National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 26th through March 4th, 2017. The goal of this week is to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources in the hands of those in need. The theme this year is: It’s Time to Talk About It. In honor of this important week, I would like to share my own story with you.
Allow me to take you back 45 years:
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I stepped on the scales to see if I had lost weight. Please, please give me a sign of progress,” I prayed. I had worked so hard, eating salads when I wanted dinner and spending hours exercising when my body was exhausted. As the number displayed on the metal God beneath my feet, I felt panic. Not one pound less. I had failed again. I was still fat. The words “I hate myself! I hate myself! screamed their familiar torment. I remember feeling warm tears on my face.
It was five o’clock in the morning. I weighed 68 pounds. Tomorrow, I promised myself, it will be 67.
This began a decade of weight loss and weight gain totaling over 1900 pounds. The pattern I came to know: starving myself to become thin and then, when I could no longer sustain the deprivation, eating to make up for all the times I had denied myself.
I became familiar with every weight possible from 67 pounds to over 250 pounds – three times. What started as a desire to be thin, admired and in control of my body ended in a life-threatening eating disorder.
While the full scope of eating disorders is not the purpose of this blog post, I will share some of the warning signs of eating disorders in general, the importance of taking action, and how to do so.
Did You Know?
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses? Every 62 minutes a person with an eating disorder dies. While the seriousness of eating disorders should not be underestimated, eating disorders are not hopeless. Treatment is available and recovery is possible. Early intervention is vital: the earlier a person seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.
The National Eating Disorders Association informs us that 13 million women, in America, binge eat while 10 million women battle anorexia or bulimia. 80% of all ten-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. A Harvard study years ago found 5 year olds were dieting. Can you imagine how much worse that statistic is now?
Eating disorders aren’t about food or weight: they are attempts to deal with emotional and stress-related issues. You can’t force a person with an eating disorder to change, but you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference.
How do you know if you are dealing with an eating disorder or not? You may never know for sure yet there are guidelines to help you detect a potential problem.
Physical signs of a possible eating disorder:
- Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
- Amenorrhea or lack of a menstrual period (in menstruating young women)
- Fainting or dizziness
- Fatigue: feeling tired as well as poor sleep
- Signs of damage due to vomiting including swelling around the cheeks or jaw, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth and bad breath
- Being cold most of the time, even in warm weather
Behavioral signs of a possible eating disorder:
- Dieting behavior of any kind
- Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
- Vomiting or using laxatives, enemas, appetite suppressants or diuretics
- Changes in clothing style (e.g. wearing baggy clothes)
- Compulsive or excessive exercising (e.g. exercising in bad weather, continuing to exercise when sick or injured, and experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)
- Changes in food preferences (e.g. claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden preoccupation with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
- Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at the same time every day)
- Secretive behavior around food (e.g. saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms)
Here’s What You Can Do
- Learn about eating disorders
- Watch for warning signs
- Speak up if you’re concerned
- Be patient and supportive, yet honest
- Set a positive example
- Encourage treatment
- Be responsible – take action, take a step
It’s time we take eating disorders seriously as public health concerns. It’s time we bust the myths and get the facts. It’s time to celebrate recovery and the heroes who make it possible. It’s time to shatter the stigma and increase access to care. “It’s Time to Talk About It” – AND – “It’s Time to Take Action”.
Thirty-five years ago, I was a wife and a mother of three young children. I was lost and very ill. I felt hopeless, afraid, and empty. At my darkest point, I found a used set of cassette tapes on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I was driving on the freeway when I first listened to Jon talk about mindfulness and living a mindful life. I literally pulled over in a rest area to hear the remainder of the tape. I knew it was time to take action and begin to live my life in a healthy way. I hired a fitness trainer to gain strength and energy. She encouraged me to seek help, which I did. This was the turning point for me: for the first time since being ill, I felt hope and saw possibility.
Today I am still a wife, a mother of three grown children now and a grandmother to three grandchildren. I am the founder of Simple Serenity, a wellness coaching and consulting company. I have helped thousands of women heal and become well. I have taught stress reduction and wellness classes and workshops in several major hospitals in Washington and Oregon. I have spoken in schools and at other meetings and gatherings. I have written several guidebooks on living mindfully. I am blessed and I continue to give.
What step are you willing to take to help heal this epidemic in our country? Simply voicing concern and care can, in the end, save a life. I know this to be true: it happened to me. We cannot stay silent any longer. It is time to speak up. By talking about eating disorders and reducing the stigma associated with them we can start to make a difference.
The purpose of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses, not choices, and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder. We have come far in the last two decades yet eating disorders research continues to be under-funded, insurance coverage for treatment is inadequate, and societal pressures to be thin or look a certain way remain rampant.
We need acceptance, we need love, and we need hope. Most of all, those who suffer from an eating disorder need support. The more we can make them feel safe to share their stories and feel understood, the more we can continue to help those in need.
I have hope that one day we will live in a society where our shape and weight are not what define us. I have hope that one day those suffering will continue to find the courage and strength within themselves to persevere and trust: that recovery is possible and that they have a voice we want to hear.
Please do your part to increase awareness and support of eating disorders. Even a small step can make the largest difference. As Barbara Mikulski, US Senator from Maryland, said: “Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.”
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