National Eating Disorder Awareness week happens this month February 25th-March 3rd. As someone who is currently in recovery from an eating disorder, this week means a lot to me, as it means a lot to my fellow ED warriors. It is a week for us to reflect on how far we’ve come, to remember those we’ve lost, or to re-examine our recovery and see if we are doing as well as we think we are. This is something I do on a regular basis, to avoid the spiral of a relapse. One of the things I always ask myself as a marker for how well I’m doing is, “Am I still connected with my community?”
Community has been essential in my recovery, and not just any community. But community that understands my eating disorder. Society has a lot of misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, and I had to break through some of these barriers with my community.
To help you support those in your community who might be struggling, I’ve written some of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders, as well as tips for your own mental health and the mental health of those in recovery. Let’s get to it!
1. Someone’s weight does NOT define the severity of their illness.
Eating disorders come in many shapes and sizes. Just because someone isn’t alarmingly underweight, doesn’t mean they aren’t sick. Just because someone looks to be at a “normal” or “healthy” weight, does not mean they aren’t struggling. In fact, the emaciated image of an eating disorder that is plastered all over the media is not the norm. The majority of people struggling with an eating disorder, don’t look the way they are portrayed in the media.
2. Weight restoration does not equal recovery.
For the people who do become underweight as a result of their eating disorder, most people assume that once they have gained their weight back, they are fully “recovered.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Weight restoration is typically the first part of recovery, but it is just the beginning. The brain continues to need healing even after the body has healed.
3. Eating Disorders are not about food.
This one is tricky, because you are probably thinking, “How is it not about food? It’s an eating disorder?” While the truth is, although eating disorders manifest themselves in food and eating, that is not what they are stemmed from. Most of them come from a need for control, anxiety, depression, self-loathing, a response to trauma, etc. Food is just the way that we cope with those things that we can’t control.
4. Pop culture does not cause eating disorders… but they can fuel them.
There is a lot of talk about the images we see in the media and the “trend” of eating disorders. But the reality is that eating disorders are not a trend, they are a serious mental illness. Social media can help fuel them by providing things like “pro ana” communities, which promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice and not an illness. Or by providing images upon images of people to compare yourself to. But I can promise you, girls (and boys) are not developing eating disorders because it is a cool trend to follow. They are developing them because they have a diagnosable mental illness.
5. Anorexia and Bulimia are not the only eating disorders.
Most people know what anorexia and bulimia are, and expect people diagnosed with eating disorders to fall under one of the two categories. When in reality, there are many kinds of eating disorders that are all equally as harmful. Some of these include, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, and EDNOS.
Now that you have a better idea about how eating disorders are misconstrued in the media, let’s look at some tangible things you can do to support those in recovery, as well as supporting your own well-being!
1. Stop the diet talk!
No one wants to hear about your diet. You deserve to be proud of yourself for setting certain goals and achieving them, but please do not go into detail about what you are eating, how much you are eating, or how often you are eating. We don’t need to hear about what new “diet trends” you ae trying. And we do not want to hear how much you weigh. Nothing triggers someone in recovery from an eating disorder quite like this. The only thing it does, is forces someone to compare their behaviors with yours.
2. Throw away the scale.
That’s it. Short and sweet. Get rid of that thing. It doesn’t measure health or progress, or anything productive.
3. Stop food shaming.
Foods are not “good” or “bad.” They just are. Stop perpetuating the idea that eating one piece of cake makes you a bad person. It doesn’t.
4. Be aware of your intent.
This one might take a little explaining, but it’s very important! When it comes to both your food and exercise choices, it’s important to be aware of your intent. Meaning, are you exercising because you want to honor your body or are you only exercising to lose weight? Did you choose those specific foods because it is what your body wants and needs or did you make that choice to avoid calories, carbs, etc? So next time you make any decisions regarding your body, first question what is motivating you to make that choice. This can be a huge game changer!
5. Take a break from social media.
Remember, social media and culture can fuel an already existing eating disorder. If you feel that you are too pre-occupied with the things you are seeing on your phone, computer, or TV… turn them off!
This list is obviously not the end all, be all of things eating disorders. But this is a great place to start, and if you have more questions about how to support someone in recovery, or if you fear you might be struggling with an eating disorder, head over to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.
Author: Lisa Johns, Resource and Crisis Helpline Supervisor at Common Ground