White plate and knife and fork on white wooden background

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Haley Quinn, The Mighty’s Mental Health staffmember, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Publications love to report on the latest trendy diets. Those promoting recently reported fad diets include Breatharians — who claim to lead healthy “food-free lifestyles” using just the energy of the universe to survive — and Silicon Valley execs, who are experimenting with extended periods of fasting, insisting this behavior is a form of “biohacking” and not “dieting.”

But we’re missing the larger picture here — these diets continue to put restrictive eating on a pedestal. Such extreme diets masked by smiling faces, wealth, successful careers or the word “healthy” send the wrong messages to everyone — not just those in the throes of an eating disorder (ED) or eating disorder recovery.

San Francisco-based eating disorder specialist Shrein Bahrami commented on the Silicon Valley execs who rationalize their fasting by wearing glucose monitors, stating, “The hyper focus on tracking vital signs and food has become normalized, so it’s difficult to know when it’s become obsessive.” It can be common to attach an eating disorder such as anorexia to it’s outward physical markers, forgetting that at the core of most eating disorder (and one of the first markers of its onset) are obsessive thoughts around food and body image.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. And of those, 20 to 25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. These diets aren’t revolutionary, they just glorify anorexic behaviors.

In the case of the Breatharians, the amount of food they say they are consuming would put them at a near-total starvation level. Registered dietician Abby Langer commented on the groups claims, saying, “Food and water really aren’t optional.” And she’s right. Human beings can only exist around 10 to 14 days without food and water. With water but no food, it’s a bit longer, but not by much. 

But regardless, as humans, it’s OK if we eat for more than just survival. Promoting these diets draws our focus away from having a truly fulfilled life. Because life (last time I checked) isn’t about just surviving, “bio-hacking” our way to a certain body type or spending days of our precious time in a constant state of hunger, likely thinking about what we want to eat next, but can’t.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

No wonder nearly one-half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives to control their weight. The drive for thinness masked by extreme restrictive diet trends that are rationalized using the word “healthy” are not the messages publications need to be sending the masses.

We need to continue to change the conversation from glorifying restrictive eating and thinness in order to put a stop to the rising rate of eating disorders. Because even though a single behavior may not denote a full-blown eating disorder, drastic lifestyle changes that involve restrictive eating can still cause long-term physical and mental consequences for some.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Thinkstock photo via fivepointsix

RELATED VIDEOS


You may be confused about whether or not developing a friendship with another person who is also struggling with with an eating disorder during recovery is helpful or harmful.

Many eating disorders thrive in secrecy. In my experience, they can have a nasty way of making us become competitive, even when we don’t mean to be. And many individuals struggling with eating disorders often feel silenced, ashamed and alone.

Professionals often have varying opinions on whether or not friendships in treatment are healthy or not. Each treatment center I experienced had a different policy regarding friendships. Some were so strict that we could not even sit next to each other, while other centers were almost exclusively run by our peers and encouraged communication and support from peers before any other tactic.

For me, cultivating friendships with other individuals who were recovering was the most impactful part of treatment. I met my best friend when I was in a partial program. I have seen her relapse, and I have seen her succeed. I feel like I can tell her anything. When I speak with her, I am met with nothing but genuine authenticity, compassion, and above all else, understanding; an understanding that even professionals sometimes lacked. I have made so many friendships in treatment and every single one of them has contributed to my ability to separate myself from anorexia.

So, what do other people in eating disorder recovery think about starting friendships in treatment? For their recovery, were they more harmful or are they more helpful?

That is why I asked people I know who are struggling with eating disorders to share their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “It’s choosing the right friends, no matter what their diagnosis is. Do they bring you down? If so, they’re not a good friend. Do they help raise you up and feel heard and validated? That’s a good friend!” — Alison M.

2. “For me, I needed the support of other people who were/are going through the same thing. With no support, it is difficult to even get through a day in treatment, never mind the treatment itself. Everyone needs the support of a friend, no matter who they are or what they are going through. I would let [people in treatment] know they needed to be careful who to befriend while in treatment. Some can bring you down, while others can build you up. Validation is very important and so is listening.” — Elizabeth P.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

3. “If I’m being honest, I don’t think being friends with someone with an eating disorder helps me unless they are 100 percent committed to recovering.” — Cassandra C.

