Contrary to common portrayals manufactured by the media, eating disorders are not a lifestyle preference chosen by vanity-obsessed, rich, white females. They are complex psychiatric disorders – with severe medical implications – that develop as a result of genetic, psychological and environmental triggers. Eating disorders impact individuals of all ages, genders, body types, socio-economic statuses, sexualities, weights, races, ethnicities and religions.
To help others who may be wary of seeking support, we asked some of the amazing individuals in our adult partial hospitalization program to share what this year’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s (EDAW) theme, “Come As You Are” meant to them.
- Eating disorders don’t all “look” the same: When I was in high school, I got very little education around eating disorders. I didn’t think my behaviors were “bad” because the people who had eating disorders – from what I had seen portrayed in after-school specials – looked and behaved completely different than I did. My school showed us the stereotypical depiction of eating disorders which highlighted ballerinas struggling with anorexia. I was a soccer player with an athletic build and was part of the band. I told myself that I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I didn’t ‘fit the role.’ What I know now, is that you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they have an eating disorder. They can impact people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
- There are many different types of eating disorders– all of which are worthy of treatment– I’m 26 and have been dealing with my eating disorder since I was 9. Over the years, my eating disorder has taken many forms from anorexia to bulimia to binge eating disorder and back. Due to what I think was a perception garnered from mainstream media, I didn’t believe that I deserved help unless I was underweight and medically unstable. I felt that restricting my food intake was far less shameful and more acceptable than asking for help with bingeing and/or purging behaviors. What I think has been important for me in my eating disorder journey, has been recognizing that there is no “cookie cutter” presentation of an eating disorder and that each diagnosis are equally important and deserving of compassion and treatment.
- You deserve ongoing treatment no matter how many times you’ve received it – I’ve been through treatment several times. After my second stay at Walden, I pretended I was fine for a really long time because I didn’t want my parents to worry about me or to be disappointed in me. I think this year’s EDAW theme validates the relapse experience of so many people living with eating disorders. Just because we’ve been through treatment before, doesn’t mean we should feel guilty or shameful if we find ourselves needing it again.
- It’s never too late to get treatment. I’m in my 50s and have struggled for many years with an eating disorder and am now in treatment for the first time. I definitely felt a lot of stigma – even from doctors – who didn’t even recognize that my symptoms could be indicative of an eating disorder because of my age. I think that we tell ourselves a lot of stories to avoid getting help and the story that I told myself was that I was the only older person struggling. I want people to know that eating disorders are not only for “young people.”
- There’s never going to be a “perfect time” to get help. There will always be “other things” that we think we need to prioritize like school or work. When I first came in for my evaluation at Walden, the clinician could tell I was hesitant to commit to treatment. She said if there was any inch of me that didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling then now was as good a time as any to get help. All of the things that are getting in the way of seeking treatment are going to be there when you’re out – and you’re going to be so much more present without an eating disorder in your ear all the time.
- You don’t need to be the “sickest” to benefit from treatment. For so long I didn’t feel like my body matched how I was feeling inside. I didn’t feel that I “looked” sick on the outside – but on the inside, I was falling apart. Because of this, I worried that people would think that I was being dramatic, looking for attention or making it all up. I felt that because I wasn’t super underweight at the time that I wasn’t sick enough to get treatment. I ended up coming upon this quote that really helped me to shift that unhelpful thought. “I used to think I wasn’t sick enough until I realized that healthy people don’t want to be sick at all.”
For those who feel like they don’t deserve treatment, or who are having a hard time accepting that they might have a problem, we urge you this year to take that brave first step. Everyone who lives with any kind of eating or food disturbance deserves specialized support and care – regardless of what you look like, who you are, how you identify or what stage of recovery you are in.