5 Ways to Show Your Support for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which means it’s time to speak up. Speak up to prevent eating disorders. Speak up for people who are currently struggling with eating disorders. And more importantly, listen: Listen to the stories of people who live with eating disorders, and encourage those who need that extra push to seek the help they deserve. Talking about eating disorders, not just this week but every week, could encourage people to seek help sooner, and literally save lives.

Here are some ways to get involved:

1. Get screened or encourage a loved one to get screened. 

It takes only three minutes to complete the confidential online screening for eating disorders, which helps determine if it’s time to seek professional help. Getting screened is important because early intervention matters. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, intervening during the early stages of an eating disorder can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. If you’re worried about a loved one or yourself, take three minutes. It’s worth it.

2. Challenge the “thin ideal.”

Most people — eating disorder or not — have been taught to believe thin equals good. According to a 2010 poll, almost nine in 10 American teenage girls say they feel pressured by the fashion and media industries to be skinny. The National Eating Disorder Association suggests to help combat the “thin ideal,” challenge the false belief that thinness, weight loss and/or muscularity are desirable, while body fat and weight gain are shameful or indicate laziness or worthlessness. Be critical of the media you consume, and don’t judge others based on their body weight.

3. Watch your language.

Pay attention to how you talk about your own weight or about the weight of others. What may seem like a passing comment (“I feel so fat today!” “I would die to be that skinny.”) can be triggering for someone living with an eating disorder. Educate yourself about healthy ways to talk about eating and food — even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you’ll benefit from a viewpoint about food that isn’t shaped by the “thin ideal.”

4. Follow inspiring recovery stories with #RecoveryIs and #WhatMakesMeBeautiful.

Project HEAL is using the hashtag #RecoveryIs to spread awareness about eating disorder recovery. The pictures from this campaign prove recovery is possible, and send messages of hope to anyone who isn’t quite there yet. #WhatMakesMeBeautiful is spreading body positivity, celebrating what truly makes people beautiful.

5. Talk about eating disorders — and push for action.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is about spreading stories, but also about educating others about what the eating disorder community needs. The scary reality is that only one in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment, and for those who do get treatment, it can be difficult to get insurance coverage. The National Eating Disorders Coalition found in a survey of 109 eating disorder specialists around the country, nearly all believed their patients with anorexia are put in life threatening situations because of early discharge due to lack of coverage. If you don’t see the seriousness in that, consider this: Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Men are also often left out of the eating disorders conversation. According to the National Eating Disorder Association’s website, eating disorders “have been characterized as ‘women’s problems’ and men have been stigmatized from coming forward.” Minorities and adults also are hurt from the stereotype that eating disorders only affect young, white women.

Conversation is just the beginning. For more information about National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, visit NEDA Awareness. To help make eating disorders a public health priority in the United States, visit the Eating Disorders Coalition and get involved.

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My Challenge for Anyone Living With an Eating Disorder

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Take a deep breath for me. What I’m about to say might make you uncomfortable. That’s because I’m about to say some nice things about you, and if you’re anything like me, getting compliments is one of the least pleasant experiences in your life.

But I’m going to do it anyway — you need to hear it and I need to say it.

You, my friends, are awesome. I don’t mean that in the overused way we mean “awesome” today, but in the classic sense: you make me feel awe. Every day you get up and survive a kind of pain most people can’t comprehend. You convince your body to do things that are considered torture by civilized countries. You have expectations that would make an old school nun intimidated. You are astoundingly tough people.

So, what I’m about to ask you to do is going to be hard. I’m going to ask you to be gentle.

You are good at being cruel to yourself, and so am I. So let’s make a pact today. Just for a little bit. Maybe for a few hours or maybe for a few days or maybe for a few weeks.

Every time you say something cruel to yourself, I want you to imagine you’re saying it to me.

Every time you hurt yourself or starve yourself, I want you to imagine you’re doing it to me, and when I start treating myself cruelly, I like to imagine that I’m you. Maybe not you in particular, but one of the other countless women out there who treat themselves the way I treat myself. I imagine that instead of telling myself I’m fat and ugly and worthless and awful, I’m yelling it at one of you.

