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.