February 22-28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness week.
According to nedawareness.org, an eating disorder will affect about 30 million people at some point in their lives, in the United States alone.
As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, this topic is very close to my heart. It needs to be talked about more.
Eating disorders are messy, complicated and can affect anyone: male, female, skinny, heavy or whatever. Eating disorders do not discriminate. The most common eating disorders (or EDs) are anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Additionally, there are types of eating disorders not otherwise specified.
This category includes binge eating disorders and orthorexia, which is an obsessive fixation on righteous eating.
Symptoms between disorders often overlap, causing many people to suffer from more than one eating disorder at the same time.
Additionally, many who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from depression, as they usually co-occur..
My eating disorder began when I wanted to lose some weight. As a woman who has struggled with her weight for years, I decided to transition to “eating clean.”
That meant that I cut anything out of my diet that was processed, had excess sugar (including fruit) and I even cut out alcohol, simply because it had too many calories.
I kept absolutely no junk food in my house, with the exception of some dark chocolate.
I would allow myself exactly one serving of dark chocolate a day, and if I ate more than that one serving, I would force myself to endure grueling cardio workouts to get rid of the excess calories.
As my disorder progressed, I started to isolate myself from social gatherings that included food because I was fearful of eating anything that was not deemed a “clean” food.
I stopped going to dinner at my mom’s house because I had no idea what she was making and I could not account for all the ingredients in any given dish.
I was so obsessed with eating perfectly that I let it control every aspect of my life. I stopped seeing friends, I stopped dating and I stopped seeing my family. I was completely and utterly isolated and obsessed with food.
As I suffered from food control issues, I also suffered from binge eating disorder.
I restricted my food intake so firmly that it often led to uncontrollable binges where I would eat everything I could get my hands on because I wasn’t getting the right combination of what my body needed.
I lost a lot of weight during this period and looked great, but it was overshadowed by how awful I felt.
People are usually ashamed to talk about their eating disorders for fear of being judged or simply told to “eat more/eat less/eat better.”
There is a stigma that is associated with eating disorders because they are so misunderstood. People often think that an eating disorder is something that can be solved overnight, but it’s not. It's a combination of issues that can kill.
If starvation or substance abuse does not kill someone, then suicide will. That is why I put off talking about my eating disorder for a very, very long time. I was ashamed to admit that I was a woman in her late 20s who could not control her food.
When you combine binge eating disorder with orthorexia, it makes for a very lonely life.
In addition to a combined eating disorder, my depression came back stronger than ever. Finally, I decided to put myself in therapy.
In addition to therapy, I was lucky enough to find a workout program that emphasized being strong over skinny. I credit that mantra to helping me find balance in my life.
Do I still struggle with obsessive thoughts and desires to control my food? Absolutely. Every single day, actually. But, day by day, it gets better.
I’ve learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs and (occasionally) wants.
Every day I wake up happier and healthier, and for that I am eternally grateful.