This has helped me realize that, despite my conviction I deserve all these things, I truly believe no one deserves them. Including me. I hope maybe this method can help you, too.

I want you to take a second to imagine all the rest of us, and pretend you are saying all those things to us. Pretend we are you and you are us and imagine how you would treat yourself. I know that none of you would ever treat others the way you treat yourselves. Some of you have best friends struggling right alongside you, and I have seen the way you pick each other up, or stay up hour after hour to listen to him cry, or hold her hand in the hospital. You are generous and giving people. When you find yourself in treatment groups and hospitals, you band together and form tribes to remind each other: stay alive.

I love you. You are good enough.

And so I challenge you all today to turn that generosity on yourself. Some of you might be able to do it for just a moment before it’s too scary or hard or uncomfortable. That’s OK. Every moment counts. Why do I want to challenge you to be kind? Because if I know one thing about those of us who hurt ourselves, it’s that through our kindness we are powerful. I have seen it. I have seen the incredible bonds you form with each other, and how it saves lives.

So I challenge you: can you have that bond with yourself? I’ll try if you do.

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10 Important Lessons From Eating Disorder Treatment

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I’ve never been admitted to a psychiatric ward, but I experienced something quite similar: I spent 10 days inpatient, and a total of roughly three months outpatient, in a hospital unit dedicated solely to patients with eating disorders and their co-morbid problems. Here’s what I learned during that time, a little over a year ago:

1. Eating disorders are more than teenage girl problems. 

In treatment, I met teenage boys, middle-aged individuals and even a woman who was 80 years old. I was quite surprised to find I was one of the youngest kids in the group as a 19, almost 20-year-old (I turned 20 during my time in the program).

2. Eating disorders require hospitalization beyond the physical tolls they take. It helps with the psychiatric side, too. 

When I first went to the hospital for my eating disorder, I thought I wasn’t physically ill or “underweight enough” to be there. However, I learned aside from physical stabilization, the unit served as non-stop therapy. It served as a place to get your psychiatric medications stabilized and as a refuge from everyday life. It served as a way to “break the cycle” — to help stop disordered eating behaviors.

3. Someone doesn’t have to “look sick” to be very ill. 

Not everyone with eating disorders is severely underweight, but this does not mean the health complications that come from starving, purging, exercise abuse, and/or binge eating do not exist.

4. Life without technology can be quite nice and relieving.

There was only one hour of cell phone use a day, no Internet access and a cord-phone that looked like it appeared out of the 90s in each patient’s room (I even had to call an operator in order to get in touch with anyone…a strange feeling for a millennial like me!).

5. Sometimes, the eating disorder isn’t the only issue.

Alcoholism, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, traumatic stress disorder, etc. often occur alongside eating disordersYes, my eating disorder was both an additional manifestation of my OCD as well as my way of trying to control my up and down moods. 

6. On that note, research suggests eating disorders and addictions are similar.

I didn’t view eating disorders that way before I sought treatment. I met a number of individuals who were not only addicted to their eating disorder behaviors, but also alcohol and/or drugs. I found myself going through withdrawals from not being able to engage in certain behaviors associated with my eating disorder. It causes both psychological and physical effects that are painful.

7. When it comes to treatment, family therapy is essential. 

I believe it’s so important for families to understand what’s going on with their sick child (or spouse, partner, parent, etc.), regardless of the age of this person.

8. It’s OK to sit still and just be.

I really struggled with this one, and sometimes still do. It’s OK to be imperfect, it’s OK to not run or walk or pace all the time. It’s OK to sit and let your thoughts flow in and out without doing anything about them. This is true for everyone, not just people with eating disorders/mental illness.

9. The bond you make with people who’ve gone through an eating disorder or mental illness is unique and empowering. 

While I don’t necessarily regularly talk to those I spent time in treatment with, it was amazing to have them in my life during that time. I learned so much about the different things people of all ages and experiences go through. I learned how to be a better listener and I learned how to share myself. I learned how to both laugh and be serious. I learned where the deepest of friendships come from — from being open and vulnerable with zero judgment…you don’t need to be in the hospital to have these friendships with others. 

