Last semester, my psychology professor asked us to raise our hands if we knew someone with an eating disorder. Most people put up an arm. That so many people were affected by eating disorders chilled me as I, too, raised my own hand high in silent tribute to my own past struggles and those of my friends.
I am writing this piece in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness week. At first, I intended to write anonymously, but I realized that in doing so, I would further perpetuate the stigma that eating disorders are shameful. The sensational media portrayal of eating disorders has led to a society that at best misunderstands the issue and at worst, ridicules its sufferers, and the result is that eating disorders remain in secrecy. Silence is the fuel for the fires of eating disorders. In using my real name here, my voice just got louder.
My life with an eating disorder was exhausting and drearily dull. My mind was occupied by thoughts about food and my body, at the expense of schoolwork, my hobbies, my family and friends. The following was constantly running through my head: “What do I eat? Where? When? Should I throw up? Why is life so complicated?” The fact that I knew the nutritional facts of hundreds of foods is evidence of the extent that my days were stolen by my eating disorder. I was lonely and miserable, with each day becoming a blur of tedious numbers--calories, protein, pounds.
I have been in recovery for over two years. When I think of recovery, I picture my baby cousin, completely absorbed in the rolls on her stomach folding into wrinkles. I hear Sammy gurgling as she touches her soft tummy, marveling at her own body, as if to say, "Look what strange things my body can do! Can yours?" There is no judgment--only fascination--in her large doe eyes as she clenches a tiny fistful of her bulging, round midsection. And what a beautiful midsection it is.
I feel incredibly lucky for having friends and parents whose support knows no limit, and I'm grateful for them beyond words. I am including a list of ways I have been helped, with the hope that you will reach out to your loved one with an eating disorder.
- Don't talk about physical appearance, food, or exercise.
- Offer to listen, don't interrupt, and don't give advice.
- Learn about and educate others on eating disorders.
- Spend time together doing fun activities.
- Recognize that it is not her or his fault, but encourage him or her to get help.
- Be a healthy role model.
- Understand that this is when your love is needed most.
- Stay patient.
From my experiences with eating disorders and recovery, I have come to the following understandings about healthy relationships with eating:
- First, pay attention to your diet, but don't worry about it.
- Second, take pride in your body, but don't allow it to define you.
- Third, having an eating disorder takes strength, but recovering from one takes more strength.
- Finally, happiness doesn't come with a certain body shape; happiness comes with acceptance.
This story comes from a student at Duke University. She has decided to share her story in hopes of educating the public and helping others cope with and overcome their illness.