What I Didn't Know About Eating Disorders — Until I Had One

Like a lot of people, I knew what an eating disorder was. I knew about anorexia and bulimia, I had heard about binge eating before. I thought I understood eating disorders. But this was all before I had an eating disorder myself.

When I was younger, it seemed like eating disorders were a taboo subject. For most kids in elementary and middle school, they might have heard of an eating disorder before, but they unfortunately weren’t always educated about the subject. Unlike sex education, bullying or depression, eating disorders were not talked about in health class. This contributed to my own misunderstanding of what I began struggling with during my freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, like many who struggle with eating disorders, I thought that because my bones were not protruding and I was not underweight, I didn’t have a problem. Because of my own misconceptions, my eating disorder continued to intensify before I even thought I had a problem.

One of the biggest side effects of my eating disorder was my lack of concentration. It wasn’t until I was in treatment that I learned losing concentration is not an uncommon symptom of having an eating disorder. Because I struggled with attentiveness as a result of my illness, I became a poor student and didn’t understand why for a long time. I blamed myself instead of the illness that took over my brain and body like a prisoner.

My eating disorder manifested itself in my brain and caused a spiral of emotions, contributing to a period of depression. Neither myself nor my family members realized that my absence of motivation or my behaviors of withdrawal were due to the eating disorder. I think the depression that can often go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder is not talked about enough, and it is important for both the patients and families that are dealing with eating disorders to understand the side effect of depression.

Something far too many people might misunderstand about eating disorders is that recovery is simply eating more. In other words, someone with a eating disorder can’t “just eat” and be OK. While it seems simple for someone who has not experienced an unhealthy relationship with food firsthand, it is one of, if not the most challenging parts of eating disorder recovery. It is often considerably easier to succumb to the voices inside your head than to contradict them. Succumbing can feel like the better and easier option — it can make you feel like you are in control. The control can put you on a dangerous high, one that might be addicting and harmful at the same time. Telling or expecting an eating disorder patient to “just eat” is unreasonable, unknowledgeable and can be detrimental.

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

Unfortunately, it often takes a personal experience with an eating disorder to help someone understand its severity. The more we talk about and educate about eating disorders, the more we can help spot their symptoms, treat them and empathize toward people who struggle with them. It is never too late to educate yourself.

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