The content of this post may be sensitive to some readers.
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week in the U.S. While this week may signify just yet another cause for some, to others (including me), the message it carries is extremely imperative. It's crucial to get the word out about this sometimes stigmatized form of mental illness.
This year's theme for NEDAwareness Week is "I Had No Idea," according to the National Eating Disorders Association website. This year's theme includes, "focusing on the importance of early intervention and recognizing the diverse experiences of people personally affected by disordered eating," also according to the site.
NEDAwareness Week is vital because of the huge number of people eating disorders affect. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, "Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.," which proves just how prevalent eating disorders are in the world. Notice how the statistic says all ages and genders. Eating disorders are not limited to illnesses that affect teenage girls. There isn't a stereotype for eating disorders; they can affect and ruin the life of any individual. That statistic alone should be enough to start talking about eating disorders and stop keeping them a secret.
The stigma that surrounds any kind of mental illness can prevent someone who needs help from getting it. It's reprehensible, and something that needs to be stopped. Talking about mental illnesses, raising awareness, and supporting those you know are struggling can aid in eliminating unnecessary shame and guilt over having a mental illness.
While this article is an effort to spread the word and bring attention to NEDAwareness Week, it is also a reminder as to why recovering from this horrific illness is worth it. These reasons are brought to you by me, a woman who has been in recovery from an eating disorder for three years.
Reason #1: To improve your health, regardless of what it may have been like with your disorder.
Recovery from an eating disorder can bring nothing but improved health for you. While some people may say that they never had a cold or that they felt supremely healthy while in the depths of their disorder, this doesn't necessarily mean that their immune system or health were at their best. It's likely that the immune system was suppressed in order to make up for the body shutting down in other ways. Recovering from an eating disorder can reverse or slow the effects of osteoporosis, according to a study by Bass et al. in 2005 found on the Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.) website. Recovery and refeeding can also improve the immune system's function, according to a study by Allende et al. in 1998. Recovering can generate a positive shift in your overall mental and physical health. Choosing recovery means literally saving your life.
Reason #2: To be able to truly experience life.
Spending so much time focusing on your disorder robs you of the pleasures of everyday life. You aren't focused on keeping connections with friends and enjoying your life in the depths of an eating disorder because you're too worried and fixated on what you had, or didn't have, for breakfast. Your mind cannot juggle so many negative thoughts and calorie counts at once, therefore being entrenched in the world of the disorder means being completely removed from the realm of real life. It may sound cliché to say, but you truly are a shell of a person with an eating disorder. You're not really present in any situation due to obsessive thoughts of food. Choosing recovery means being able to concentrate on the things that matter to you. For me, this meant strengthening relationships with friends and family members that I had neglected, and graduating from college in the fall 2014 semester. I never would have been able to accomplish those things while in the hell of my eating disorder. Choose recovery to fully participate in your own life.
Reason #3: To be able to say, "I'm in recovery/I've overcome my eating disorder."
I won't lie and say that recovering from my eating disorder was a smooth and effortless process. It was the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to defeat in my life. Choosing recovery every day is still a struggle, even after an inpatient stay that I swore I would never repeat. Recovery meant being able to admit that I had some issues to sort through and address. It was strangely empowering because I didn't have to keep up the façade that I had created while struggling with anorexia. Choosing recovery means admitting to having a problem. This admission is terrifying, but liberating. Acknowledging your issues with food and talking about your eating disorder are the first steps to getting help and choosing recovery.
The wording throughout this article is intentional. The disorder is not your fault in any way, but deciding to recover from it is your decision. You have to choose recovery every day. It is an arduous task, but one that doesn't need to be completed alone. Full recovery is possible and worth every bite, therapy session, and tear. Please look for the support of medical professionals, family members, friends, and trusted people in your life to guide you through the process.
Please visit the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, or call the NEDA Helpline at 1-(800)-931-2237 to find resources and get help.