4. “I totally agree that a supportive friend who has been through the same process or is going through the process would be amazing. I am older than most of the women at the center, so I wasn’t really accepted while I was there, and no one really wanted to stay in contact with me after. I am sure it has something to do with who I am, but nonetheless, I don’t have any friends that check in with me. This year has been very difficult. My husband asked me for a divorce, I changed jobs and I have a son who will be a senior this year. I am envious of the strong support many of you beautiful ladies had/have. I am doing this on my own and I think a supportive friend who ‘gets it’ would definitely be beneficial.” — Cynthia R.F.

5. “I believe that having an eating disorder is something that only those who have struggled with ED can truly understand. I’ve talked to family members that don’t have ED and they agree with me. While this is not to say my loved ones who don’t have ED are completely unable to support me, I think that a major benefit of meeting friends in treatment is that the people I meet in treatment do fully understand what it is like to live with ED, and therefore can support me on a much deeper level. Personally, I’ve only found myself in one friendship with a person from treatment that became toxic, and I really don’t think it had anything to do with ED. I think if I had met this person in any other setting, and even if she didn’t have an eating disorder, things would have been just as toxic. She was just a toxic person in general. So my advice would be to just tread lightly, which is also my advice in making friends outside of treatment. But like basically what I’m trying to say, in case my point wasn’t clear, is that I think that stigma is bullshit. You’ll find toxic people wherever you go, treatment or otherwise, and I’ve met more toxic people outside of treatment than in treatment.” — Miyuki O.

6. “Instead of the word ‘friendship.’ I would use ‘community,’ because the community is what helped me in treatment and my recovery. Finding a group of people, who on some level, understood what I was struggling with. I had amazing connections with the people in treatment and they helped me in ways that I could have never imagined. However, my advice is to remember that you are in treatment because you need to find love/friendship for yourself.” — Elena S.

7. “[My friends] made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I would say it depends on the individual. Misery loves company. Some people who want to get better are very helpful, but others who have no desire to get better can be detrimental to your treatment and will try to drag you down with them. So be careful, keep your guard up and choose wisely!” — Anna C.

8. “Friends and the community helped me to better understand the things I was thinking and feeling. They helped me to work on coping mechanisms to get back on track and to just have someone to express how I feel to without it being, ‘It’s all in your head’ or ‘God, that’s so irrational’ or ‘you need to eat, I’m worried about you.’ To have someone say, ‘I understand what you’re going through’ is validating (I know it’s silly to need validation, but when you struggle with a demon like an ED, just feeling something other than total self-hatred is good.)” — Zachary J.

9. “ I have my own take on this. I think there is nothing wrong and everything right with developing friends with other people with eating disorders. You both understand without having to explain. You can also both support each other and understand each other’s struggles. I think it is absolutely wonderful. I also don’t see any harm in befriending people who are at different stages in recovery because we can all offer something different to each other and perhaps set an example for those who aren’t where you are yet. Nonetheless, I do have a caveat about this. If you are befriending someone who is actively in their eating disorder and is refusing to want to get better, I think that is the one time I would walk away because that could be very dangerous to your own recovery. I think if someone isn’t ready for recovery, you can’t make them. So that’s when I keep my distance, unless they decide they are ready for help and to get better. Also, I am not talking about people who are struggling and have slips. We all do. I am just talking about people who will suck you dry because their behaviors are counterproductive to your own recovery. Otherwise, I think having other friends with eating disorders is one of the best things you can do.” — Liz H.

