Monday marked the start of the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and I thought long and hard about what I could say that might feel meaningful to each of you.
Many of you know an awful lot about eating disorders because you treat them or have suffered from one. An eating disorder has touched you in some indelible way.
Professionally, I have lived and breathed eating disorders for over a decade. It is a mental illness that puzzles the most brilliant researchers and clinicians due to the confluence of many causes and the tenacity to which they resist treatment. When it comes to research, we have far more unanswered questions than the things we know for sure. And the art of providing treatment often feels like a series of experiments, with the hopes that something will stick.
And do you want to know something miraculous? Despite all of our limitations, people recover. I personally believe that, at the center of every person’s recovery, is a story of relationship and connection.
In the spirit of this year’s EDAW theme, “Let’s Get Real,” I’d like to share with you some of the very “real” things my clients have taught me over the years.
Here are their words:
“You know what Marci, I’m coming to realize that I had an eating disorder for many years. But it was never acknowledged despite all of the clear warning signs because of my larger size. That’s really “f*#%&@” up. And I’m not going to stand for it anymore. I deserve to be kind to my body just like anybody else.”
“I look back at my 19 year old self and wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop. To tell myself there was another way to deal with and express my pain. I had no idea that I would still be dealing with this 20 years later. Our culture acts like eating disorders are a cute fad. It has taken over and destroyed most of my life. But I’m determined to beat this.”
“When I first developed my eating disorder no one knew and I got so many compliments on my body. It’s no wonder I still equate my worth to my size. People saw my weight loss as exciting and everyone asked me my tips but they had no idea how much I was hurting and how much their comments fueled my own sense of worthlessness.”
“There is perhaps nothing that enrages me more than when I tell someone what I do for a living and they respond with “Oh I wish I could get an eating disorder…” I look those people squarely in the eye and say, “No, no you don’t.””
Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness out there and they impact people regardless of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and size. They are not about vanity and they are not a choice. And, while we don’t have the ability to prevent all eating disorders from occurring, there is a single thing I believe we can all collectively do, and that is to work hard to create a world where our inside matters far more than our outside
We can begin by:
- Telling our friends how great it is to see them and ask them how they are doing rather than telling them how good they look.
- Express interest in what our loved ones are doing. Ask about hobbies, books, TV shows, work, relationships, what lights them up on the inside, etc.
Of course, we can affirm one another’s beauty from time to time but because we live in a culture that equates worth with appearance and size, we must intentionally express interest in and affirm non-appearance related qualities. We must proactively emphasize all of the other aspects that make us unique and valuable to counter all of the appearance focused messaging.
C.S. Lewis teaches us, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”
Our bodies will change shape, size, and they will age but the truest essence of our goodness lives right inside and that is what matters most.
If you are looking for additional Eating Disorders Awareness Week resources, check out The National Eating Disorders Association. I thought their Buzzfeed style quiz, “Do You Need a Reality Check,” was particularly good.
And in case you missed it, I created a couple of resources that may be helpful to you:
- Dismantling Weight Stigma One Word at a Time – Guidance on language that creates helps to remove stigma and makes room for inclusivity.
- But I Hate My Body…Cracking the Code on Body Acceptance – A short e-book to explore body image healing.