In the last Running in Silence guest post, Sara Brekke spoke openly and courageously about her eating disorder journey. In her original post (sarabrekke.blogspot.com) she made additional points about eating disorders that I felt were extremely important to share here in a post of its own:
1) Eating disorders are not reserved for self conscious girls who strive to have a body like those in the magazines. They affects all genders, races, and ages and don’t need to stem from a desire to be thin. In fact, I became extremely self conscious of my thinness. I feared being seen in a swimsuit or sports bra knowing that every vertebrae and rib in my body being visible made me appear more reptilian than human. To hide my emaciated body, I have worn two pairs of pants and baggy long-sleeves to hide my knobby elbows and jutting hipbones.
I did not develop anorexia because of the models in magazines. I was confident with my body up until sixth grade and ate anything and everything–never giving a second thought about the appearance of my body. While I do believe that society gives an incredibly detrimental message to young people, females especially, in what their body should look like, a full blown eating disorder for me was a combination of underlying mental illness and these societal ideals.
2) There are multiple types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS), so it is almost impossible to assume somebody does or does not have an eating disorder based on their appearance. Eating disorders don’t require the sufferers to be under 80 pounds in order to be considered dangerous. Every body has a different threshold as to how much stress and malnourishment it can handle before quitting. You can be a healthy weight and still have an eating disorder just like you can be under or overweight and not have an eating disorder. There is no direct correlation between body appearance and mental well being.
To give an example, during the early stages after diagnosis while I was restoring my weight, I appeared healthier, but cried for hours on end at home when my mom simply made me drink a glass of 2% milk or Ensure (true story).
3) Eating disorders are commonly a side effect of what else is going on in life, in my case, anxiety. They are not a choice, and people cannot “catch” an eating disorder. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate and one of the lowest recovery rates of any mental disorder. It is a very serious disease that should be treated that way. The cause of my anorexia was lifelong anxiety and depression, which suddenly manifested itself via an eating disorder. This took me a long time to figure out and was the root of my frustration with the doctors and why treatment failed for me multiple times. Even after my Dad died and my weight dwindled with the suffocating grief, during a routine check up at the same hospital my Dad should have been walking into every week for work, my Doctor asked me if I would be open to seeing a nutritionist and therapist for my eating disorder… The eating disorder wasn’t my main concern at the time, the main concern was trying to convince myself that life was still worth living without my Dad.
4) It’s control. I could control and manipulate my body and what I put into it. I saw changes, and could predict those changes. Between the unpredictability of life and the anxiety that had controlled me for so many years, I wanted to take the wheel. But I didn’t know that my life would crumble as a result… Every thought and action became consumed by what I would, or more-so, wouldn’t eat. I stopped spending time with friends because I wouldn’t have control over the food I would be eating outside of my home environment; the reason I am able to count on one hand how many sleepovers I had between sixth grade and sophomore year… I missed out on the childhood and teenage experiences that I should have had: never having cake on my birthday, never ordering pizza with friends, fearing holidays revolving around food, and on top of that, my disorder dictated what my family was able and unable to do. Even when you do everything in your abilities to take control of your environment, life has a way of saying “Mmmm, nice try…”. What started as a confident and proud amount of me controlling my body spiraled into my disorder controlling my every action.
What I appreciate about Sara’s points are that eating disorders are not so cut-and-dry, and they do not look the same for everyone. With those of us who have suffered from eating disorders speaking up about our own experiences, we can identify VARIOUS causes and signs, and brainstorm preventive strategies for battling this mental illness. Thank you Sara for your voice!