National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 22-28. Each year during this week I touch on the subject because it was during this week several years back that I “went public” with my struggle and I just want others to know they’re not alone.
A lot of people think of eating disorders as being something that only afflicts teen/early 20’s females. I even thought this a little bit, especially as I was about to enter treatment. I was in my 30’s and was checking myself into an Intensive Outpatient Program and was certain I would be with a bunch of young girls. Yes, there were young girls there, several of them were “forced” into treatment by their parents. But there were several other lovely women who were closer to my age. After I finished my IOP program, I did an eating disorder group for a long time after and we had all ages/genders/colors in my group. There was no one mold for all of us, and all of us had very different reasons that we fell into similar behavior patterns.
I saw an article the other day about how millennials want to discuss eating disorders and how the “after-school special” no longer works. (Maybe partly due to the fact that there aren’t after-school specials anymore!) There was a quote in the article that said: ‘We’re in a totally different media landscape since the days of the after-school special. Those shows featured young, white girls of a certain social class “dying to be thin,”‘
While my eating disorder didn’t blow up into full-blown anorexia until my mid-to-late 20’s, I think there was always the niggle in the back of my mind. And it wasn’t about looking a certain way or reaching a certain number on the scale. I actually remember watching those after-school specials and identifying with the girls in them. I always thought, “I could do that.” It was the control and perfectionism that resonated with me. Those are two issues I still struggle with, I want to be in complete control of my life and make sure that everyone is perfectly happy because of the choices I’ve made.
The simple fact is that because I live in a world with other people, there is no way I can be in control of everything all the time. And I’ve started to realize that even if I make decisions in my life that others don’t agree with, they can still love/like/respect me. And if they don’t, that doesn’t need to matter either.
I didn’t run at the height of my eating disorder, running was actually a part of the healing process. Yet at the same time it fueled my ED at moments. You have no idea how exhausting a run is when you are thinking, “How many calories have I consumed today? What pace am I running at and how many miles have I gone and how many calories has that burned? How little food can I consume after this to keep myself from passing out but still keep losing weight?” It’s miserable.
I’m now at a point where my running doesn’t actually fuel my eating disorder. Yes, I think I still have an eating disorder. Experts say full recovery is possible, but I’m having a hard time seeing that. I think that I will always have to be aware of my thoughts and patterns to keep myself from falling into that negative place again.
Unfortunately, athletes are susceptible to eating disorders at alarmingly high rates, especially in sports where weight/appearance plays an importance. Runners fall into this category. And weight is frequently a focus of how to be a better runner in magazines and books. I saw on the NEDA site: “In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa (Johnson, Powers, et al, 1999). In weight-class and aesthetic sports about 33% of males and up to 62% of females are affected by an eating disorder (Thompson, PhD. 2010).” That’s frightening!
I’m glad there is more education available for parents, coaches, friends, family for how to support a loved one with an eating disorder. There are huge problems in the world with how we talk, not just about eating disorders but about our weight/bodies in general. It infuriates me when people I love disrespect themselves with disparaging remarks, especially when they do it around my daughter. I don’t want her to think that’s how you’re supposed to think about yourself. I love when she says “I’m so beautiful!” because she believes it and KNOWS it. I think everybody knows they are a beautiful and unique individual but the more superficial our world becomes about appearance, the more we start to condition everyone around us that we’re never enough. And that reprogramming seems to be happening at a younger and younger age. Kindergartners don’t need to be thinking “I’m so fat.” yet it is happening.
The next time you feel the need to bash some part of your anatomy, please remember your words can hurt others around you AND you’re hurting yourself with those words. Think about if you would say that statement to someone else and then treat yourself with that same kindness. I’m still trying to limit those thoughts inside my head, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of not vocalizing them!