Caley Featherstone

@caley-featherstone | contributor
Rooted in Recovery

How I'm Challenging 5 Incorrect Eating Disorder Myths in the Media

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. The first time I remember noticing any type of media coverage about eating disorders, I was standing in line at the grocery store staring at the magazine rack with Angelina Jolie’s face plastered to a tabloid with a headline stating, “Angelina’s anorexic again, she can’t even do it for the kids.” I remember almost laughing to myself as I thought, I’m sure she wakes up every morning and says “I’m sorry kids, I won’t feed myself today because I simply don’t love you enough.” Oh, if it was only that easy. My dark humor got me through the discomfort of standing in line to buy my afternoon snack as I slid my meal plan into my pocket and hid my food behind the candy section. Looking at my feet in shame, I snuck out of the store, hoping to avoid a self-imagined blazing spotlight showcasing my own weak will and selfishness. Since that time, I think social media has erupted and eating disorders have become a popular topic to display in movies, TV series and documentaries. I have mixed feelings about this because I am a cheerleader for eating disorder awareness, and at the same time, I cringe to see my illness so poorly portrayed while stigmas and stereotypes are reinforced. What I’ve taken from recent films and the growing conversation about eating disorders is that people are desperately seeking truth. I love the idea that people are brave and sharing their stories and I also understand that everyone experiences an eating disorder differently. Off the top of my head, I’ve listed several myths I’ve taken from recent films and press about eating disorders that have hit me as incorrect from my own personal narrative. This is my own personal take and challenge to these myths: 1. Eating disorders are about food, thinness, and beauty. My eating disorder was about so much more than any of the above. My eating disorder was a complex, serious illness that stemmed from a need for control in my chaotic surroundings. My eating disorder behaviors were aimed at making the world a better place and striving to be a good citizen through obedience to outward messages of the thin ideal. To be honest, I can’t put my finger on exactly what my eating disorder was about and why it happened. I personally believe it would be a great injustice to my struggle and growth to say my eating disorder was about one thing and that’s that. I want to leave it open so I can continually grow and learn from the recovery process. 2. Eating disorders are a choice. Why would I choose to give up my childhood and adolescence to live in a tiny hospital room where I was poked with needles twice a day and forced to go to the bathroom with the door open? My simple challenge to this myth should be self-explanatory. 3. To have a legitimate eating disorder you have to be admitted to an inpatient facility. Yes, I spent several years in inpatient facilities. However, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent outside of a treatment center. In my experience, there are people struggling with severe eating disorders that do not have insurance coverage, childcare or means to an inpatient facility. This is not an indication of severity or presence of an eating disorder. 4. You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder. Similar to my answer to question number three, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent at a healthy weight. Again, eating disorders are much more complex than food and weight. 5. “Just eating” is the way to recover from an eating disorder. First of all, not all eating disorders involve food restriction. Food restriction is one symptom of many that someone may experience. At this point, I’m hoping the rest of this myth has been explained enough in the answers above. I can’t stress enough that there is so much more than food and “just eating,” and the process of recovery is a challenging transformation of self-exploration and behavior change. As much as I have disagreed with aspects of recent films about eating disorders, I appreciate that there can be multiple truths and multiple lived experiences. What may be offensive or outraging to me may hit home for someone else, as I have read comment sections out of interest on other’s views, I have certainly noticed this to be true as something I disagreed with really hit home for someone else. The beauty in advocacy is that there are many stories to be told and I believe the world is ready to hear them. 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 lekcej

