This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a week that is very important to me and so many other people throughout the world. An eating disorder is one of the most painful and challenging disorders out there and is also a disease that affects nearly 30 million people in their lifetime. I am one of those people. Eating disorder issues have not only been a problem of my own, but also have affected other members of my family and my friends.
I have suffered from bulimia nervosa since the age of 18. I have also suffered from binge eating disorder since the age of 25. This is something people who know me are usually aware of, but it is always something that I struggle with and have felt ashamed of for nearly half of my life.
My bulimia was not limited to binging and purging, but also overexercising, abuse of laxatives, diuretics and dangerous diet pills as well as self-destructive social behaviors.
People who have bulimia nervosa judge themselves harshly on their body weight and shape. In order to help them cope with these feelings, they follow a strict diet to try to lose weight. But over time the hunger from the strict diet triggers them to binge eat. After binge eating, they feel out of control, ashamed, guilty, and afraid of gaining weight. This distress causes them to purge, in hopes of “undoing” any possible weight gain from the binge.
My problem wasn’t always obvious to those closest to me, because I had always maintained a normal weight and often times was slightly overweight. However, despite the fact that I didn’t look sick, I was suffering from a disease that was controlling my mind and body and was deteriorating my quality of life. Much like an individual suffering from anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia become obsessed with their weight and appearance. The obsessive nature of an eating disorder drives its victims to a sometimes very dark place; a place where reality is no longer an option and pain and punishment seem like the only feelings possible. I spent a long part of my life feeling like I should be or was being punished for being less than what I thought was acceptable. I spent years avoiding social situations, mirrors, and cameras so that I could avoid any form of feedback about myself. If I could have disappeared, I would have happily done so.
— Erin C. Thompson (@beetsperminute) February 24, 2015
Over the past several years, after the death of my father and my renewed love of fitness, I have learned to come to terms with the value of my health. By finally shifting my focus to health, I have been able to lead a much more normal life; a life where I feel thankful for the body I am in rather than feeling ashamed of it.
Dealing with a person suffering from an eating disorder can be very frustrating. My eating disorder threatened and destroyed many of my relationships with other people. I mean, come on, is it easy to sit around and listen to a person rip themselves to shreds verbally? Hell no. Is it easy to watch a person you love run their body into the ground and harm themselves day in and day out? Hell no. Is it easy to feel powerless and unable to help a person you care about who is hurting? Hell no. This is why often times an individual suffering from an eating disorder can actually wind up feeling more alone than ever. However it’s important to know that there are things you can do to help yourself if you or someone you love is a person suffering from an eating disorder.
- Focus on feelings and relationships, not on weight and food. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional help.
- Tell them you are concerned about their health, but respect their privacy. Eating disorders are often a cry for help, and the individual will appreciate knowing that you are concerned.
- Do not comment on how they look. The person is already too aware of their body. Even if you are trying to compliment them, comments about weight or appearance only reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
- Make sure you do not convey any fat prejudice, or reinforce their desire to be thin. If they say they feel fat or want to lose weight, don’t say “You’re not fat.” Instead, suggest they explore their fears about being fat, and what they think they can achieve by being thin.
- Avoid power struggles about eating. Do not demand that they change. Do not criticize their eating habits. People with eating disorders are trying to be in control. They don’t feel in control of their life. Trying to trick or force them to eat can make things worse.
- Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
- Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”
Adapted from: National Eating Disorder Information Center and National Eating Disorders Association.
While I would love to say that I’m “cured” of my issue, I am not. An eating disorder will sadly never be far from me, but having support and being aware of my ED tendencies does help me to avoid relapsing. One thing that has really helped me to stay away from the binge/purge cycle has been utilizing the ability to talk about my feelings. Sometimes I feel like I may be “burdening” my friends, family, and husband talking about how I feel or my anxiety, but I know that just getting those feelings out of me is what is helping to keep me straight. The truth is we have to feel to heal. The minute I told another person how I was suffering, I knew it was the first step to getting my life back. I encourage anybody else out there who is suffering with an eating disorder to please talk to someone you can trust and start the path to recovery. There are lots of resources for friends and family to help a loved one who may be suffering from this painful disorder. Please visit The National Eating Disorders Association’s website for more information on how you can help yourself and others begin the path of health and healing.