10. “I had never been around anyone else who seemed to be going through what I was going through. I felt so alone. When I checked into treatment, the biggest thing I got out of to it was the friendships. It was hearing everyone else’s stories, struggling, motivations (or lack thereof) that helped me figure out mine. It was such a new feeling knowing that I wasn’t alone. To have people who got me and what I was going through helped me to be a little less hard on myself and see that there is, and can be, hope. I think it can be a fine line. It depends where both of the patients are at. When I started to feel myself getting glimpses of happiness, but then I would speak to someone who hadn’t had them yet, it made it harder for me to focus on them. When I realized I was letting others big struggles affect my recovery, I had to slowly refocus on myself. This was hard for me because I didn’t want some of my new friends to be hurt, but for my recovery at the time to continue moving forward, I needed to be surrounded with only optimism. I think it depends on each person. We all know all too well nothing is ever black and white. Especially mental health diseases. It’s so hard to know what is best in each situation, so I think the key is to stay open minded, flexible and treat everyone’s story with an open outlook. If we try to put everyone is set boxes, it’s hard to break out.” — Georgia W.

11. “An eating disorder is such a lonely illness. You become convinced that no one understands or cares about you, and simultaneously, you actively shut everyone out as the disorder strives to isolate you, which only furthers the impression that you’re standing by yourself. Obviously, treatment involves a lot of focusing on yourself, because recovery isn’t something anyone else can do for you. They can support you, advise you, help you, talk to you, provide for you and comfort you… but they cannot conquer the disorder for you. Only you can.

Before I entered treatment, I had long since entered that awful cycle of avoiding people and having them avoid me. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone. The moment I stepped into a treatment center, any semblance of ‘alone time’ evaporated. If I wasn’t with the other patients in groups or meals, I was being watched by a resident counselor or meeting with a member of my team. We weren’t allowed to be by ourselves for fear that we’d resort to some sort of behavior. And I wished so desperately to be alone sometimes.

But there’s zero doubt in my mind that making friends during treatment is part of why I’ve managed to gain some ground against my disorder. Now I have the ability to spend time with people outside of the eating disorder world, should I wish to do so. I also have all of the wonderful, strong, amazing friends I’ve made in the past year or so. Sometimes, I want to leave everything to do with my eating disorder behind; that includes all the places, memories, and yes, even the people. And sometimes I do end up taking a break from the community. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine completely disappearing. But, as with all relationships, sometimes you need your space.

However, I’ve learned to never let go of these relationships. Before, I was willing to forsake friends and loved ones in favor of my eating disorder. Now, I’ve come to understand just how integral and special these people are; both the relationships I had prior to treatment and those I’ve made within it, and how, although they’ve come from such a dark part of my life, they shine. Make friends for you, not your eating disorder. Love others as you, not as someone with an eating disorder. Live for you, and everything you do and everyone you meet will be nothing but helpful and beautiful.” — Emma C.

12. “Throughout my eating disorder, I felt alone and I like no one understood. Once I entered treatment, however, there were so many supportive individuals that made me happier throughout my stay and encouraged me everyday. None of my friends at home really understood what I was feeling. When I would reach out to my treatment friends, they knew exactly what I was feeling. It was like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, some relationships were very toxic and set me back, but most were beneficial. In specific, I’ve been very close with one girl ever since residential. We were with each other through everything. We still help each other to this day. We even built a bond as actual best friends, not just ‘treatment friends.’ We even hang out. I made an incredible friend through treatment. In my opinion, I think newly diagnosed people should stay on the guard for a while. I think making friends is good, but getting close isn’t good at first. I feel like you should be going in the positive direction and so should the other people. It could be very harmful and toxic if you are both struggling or even just one. You can get pulled down right away. I also think friends shouldn’t be the main priority in treatment. You’re there to help yourself and get better, not make friends. All in all, I feel like you and the other individual should be in a pretty good place to start engaging in a close relationship!” — Lizzy V.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Ricky Khawawala 


Dear 10-year-old girl,

I hear the way you speak and I see the way you act, and I worry. I worry because I see myself in you.

When you say, “See how big this sweater is becoming on me?”

When you say, “Everyone tells me I have long, thin legs.”

When you say, “I didn’t have time to pack my lunch,” I wish I could believe you.

“You weigh, like, nothing,” you tell me. And I cringe, as the body that has fought for my life morphs into something admirable in your mind. As my body, yet to be fully weight restored after a fight with anorexia, becomes the goal.

I see you comparing yourself to the other girls. I see you chatting through lunch instead of eating. I see you and wonder if you know what you’re doing. You don’t know, do you? I sure didn’t.