10. Everyone’s journey is different, but yours is what you need to focus on most. 

The comparing game sucks. While you can learn a lot from the journeys of others, keep focusing on you. Your journey matters. Your recovery matters. This was something I really had to learn, and I’m glad I finally did. 

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Person With an Eating Disorder Who’s Worried About Never Being ‘Fixed’

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Some people can recall the moment with acute vividness, and some have no bloody idea how or when it started. But from the moment an eating disorder sneaks its way into your brain, you feel its touch. Whether its insidious and pervasive, or a delicate breeze upon the nape of your neck. To borrow the language of addiction, I believe we are always in recovery, and recovery is a process that can be both horrific and wonderful. And not being “fixed” is absolutely OK.

I wish someone told me that when I was 14 and in the midst of a battle with bulimia and anorexia. I distinctly remember feeling that if I could only just “get over it,” then everything would “go back to normal.” But the dismal amount of people that knew about my “problem” didn’t know how to “fix me,” nor did they know that they couldn’t fix me, nor did they know that I would never be “fixed again” — because human beings aren’t objects that can be fixed.

The way we (as people who live with eating disorders) talk about eating disorders is so crucial to the way we find and maintain our recovery. We aren’t broken, and we don’t need to be fixed. As with any other major life event, we are changed. We aren’t the same person who we were before the eating disorder started.

This might sound dire, but in retrospect, this information would’ve been very healing. I wouldn’t have put the extraordinary amount of pressure on myself to try and fix the parts of me my eating disorder “broke.” I wouldn’t have examined myself in fragments, trying to discern the “normal” from the “messed up.” I might not have discarded psychotherapy and psychiatry so frequently throughout the 15-year struggle with my eating disorder. I wouldn’t have been so discouraged when I didn’t feel fixed enough, I wouldn’t have quit due to lack of results and maybe I wouldn’t have had to fight for so many years to find recovery.

If you’re fighting an eating disorder, you fully comprehend the ramifications of feeling too much pressure; after all, the pressure we put on ourselves because of and as a result of the eating disorder is enormous. And it can feel like that pressure will never abate, and that we will be trapped in this world of the eating disorder for the rest of our lives. But both of those things are not true.

Discovering and embracing recovery is one of the most difficult things I have done, and one of my proudest accomplishments. Letting go of a companion that shadowed me for 15 years offering false promises of happiness and rewarding my trust with misery seemed like an enormous sacrifice. But ditching my eating disorder security blanket brought up monsters trapped in my 13-year-old head. Letting go of the need to feel “fixed” opened me up to finally learning how to cope with the dark “unspeakable” traumas that fed my eating disorder and move towards self-awareness and healing.

Throughout my ongoing recovery, I’ve learned that my eating disorder is a part of my story and a part of the person I am each day. Those thoughts that seem disordered and wrong come and go, and I let them. But these thoughts don’t have to define you, and they shouldn’t.

You can learn a great deal about yourself when you allow the eating disorder, and the painful memories of your battle with it, to teach you. And even as you’ll never be the same because of it, you can be OK, successful and happy. Even if you still feel its presence in your life. Even if you have a bad day, and even if you find recovery slipping away. Accepting the self that you are, and the self that you fought to become because of and in spite of an eating disorder, is a crucial part of recovery. Rarely do I allow myself to feel the pride I deserve to feel, and if we could supplant words like “broken” and “incurable” and “relapsed” with “progress” “accepting” and “beautiful,” I think we can find recovery much more palatable, and eventually, never let it go.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Little Thing That Helped Me Let Love In

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Five years ago, my nutritionist, Marci, started writing notes to me in my journal. The notes started out as a sort of transitional object, something concrete I could hold onto in between sessions. I needed these notes as hard evidence that I was not worthless, that I was cared about, that I was not so easily forgotten. Because anorexia is more than restricting food and calories; it is also restricting kindness, care and relationships.

During the lowest point of my illness, I pulled away from everyone and everything. One of the most painful aspects of my disease was my inability to let in love and care. Because of this, and because of my inability to feed and nurture myself, my first therapist diagnosed me with “adult failure to thrive.” After losing my mother to brain cancer, it was hard for me to trust that anyone was going to stick around. I was terrified of losing people. So I used my eating disorder to build a wall around myself, to protect myself, to prevent anyone from getting too close.

