Wednesday, February 26, 2014

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

 What's up with all these pictures of me on the blog lately? My goodness, I promise my kids are still healthy and happy. Someday you'll see their faces again.

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and I bet you're wondering why that matters to me.
Well, let me tell ya...
I was once a beautifully chubby 6 year old girl. My belly was round and my cheeks were extra squishy. I was adorable and I'm not kidding even a little bit---refer to picture above and notice that chunky-cheek, wide-grinning girl to the right. That's me.

But I started noticing around that age that I wasn't the typical 6 year old. I noticed my round belly and I saw my double chin.

Years later in 2nd grade, we were walking to school one day when I noticed that every time my older sister took a step, a ligament would poke out under her knee. I wanted that.

 The very first day of 7th grade, I met a new friend and I was immediately jealous of the way her collar bone protruded. I wanted that.
 In 8th grade, I started noticing so many other body figures that seemed better than mine and by the time I was a freshman in high school, I was convinced I would never be good enough unless I was skinny---like bone-skinny. I became obsessed.
 As we've already talked about in the past few weeks, growing up was hard. But the hardest part of growing up was high school.
High school was messy in my family. I didn't seem to care about anyone, they didn't seem to care about me, and there was almost always tension. The frustrations and stress caught up to me pretty soon after my freshman year started and I had no constructive way to deal with it.

Although I was never treated or diagnosed until after my biggest issues were over, I could've been diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa as a young 14 year old girl all the way up to a few months before my 18th birthday.

But for most of those years, it was a secret that I kept to myself. I can't remember how or when I finally told my parents but it wasn't until almost the end when I was ready to give up my act and heal my heart.
 This was my sophmore picture in high school. I used to love this picture. I was so happy with my weightloss and loved seeing my double chin GONE. I could see my hip bones and I could see my collar bone. I had achieved what I wanted but I was so broken, so so broken.

It took me a long while to realize this. I wanted control so badly and I was willing to go so far just to get it. I was broken and I didn't know what to do.

I call my senior year of high school my remission because it was the first time I felt whole again. It was the first time I appreciated myself and my body more than I ever had.
I learned so many things at ANASAZI the summer before my senior year that helped me become the person I am and have the strength to fight my battle.

And fight, I will.
I graduated from high school, a healthy and happy senior. I was a different person than any of the other years prior. I had a much better sense of my self-worth and I wasn't as obsessed with my looks.

It didn't completely fix itself and I don't think it ever will. It's a completely different perspective, going from being a literal size 2 to now being an overweight, busy mother of 2. I go from being engulfed in love and admiration for myself to being engulfed in self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness because I'm not skinny anymore. I battle with myself all the time to feel like I'm a person of worth.

But I'm trying.

Last week, I wrote an essay on eating disorders for my English class. This is only a rough draft and I haven't received feedback yet so don't be too critical of it. It was a FIVE page essay but it really seems appropriate for NEDA week. If you'd like to read it, I'll copy and paste it below. If not, skip along, dear friends, and enjoy the rest of your week.

Eating Disorders and the Media

             “In spite of the unprecedented growth of eating disorders in the past two decades, eating disorders research continues to be under-funded, insurance coverage for treatment is inadequate, and societal pressures to be thin remain rampant.”(NEDA) I was six years old when I first noticed I was different than the average girl. I wasn’t a small six year-old. I had a round belly and a double chin. In second grade, I was walking to school with my sister one day when I noticed that every time she took a step and bent her knee, there was a ligament poking out underneath her knee cap. In seventh grade, I took note of a friend whose collar bone protruded above her sternum. In high school, it became an obsession with a friend whose hip bones were noticeable and months later, I noticed another friend whose ribs and top of her spine would show through her clothing. After all of these insecurities, I had this mindset that those things would make me happy and they would make me love myself. Although I never fully received treatment, I would have been diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa beginning the second month of my freshman year all the way up to the summer before my senior year of high school.

            My obsession with thinness started out harmless. I knew that my older sister was thin and I wanted to achieve the goal of becoming like her, although she didn’t have to put any effort into her body looking that way. The obsession only grew with time and was set off in high school when I became a more avid dancer. I would see myself in the mirror standing next to someone whose body was a different shape and I’d crave to have a body like that. Not only was I worried about my weight, I was constantly fighting with my parents and things weren’t always happy in our home. I felt sandwiched between younger, special needs siblings and older, extremely talented siblings. I felt out of control and needed a way to express more control over my own life. It was on an especially low day in October of 2001 that I purged my dinner for the very first time.