You might be looking for an answer to all the uncertainty plaguing you. I don’t know what that uncertainty looks like for you, but I know what a developing eating disorder looks like, and I wish I could save you from this.

I wish I could make you believe that nutrition and balance are important. I wish I could save you from what is to come in this world of food restriction. I wish I could pick you up and transplant you into a world where dieting doesn’t exist and thin is not still the “ideal.”

You’ve been told that you’re pretty. You’ve been told that you’re thin. You’ve probably heard both in the same sentence. So, since I can’t save you from developing an eating disorder, addiction or mental illness of any kind, I will at least stand up against using these words to compliment you.

Instead, I will tell you that you are strong. You are creative. You are intelligent and witty. You are fun to be around. You are a good friend. I can see all of these things.

You are holding this immaculate future in the palm of your hand and I pray that you are able to see that. There is so much potential in these next few years, as your mind and heart expand.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Unlike your body, your mind and heart are endless. They cannot be contained within muscle or skin or bone. They can reach the stars. They can change the world.

You can change the world.

Love,

Someone who’s been there

Follow this journey here. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Natnan Srisuwan


Healing, whether you’re just starting recovery or you’ve been asymptomatic for a while, can be a long and difficult process that leaves you completely exhausted. This is especially true when you’ve been in recovery for a while and you’ve heard the same things over and over again; it can be easy to feel like there is nothing new to learn.

However, over the years, I’ve learned that there is always something new to learn and healing tends to come in fits and bursts. There are periods of intense learning, listening and processing, and sometimes a lull in between. There are times when I am just not ready to listen, and other times when I soak up everything like a sponge and make incredible strides forward.

So what do we do to keep making progress even when we’re in an unreceptive, completely burnt out phase of healing? When nothing seems to be working — no skills, tools, well-meaning advice or therapy? It is during these periods that having recovery “built into” your everyday life is essential. We often have to process the same stories many times before we can fully work through them.

Here are some ways I’ve built recovery and healing into my life:

1. Constantly expose yourself to people who keep self-care and building a meaningful life at the top of their priority lists. That positive, forward moving energy is so important to have, especially when you’re “recovery fatigued.” (Ie. I just can’t be bothered with this anymore!)

2. Make sure to talk to someone you trust on a regular basis, even if you’re feeling great. Whether that’s a therapist, peer mentor or close friend. The process doesn’t stop because you’re asymptomatic or you feel good. Keep exploring, unearthing and processing.

3. Write your insights down. Even if it’s just bullet points on a piece of paper or notes on your phone. Processing can be incredibly complicated work, and leaving it as a jumbled, chaotic soup in your head doesn’t always help. Most likely, it will probably just overwhelm you. Writing things down can help you organize your thoughts and can be a reminder of the important strides you’ve made.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

4. Take it one step at a time. During those periods of intense learning, it’s important to slow down and take it one step at a time. You can’t forcibly figure it all out at once and have it all over and done with. The healing process is usually messy and can spill over into your life and interrupt your day. When this happens, take a moment to stop. Stop and acknowledge what’s happening. Bring your full attention to it. Talk about it, write about it, be mindful of it. Only half paying attention to what’s going on can make it more likely to burst into life in a bigger way later on.

5. Rest. Find a few activities that allow you to rest. Recovery involves a lot of very uncomfortable moments (and hours and days), when all you can sometimes do is sit with it. There is no good way of avoiding it. I used to play a simple game on my phone. It didn’t fully engross me for hours, but it allowed me to take a quick break.

Healing takes time and it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when something you’ve already dealt with comes up again. Remember that if you’re struggling, there is something new to learn from it or it might be reminding you of something.

Get your skills ready, rally your supports around you and lean into it!

woman standing on mountain with arms up

This piece was originally published on Body Brave

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Aidan Meyer


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

It’s the panic I feel when my family decides to order spur-of-the-moment pizza or takeout, or when a friend suggests an impromptu trip for ice cream. That trigger that raises a red flag in my head, asking me if I’m going to loosen the reigns and how much.

