She stares at the menu at the restaurant. Her stomach is gurgling painfully, as she carefully scans each option. Thoughts of food have consumed her mind all day. Yet, the voice of anorexia is screaming in her head. She cannot seem to block out the voice, which tells her there is only item on the menu that is safe to order. Still, her anxiety is mounting. Numbers and calculations are swirling through her head, and although her body aches painfully, the voice commands that she must go for a run later. Her friends applaud her "discipline." But it is not discipline or willpower; rather it is a mental illness that is holding her hostage. She has become a prisoner to her own mind.
Eating disorders are not a choice. No one chooses to lose all of their friends, because they cannot go anywhere that there will be food. No one chooses to watch in fear as their hair falls out, to binge eat until they feel that their stomach is going to burst, or to exercise despite physical pain and injuries.
Eating disorders are one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are "vain" or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the following are three things that people struggling with eating disorders need to know.
1. Holding on to even a small part of your eating disorder will limit your overall happiness and ability to experience true joy.
Ambivalence towards recovery and being in a state of partial recovery is incredibly common for those who are struggling with eating disorders. Maintaining the bare minimum of recovery from an eating disorder is better than being in the depths of your disorder-however it is not advisable to stay in this state of partial recovery, long-term.
At this point, your life is still limited and compromised by your disordered behaviors. Additionally, you may be less likely to receive help and support from others, as they may mistakenly think you are "fine now." If you have made progress in some areas of your recovery, but are still battling a monster in your head everyday, it is important that you continue to work on challenging your rigid rules, fear foods, or compensatory behaviors.
Letting your eating disorder have even a small amount of control over your life, prevents you from finding true fulfillment and happiness. You have done the tough work of changing some behaviors, and it's important that you do not stop here. On the other side of your eating disorder is freedom and purpose. You have come too far to stop halfway.
2. Your eating disorder voice may try to convince you that you are not "sick enough" to recover, but you don't need to listen.
An integral component of eating disorders is often denial of the severity of the illness. Your eating disorder voice will likely try to convince you that you are not "sick enough" to recover. It's important to note that even if you are not technically "underweight," you still deserve recovery. An individual can be malnourished and suffering from physical complications of an eating disorder, at any weight. Further, eating disorders are mental illnesses-and you cannot determine someone's level of suffering on the basis of their weight or physical health.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you deserve to seek treatment and to be able to work towards recovery. An eating disorder is not a choice, but you can choose to start on the path to recovery-at any time.
3. Full recovery is completely possible.
Once in a while I stumble across articles online, which proclaim that it is not possible to be entirely free from an eating disorder. This assertion is blatantly false. Now this is not to say that recovery from an eating disorder is "easy" or that it will necessarily be a speedy and linear process-however there are so many individuals whose lives serve as examples of full recovery and freedom.
When you are in the depths of an eating disorder, it might be difficult to imagine a life free from the obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors. However, while it will take hard work, commitment, and outside support-full recovery is 100 percent attainable. There is hope.
Kristina Saffran, a woman who recovered from an eating disorder and went on to co-found Project HEAL, stated,
"There was no click, no "magical pill" to cure me. I made a conscious decision to change my life, and worked at it. Now I'm a real person. I have hopes and dreams. I have real relationships. I go out and socialize...People don't pity me anymore; they want to be friends with me. None of this would be possible if I hadn't gotten rid of my eating disorder."
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and intuitive eating counselor, who specializes in working with adolescents, survivors of trauma, and eating disorders. Jennifer blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and is a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. "Like" her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW.
To help fund lifesaving programs for people with eating disorders please consider donating to Jennifer's participation in The National Eating Disorder Association's DC walk.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.