            Eating disorder is a diagnosis that covers a wide variety of bases. From Anorexia Nervosa to Bulimia Nervosa to Binge-Eating Disorder, many factors play into the diagnosis of an eating disorder.  An eating disorder “include(s) extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.”(NEDA) The main factor when diagnosing an eating disorder comes down to the word obsession. Am I obsessed with my weight? Do I obsess over the food I eat? Am I obsessing over the comparisons of the people around me? An eating disorder can start out so simple. It can be noticing the differences between you and your peers and suddenly feeling a twinge of jealousy that your body doesn’t match theirs. But that jealousy or harmful thinking of ourselves is what leads to these decisions of controlling our weight in an unhealthy way. This idea that we need to be thin is something that we are bombarded with in magazines every time we go to a grocery store checkout or watch commercials on our television. So how does the media play a role in our perception of the people around us?

            We’ve all seen those magazine covers that portray new mothers who have gotten down to a pre-baby size and claim that it was all hard work and motivation. Most of these articles claim that anyone can look this great with determination and a lot of work. Although I don’t doubt that this is possible for some, it is articles like these that put subliminal messages in the minds of young people that being thin is extremely important. The media portrays women with boney bodies and claims that this is what beauty should look like but the truth is that our bodies are different. I could live at the gym or starve myself or put myself on a strict diet and I still wouldn’t look like a magazine model. In all honesty, most of the magazine models don’t look like magazine models. A main problem in the media is editing images to create a distorted reality of perfection. Every picture we view in a magazine is edited but claims that this is what beauty is all about. The idea that this perfection is not only possible but manageable is ludicrous. It isn’t possible for everyone because our bodies were created differently. How would the world be changed if the media, our families, and we celebrated our bodies and how unique they are? Would it make a difference in the amount of people suffering from eating disorders?

            The stigmas of an eating disorder make it very difficult for some to take this condition seriously. If you’ve seen the movie, Zoolander, you’ll remember a particular part in the movie where the models are discussing Bulimia Nervosa and joking about how that is a normal thing for a model to do. This creates the idea that the want to be thin outweighs any underlying health issues associated with eating disorders. Another stigma that creates problems is the significance of obesity in the media. Weight bias is real and can create many issues when it comes to obesity and eating disorders. “One source of weight bias may be the media, as stigmatizing portrayals of obesity are common even in the images accompanying online news stories ( Heuer, McClure, & Puhl, 2011). For example, obese people are often shown eating unhealthy foods or being sedentary, reflecting common weight stereotypes that obese people are unhealthy, lazy, lack exercise, and have poor eating habits ( Brochu & Esses, 2011).” This bias of obesity tells us that if we would all just get off the couch and go to the gym, obesity wouldn’t be a problem in our society and sadly, there are so many inaccuracies in that statement. Obesity can be related to so many other health conditions and isn’t always a lack of motivation for an individual. When society puts so much pressure on us to not gain weight or make sure we are as active as possible, people develop these obsessions that can lead to eating disorders and other mental health disorders.

            In an article written by Abby Ellin in the New York Times, she speaks of one of the most rampant eating disorders in the world, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or Ednos. This disorder, which is vague in description but claims millions of sufferers starts with the onset of weight and food obsession. In her article, Abby describes how doctors didn’t know what to do with her or how to treat her problem. “No one at my college health center knew what to do with me. Clearly, I wasn't anorexic; I was slightly round, in fact. I didn't purge, so bulimia was out. To my distress, the counselors told me there was nothing they could do for me and sent me on my way.”(Ellin) Ednos is one of the leading diagnoses in eating disorders because almost no two eating disorders are alike. Although physical in nature, an eating disorder consumes the mind and is a very serious psychological problem.