The thing about food, with me, is that it’s never just a fun night out or a guilt-free day off. I physically cringe at the thought of certain foods entering my body. I feel like if I have even just one bite of an unplanned treat, I’ll lose complete control and go overboard, right into binge-mode.

It may sound ridiculous to some, but the fear is very real to me, because it’s happened before.

It’s hard to explain my relationship with food to others, and it’s something I have dealt with for many years. People tell me all the time to “treat myself” and not worry because “you only live once!” But what they don’t understand is the mental war being waged in my head. The instant urge to dig my nails into my skin to try and take my mind off the bloating I feel in my stomach after a moment of indulgence. I can’t enjoy it. I want to, but as soon as I give in to temptation, the guilt sets in and I’m immediately flooded with regret.

So I apologize to the people I may annoy or upset when I decline an invitation to eat out or when I make a big stink about skipping dessert runs to the supermarket. I’m not trying to avoid a nice evening with you. I’m just doing my best to maintain control, not go off the deep end and slip into a state of extreme disappointment in myself.

We don’t fault people for not going out for drinks while they’re recovering from alcoholism. But unlike alcohol, I can’t go cold turkey from eating. So try and keep that in mind. Some addictions and vices we can’t push out of our lives completely — it’s a struggle that I have to deal with at least three times a day.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via lorenzoantonucci


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

When I was deep in my eating disorder, I thought I had everything under control. I knew exactly what was going into my body, how much I weighed, what size jeans I wore and how to hide my disorder. Little did I know, my eating disorder was actually in control of me, and it was hiding a lot from me.

When I had my first treatment assessment, I was confused. The woman assessing me asked me questions that I had no idea how to answer. For the first time, I felt the slightest twinge of anger toward my eating disorder. I felt betrayed because it was making me do things I didn’t even realize I was doing. That anger was a good thing; it was the first sign I was ready to fight my eating disorder. Here are some behaviors many don’t realize could be a sign of an eating disorder.

1. Food rituals.

Food rituals are behaviors you use to make the act of eating less stressful. Some examples include cutting or ripping food into small pieces, eating foods in a certain order, taking a sip of water after every bite and putting excessive amounts of condiments, like salt and pepper, on your food. But food rituals depend on the person and can be anything someone does to help control anxiety around food.

2. Body checking.

Body checking is basically just overanalyzing your body. Body checking is something I’ve done since I was young, and never realized what I was doing until I entered treatment. It can be feeling your collarbones, wrapping your fingers around your wrists, pinching fat, spending hours looking at yourself in the mirror, etc. It is also related to body dysmorphia, because people who have body dysmorphic disorder do not have a consistent view of themselves. They can often feel the need to check to make sure their body has not changed drastically, or to measure themselves to see if they’ve gotten thinner. It is an unhealthy and obsessive behavior.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

3. Preoccupation with eating disorders in the media.

Many people who have eating disorders obsessively watch films and TV shows about eating disorders, read books about eating disorders and read articles on websites about eating disorders. In some cases, this is an attempt to understand what the person struggling is going through and to feel less alone. In other cases, it is an extension of an obsession with food and weight.  Because there are so many graphic and triggering portrayals of eating disorders in the media, this is a dangerous behavior that should be addressed in therapy.

4. Manipulation.

An eating disorder can take over a person’s brain and make them into someone they are not. It can transform a person into someone who cares only about weight, food and numbers. Because of this, it is not uncommon for a person with an eating disorder to use any means necessary to enable their own illness. Someone with an eating disorder may say or do something he or she would never otherwise say or do in order to get someone to stop asking about what they are eating or why they’ve lost so much weight. They may also manipulate those who are trying to help them by trying to make those people feel guilty for asking so many questions or pushing the person to get better. The important thing to remember is this manipulation is
temporary. Once the person struggling enters recovery, they will learn to change this behavior. The dark cloud of the eating disorder will slowly fade away.

If someone you know is engaging in any of these behaviors, please talk to them about it. These are incredibly difficult behaviors to overcome alone, so please encourage them to seek help immediately. Remember that an eating disorder’s goal is to completely overtake someone until there is nothing left. Please don’t let it get that far. Whether they are engaging in all or some of these behaviors, help is available.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.