched to our church because they invited us first. My mom definitely considered her a best friend. I was also pretty close to her, even more so after I started volunteering so much at church. Her younger boys were friends with my brother and I. We had their family over for dinner and to swim and they even watched Milo for us.

This all came to an abrupt halt recently. At first, I was the only one treated differently. Suddenly Carrie wouldn’t talk to me anymore, even though I tried to be nice and friendly. I spent a long time thinking I’d done something wrong and not knowing what it was. It actually got so bad the youth pastor had to speak with her. After that she got a little nicer, but overall she was still extremely distant. At this point she also began to avoid my mom more.. This was at the beginning of last summer.

I made some posts one Facebook once I hit my one year mark from being admitted into PHP. I’ve been trying to open up more and more about it on social media because I want to spread awareness. Shortly after, I was admitted into FV once again for IP. Our church put this in the prayer chain (without my name) and I posted some more general “please be praying for me” type of things on FB. Even being so open about my mental health to people who ask I just didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

Since then, every time we go to church, the whole family ignores us. My mom was really torn up about it and didn’t quite understand what went wrong. I kind of had a feeling of why Carrie may have done these things, but one day a week after I was discharged she got the real answer: Carrie doesn’t believe eating disorders or mental illnesses in general are real and thinks that I am faking this all for attention.

I cried the first time I heard that. I immediately felt guilty that I had cost my mom such a close friendship. Soon after, I realize I shouldn’t be. I didn’t ask for these illnesses. Heck I really don’t want sympathy. All I do desire when it comes to my story is to promote awareness and help others going through these things. It’s views like Carrie’s that make it so much harder to live with these problems.

I’m angry. I can’t believe anyone could be so harsh about such serious illnesses! I also didn’t understand how she could justify being terrible to me and my family over this. While I may not ever accept that this severing of friendship had to happen the way it did, I have learned from it.

I realize now that there are more people like Carrie out there. And there will be relationships broken just like what I experienced. The only way to ever prevent this intolerance of mental illness is to push awareness even more. That’s exactly what I’m going to do until everyone sees mental illness as a flaw in brain chemistry, not character; serious problem not something to be brushed off; and a legitimate diagnosis, not fraud for attention. We have a long way to go to erase these negative mindsets, but it will happen, one person at a time.