Many of you will identify with some of what Amy has to share about her journey to making peace with food and her body. I hope you'll enjoy reading it. I know I did!
Sarah Patten is a passionate eating disorder specialist who works with me in my practice. She is going to close out National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 by sharing with each of you "The One Thing She Wishes People Knew About Eating Disorders." Take it away Sarah!
Typically, when a person finds out that I'm a dietitian, I'm instantly assaulted with a barrage of questions regarding nutrition, the latest diet fads or super foods, and what my job actually entails day to day. When they learn that I don't endorse diets, food fads, or even promote weight loss and instead work with those struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating, the questions continue - but take on a different tone of curiosity and misunderstanding.
It never ceases to amaze me that eating disorders, which effect roughly 30 million Americans and have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, remain so mysterious to the general population. There is so much information that I wish I could convey to the world about eating disorders. So much insight and understanding that might foster greater compassion for those struggling and perhaps even increase the minimal research funding allotted to fighting this serious condition. My mind overflows with misconceptions I could correct or statistics I could offer to help educate, but when asked to consider the ONE thing that I wish people knew about eating disorders, the answer is simple:
A PERSON'S BODY SIZE IS NOT AN ACCURATE REFLECTION OF WHETHER THEY HAVE AN EATING DISORDER OR NOT!!!
Eating disorders are not limited to society's perception of the anorectic body type – but instead are rampant in people of all shapes and sizes. And although weight loss and a malnourished appearance can definitely be a serious indicator of an eating disorder, weight is by no means the only measure of the extent to which a person is suffering. For those struggling with an eating disorder, the reinforcement of this narrow belief contributes to feelings of “not being sick enough/thin enough/starved enough” or beliefs that “I don't have an eating disorder if I'm not “underweight” or emaciated.”
How can this knowledge help us? For starters, it can help us to be aware that we simply can't make assumptions about a person's relationship with food based on their body size. With this knowledge, we can work towards changing the way we might comment on another person's body, whether to their face or behind their back. Be mindful that your seemingly innocent comment on a coworker's weight loss may actually be interpreted very differently than you intended. Let's compliment other's on their strengths, praise their contributions, and appreciate their personality rather than focus on what their body looks like.
For those struggling with an eating disorder, hopefully this message will help you to challenge that internal critic telling you that you're not “sick enough” or “worthy of help or support” because of what your body looks like or what the scale says. Your weight in no way reflects your worth and certainly doesn't dictate your need for support. Healing from an eating disorder means learning to love, accept, and most importantly CARE for yourself no matter what your body looks like – you're worth it.
A client in recovery wishes you knew:
I never really believed in the concept of recovery. And while I’m not fully recovered, I’m so much further along than I ever dreamed possible. And while it’s been tough, my life is so much better without the clutches of my ED. I’m starting to believe that full recovery is possible. But if that scares you, hold on to the idea of getting “just a little bit better.”
Julie Duffy Dillon wishes you knew:
Recovery is possible for you. No matter how long you've been in throws of ED, no matter how tough it gets, no matter how dark it is, I believe in your recovery. I believe eating disorder behaviors deprive the brain of the nourishment it needs to feel hope and blocks the path to recovery. My job, as your dietitian, is to let you know I have plenty of hope for your recovery in my noggin. Your team believes this too and we will patiently walk beside you as you find your secure footing to recovery.
Julie Duffy Dillon MS, RD, NCC, LDN, CEDRD
A client in recovery wishes you knew:
There are so many things that I wish people knew about EDs - and primarily because people don’t talk about them as much as they should given their prevalence and our society’s warped perspective on women’s bodies. No one who has an eating disorder wants it; they affect people of all ages and genders and backgrounds and races and cultures and - anyone; saying “just eat more” isn’t going to do anyone any good; it’s more important to listen to someone who has an ED often more often than talking to them. The list goes on and on. What’s important is to know that there is so much to learn about and to stay open to and to gather support for, because the more you know and the more they know, the better off you all will be.
Emily Fonnesbeck wishes you knew:
That they aren’t glamorous, although it’s easy to assume in a culture of clean eating, fitspiration,filters and photoshopping. When our bodies are our primary focus, we can miss emotional distress that can lead to mental illness. That isn’t anything to take lightly; eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. While the causes and triggers for eating disorders are multiple and varied, they often start as innocently as trying a diet (yes even so-called “healthy diets”; a true oxymoron). I wish people realized the possible triggering that can result from viewing or listening to YOUR before/after pictures, gym selfies and dieting tips. If you are the one triggered, get rid of it. Be careful about the type of media messages you let into your mind, heart and soul. While it may not be culturally acceptable, please know that you absolutely, positively get to say NO.
It seems that in terms of health and fitness, a common belief is that strength and self-improvement comes from eating a certain way, sticking to a diet or pushing through the pain in exercise. I don’t believe it. I feel true strength and self-improvement comes from being true to yourself and respecting yourself enough to avoid the demoralizing world of weight, body shape and diet obsession. Anyone can (and deserves to) find peace with food, their body and themselves.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD
Helping you make peace with food to end disordered eating.
A client in recovery wishes you knew:
1. I'm not lazy (even though I'm fat)
2. Your judgement hurts- a lot. (I'm probably more judgmental of myself than you are of me anyway, I constantly have to content with "negative voices".)
3. You can help by valuing me as a person for my ideas and what I do- not based on what I look like.
4. It can be really hard to get up and face the world everyday confidently when you know that others are judging you so much.
5. My eating disorder helps me cope with really tough stuff. Is it healthy and good? No. But it helps me to function when all else fails. I'm working on finding a better way.
Lindsay Stenovek wishes you knew:
I wish that others knew that people suffering from eating disorders aren't "liars" or "manipulative" or "non-compliant." I cringe every time I hear this! Even though eating disorders are maladaptive, someone suffering from an eating disorder often feels that their behaviors are helping them cope with life, avoid emotional pain, manage anxiety, etc... This comes in many different forms and serves many different purposes. As a dietitian, I am asking my client to decrease the use of these coping skills. That can be terrifying for the client. It's understandable that it would trigger them to report inaccurately, tell me what they think I want to hear or change their story between an appointment with me and another treatment team member. This is not manipulation. This is not lying. It's fear and shame and all of the other challenges that come from dealing with a serious illness. Labeling someone this way adds fuel to this shame and keeps us from helping those who need our non-judgmental support, understanding and trust.
Lindsay Stenovec, MS, RDN, CEDRD
Founder of The Nurtured Mama Program