            Eating disorders stem from a variety of problems. Psychological issues are a main factor in eating disorders and what causes them. Mental health is a subject that looms over our heads but nobody seems to know what to do about it. Victims of mental health can range from a person who hates themselves and causes self-harm to a person willing to go on a shooting rampage. These conditions are serious and according to one doctor, they need to be treated better in childhood. Pediatric surgeon Kurt Newman stated that “As with obesity and diabetes, pediatricians know that, by detecting disease in childhood and intervening early, we can have a tremendous effect on the health of that person in adulthood. By contrast, there is an average delay of eight to 10 years between the onset of symptoms and treatment for children with mental health issues. This is driven in part by a lack of focus on early identification. For the one in five children who has a mental health condition, such early recognition could be lifesaving.”(Newman) Eating disorders are a real and debilitating mental health disorder that can seriously affect the minds of those who are suffering.

            The fact is that eating disorders hurt our bodies and can even be fatal. “Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. They are not just a “fad” or a “phase.” People do not just “catch” an eating disorder for a period of time.  They are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships.”(NEDA) Treatment needs to be more readily available for those who seek it and those who are too afraid to seek it.  In an article written for the Northern Ireland News, two young people who suffered with eating disorders had died as a result of their disorders. The mother of one of them said, “"It was a mental health issue. His personality started to take the form of someone who was depressed, who was very angry, very afraid and suicidal. But we never thought in one million years that Laurence would die."(NIN) But just like millions of other human beings who have suffered from the effects of an eating disorder, Laurence had a heart attack and passed away.

            Among many treatment problems, one that seems most prevalent when talking about eating disorders is the medical care available. Insurance companies don’t always cover mental health expenses and many of the people suffering with mental conditions cannot afford to seek the help they need. Regarding this problem, Dr. Kurt Newman stated that we need to “ensure access to medical care. Even with the most advanced approaches, real change cannot be achieved if the significant shortages in pediatric mental health providers are not addressed. This is a profound failing in a health system that is supposed to ensure children receive the best care.”(Newman) Many insurance companies don’t recognize mental health as the rampant problem that it is. Because there are no genetic facts about mental health and the problems that may arise in one’s life, it is hard to prove to an insurance company that a mental health problem exists in a patient, therefore making it difficult for that company to pay for services rendered.

            Another hard fact when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders is recognizing the problem. Many times, eating disorders go unrecognized because the sufferers remain silent. In a video entitled Battling Eating Disorders, the author talks about eating disorders and how to recognize if someone you love has a problem. Some of the main signs are a “deliberate self-starvation with weight loss, fears of gaining weight, self-perception of being fat, refusal to eat, avoiding eating in public, secret eating, denial of hunger, constant exercising, tiredness and difficulty with normal activities, sensitivity to cold temperatures, absent or irregular periods, going to the bathroom or toilet immediately after meals, using laxatives and vomiting to control weight, anxiety, depression, obsessive behavior or perfectionism and poor concentration, missing school, college or work.”(Battling eating disorders) Being able to recognize these signs in the people we interact with on a daily basis could end up being a factor in saving someone’s life. 

            The fact is that eating disorders need to be taken more seriously and the specific size of our bodies needs to be taken less seriously. It is detrimental to society to portray figures of people who seem to have reached perfection. That perfection isn’t possible and cannot be attained by most of the population obsessing over it. There is a real problem among society and the problem needs to be stopped with our children. Eating disorders need to receive not only medical attention but also, we need to stand against the media and demand the portrayal of a genuinely average person. Attaining the media’s idea of beauty is not only detrimental, most of the time it is unreachable. It’s time to rewire our minds to see the human body for the beauty it already possesses.
Citations:Battling eating disorders. (2006). Films On Demand. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from
Brochu, P. M., Pearl, R. L., Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2014). Do media portrayals of obesity influence
       support for weight-related medical policy?. Health Psychology, 33(2), 197-200. doi:10.1037/a0032592
Ellin, A. (2010, Jan 19). Redefining an eating disorder. New York Times. Retrieved from
Mills, T. (n.d.). Eating disorders: Sufferers unaware condition can be 'fatal'. BBC News. Retrieved
        February 24, 2014, from
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February
        24, 2014, from
Newman, K. (2012, Dec 28). The treatment of mental conditions must start early (posted 2012-12-
        2801:13:37). The Washington Post. Retrieved from

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Great essay! I am in recovery of ednos. I have suffered a lot of my life. I am so proud of your openness. I Oudh I could be as brave as you and write. There are some complicated family issues that keep me from being public. I respect you so much!!!!!