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Why 'Before Photos' Are Problematic for Eating Disorder Awareness

As many may know, this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It is a powerful time because it allows us all to take a step back and acknowledge that eating disorders can affect anyone. In addition, it is so important for the general public to be educated on the truth of eating disorders. That being said, one inherent aspect of this week that I struggle to accept is the posting of “before pictures” when sharing one’s story. It is hard for me to actually put into words what I feel every time I scroll through my news feed and see a before picture, but I have been able to come up with two reasons why someone may post this type of picture:

1. To prove to others that they were sick.

2. To prove to themselves that they really were sick.

I struggle to accept before pictures because anyone who has been close to an eating disorder knows weight change is only a symptom. Weight change does not prove someone has an eating disorder. Likewise, the absence of weight change does not prove someone has or is not living with an eating disorder.

To be blunt, the world is highly uneducated on what eating disorders are. Eating disorders are scary. You start out feeling like you have control over this simple action and can stop at any time, but in actuality, the disorder is the one with that power.

It can constantly feel like you aren’t in charge of your own life. I’m not sure if many can grasp what it actually would be like to know you should eat, know you want to eat, logically know your body needs to eat because it is starving — but something in your head is telling you this basic human need does not apply to you. It tells you that you are different than what science says and you do not deserve to eat.

Eating disorders determine if you will have a good day or a bad day. They determine if you are fit to face the world, or if you will have to continue to make yourself shrink. Eating disorders are noisy, and you can quickly lose sight of who you truly are. At a certain point, you can no longer decipher which thoughts and beliefs are yours and which belong to the disorder. I am still trying to put the pieces of my life back together, and sometimes those pieces don’t fit. Some days are simply spent reworking the puzzle in pursuit of being able to function symptom-free.

The notion that one has to prove they were sick is a fallacy. To anyone who is or has struggled, please know that your story is valid. Whatever way you choose to share your story is entirely up to you. Even so, regardless of whether or not a before photo gets shared, you are believed. Your story matters, and you are supported.

Photo by Marco Lastella on Unsplash