To My Younger Self and Others Struggling With an Eating Disorder

Heart pounding, lungs straining, legs shaking. I looked up to see my time. I did it. I finally made it. I was about to be the poster child of the underdog success story. I was going to raise eating disorder awareness through running. I was the sick girl that lived in the hospital down the street for so many years, and now I would be running college track at the school of my dreams. The acceptance letter came — and so did heart complications. My doctor told me I had to defer a year, so my scholarship went to another athlete. Disheartened, yet determined, I went to plan B. Besides, running in my hometown would be just as sweet. Then the stress fractures came. And heart complications again. And then a broken bone, an unexplainable illness, torn ligaments, surgery, another broken bone. A broken heart. Shattered dreams. Plan C. Plan D. Frustration. Broken heart. Repeat. “I need consistency.” The famous last words of every college running coach I spoke to. I had the times. I had the talent. I had the work ethic. I didn’t have the health. Train. Injury. Rehab. Cleared. Repeat. Today, I was sitting in the doctor’s office six weeks post surgery waiting for the sweet, sweet phrase I’ve been told a million times. But instead of “You’re cleared to run!” I was met with, “Looks like you’re not healing like we had planned. It’s nothing you’ve done, your body just doesn’t heal like I would expect someone your age to heal. You’ll need that same surgery on your other shoulder, too. And about your knee, that’s going to need surgery at some point in the future.” OK, I get it. I have some health problems and I can handle that. I’ve dealt with complications from my eating disorder for well over a decade so I know the drill. I rest a bit and then I’m good to hit the road doing what I love more than almost anything in the entire world. Plus, I have some races planned that I really want to do so I’m motivated to do physical therapy. “Caley, I don’t think you get it. Your body is permanently damaged and that’s very apparent. Your body can’t heal and it’s extremely susceptible to injury and illness. You can’t run. Not now. Not for a long time, if ever. Not the way you want to run, at least.” I’ve been here too many times. My eating disorder has wreaked havoc on my body and the consequences will continue. I accepted this the hundredth time I was told I couldn’t do something because of my health. But this time is different. I feel a sense of responsibility. Something is wrong. There was so much that cultivated the onset of my eating disorder. If I were to blame myself for something I had no control of, my life would be miserable. However, I believe change comes from taking responsibility where it can be given and I admit that I have had many wrongs. Where did I go wrong? I went wrong by believing thinness equated to faster 10K times. I went wrong by believing a strict diet would help me perform more competitively. I went wrong by comparing myself to others. I went wrong by placing success over happiness. Most importantly, I went wrong by not believing in me. My niece told me she wants to be a “fast runner” like me. I cringe because I don’t want her to be anything like me. Not the me that was starving to run faster. Not the me that was over training because I thought that would give me an edge. Not the me that has lasting damage on every major organ in my body. Not the me with an eating disorder. I can’t change my past. I can’t rewrite my story. I can’t change our societal noise that screams thin is better and working to exhaustion is the only way to get ahead. I simply can’t do that. I didn’t even know what I was doing. How would I have the power to change our cultural script? I can’t. But I can start a new narrative. I can share my words and hope that my voice is louder than the voices my sweet niece and every other young person is hearing today that says they are inadequate. The voices that lie and say that beauty is something one must work for. I wish I could go back to the young Caley and tell her she is enough just the way she is. I would smile and say she is beautiful and wonderful and deserves to be fed, in every way: spiritually, mentally and physically. I would tell her to not worry about food and exercise, or anything for that matter, because worrying will get her nowhere and she deserves to be at peace. I would warn her that everything she is doing to run faster today is ruining her body forever. Unfortunately, I can’t go back. However, I can tell my niece. I can tell you. To all the young Caley’s in the world: don’t listen to the voices of the people that know nothing of your worth. You are everything you need to be in the world this very minute. A first place ribbon means nothing of your inherent value. Do what you love the way you love to do it! I wish you all the happiness. Although, I love you far more than that. I wish you the wisdom to know and understand that beauty is far more than what we see and understand. Beauty isn’t only happiness — it is so much more. So most of all: I wish you experience and change, learning and acceptance, joy and sorrow, appreciation and frustration. I wish you a life full of growth. I believe that beauty is the evolution of all the things that make up living and you will find that one day, too. My eating disorder ruined a lot of important things to me. It ruined my competitive running career. In contrast, my recovery gave me so much more than I could ever imagine. My body is amazing and so is yours. Perhaps I will defy the odds again and do something amazing with running — my body is like that. And maybe I won’t. Either way, I know I will be fine because there is so much more to love about myself than my ability to run. Dear young Caley, my sweet niece, and every listening ear: please remember less is not more. You deserve it all. 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