In a way, my eating disorder was a protection of sorts. If I didn’t eat, I didn’t have to feel. If I didn’t let people in, I wouldn’t have to hurt when the time came to say goodbye. If my mind was busy telling me what a horrible person I was, I wouldn’t have to think about my new life as a motherless daughter. If I focused on food and calories, I wouldn’t have to focus on my painful emotions.

The many years of therapy and eating disorder treatment I have received have begun to slowly chip away at that wall, and slowly, surely, I am beginning to let love in. And the notes that Marci leaves in my journal, faithfully, twice a week, have become the building blocks of a new wall, one that keeps the demonic eating disorder voice out. For every “You’re fat” comes a “You are worthy.” For every “You’re a disgusting pig” comes a “You are special.” For every “You mean nothing” comes a “You are cared for.”

Sometimes, when the day has been particularly bad and the voices particularly loud, I take out my old journals and read through Marci’s notes. They remind me I am a person worthy of care, love and support, no matter how hopeless and worthless I might feel.

With Marci’s help and encouragement, as well as the long-term support from my wonderful therapist, I have begun to eat more consistently. After having my precious son, I have gained and maintained a healthy weight. I have received many kinds of therapy over the course of my illness and have seen multiple professionals, both inpatient and outpatient; however, the key to my recovery to this point has been the acts of loving kindness shown to me by the professionals I have seen. Thankfully, I have reached a point in my recovery I never thought I’d reach when in the depths of anorexia. But there is more work to be done. I still struggle with the voices, the darkness of depression, the pervasive feeling of loneliness. There is still a long road ahead, and I am lucky to have my nutritionist by my side, guiding me and writing me notes to light the way.

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A note from Kara’s nutritionist

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To Mary Lambert, Who Changed My Life With A Single Song

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The day I met you was easily the best day of my life. It was Boston Pride 2015, and I had honestly volunteered partly because I thought I might have a chance to meet you. I spent the morning talking to the person who seemed to be single-handedly running the festival about how much you meant to me, and how amazed I was that even if I didn’t get to meet you, I would get to see you perform the songs that helped me so much over the last few years.

The first time I had ever heard a song by you, it was in my high school drama class, and my friend had used part of your song “Body Love” as dialogue in a play she had written. I listened to the song about eight times that night, and each time I cried. You see, when I first heard “Body Love,” I was struggling with an eating disorder. I hated my body and I hated myself. But all that changed when I heard “Body Love” for the first time. From that point on, every time I had an urge to do something self-destructive I would put it on and sing along.

The day of Boston Pride, I woke up thinking it could be the day I would tell you everything in person. I wasn’t even supposed to be behind the scenes of the festival area, but the person who was in charge brought me back there and decided he wouldn’t let me go after I told him how much you meant to me.

I was positioned at the gate that all the performers came through when you arrived. I remember when you walked past me. You smiled and I started crying. After a little while, the person in charge of the festival came and got me and told me to come with him. I didn’t know it until I was in the room with you, but he was bringing me to meet you before you went on.

The moment I walked into the room, everything was so surreal. You were there, in front of me, and all I could manage to get out was “Thank you.” You hugged me, and I went back out to the festival area. I was told when I got there that everyone was in agreement that I should just sit on the steps and watch you.

I did just that, and during “Body Love,” we locked eyes. It was almost like you were singing the song that changed my life so much to me. As you neared the end of the song, you smiled and sang, “You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out, reborn.” That line of the song had meant so much to me, and I don’t think you knew. During your performance, a girl fought her way through the crowd to come hug me because I was crying so hard.

Mary, I don’t think you’ll remember me, and that’s OK. But I want you to know that so much of what happened that day is etched into my brain, and I decided I am getting lyrics from “Body Love” tattooed on my arm.

Those lyrics are going to be, “I once touched a tree with charred limbs, the stump was still breathing but the tops were just ashy remains, I wonder what it’s like to come back from that” on one forearm, and on the other arm will be, “You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out.”

Thank you so much for everything you have done for me. I can’t wait to hear your next album.

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Phoenix and Mary Lambert at Boston Pride 2015

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to a stranger or someone you don’t know well who showed you incredible love recently. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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