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Let's Talk Eating Disorders

Before I get into this one, I just want you to think about a couple things:

  • Most people know, personally, at least one person with an eating disorder

  • According to the National Eating Disorders Association, roughly 28.8 million Americans will have an "eating disorder" at some point in their lifetime.

  • And beyond a classified "eating disorder," nearly every single woman will experience "disordered eating" in their lifetime.

  • Of all mental illnesses, Anorexia has the highest death rate.

  • Eating Disorders are mental disorders, not weight disorders.


Eating disorders have absolutely overtaken and corrupted our modern society. And what is genuinely sickening to realize is that they actually a characterizing factor of multiple thriving industries. The health and wellness industry. The entertainment industry. The Social Media industry. The food industry, even.


No, no one is telling people to develop eating disorders (publicly, that is). But, we are encouraged to do so by the activities and ideals they are advertising. We are told that to fit a specific genre of entertainment, we must look a certain way. We are told that these magic food products that are 19832974 grams of protein or less than 100 calories are the key to fitness--thus insinuating that fitness is achieved by only ideal looks. And the vehicle through which we are told these things is almost always through the media.


And what is so beyond frustrating that the media tries to convince us that these messages are no longer relevant. They try to promote insincere body positivity, or make empty gestures towards eating disorder awareness. But the fundamental problems are still always there. And with so many different avenues of comparison, consumerism, and convincing, eating disorders seem to become more and more dangerous.


It is so hard because, yes, there is one-thousand percent a difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. But really all that difference is, is the beginning versus the pursuit. Disordered eating, is a warped perception of food; the belief that food is earned, exercise is punishment, "good" versus "bad" food, comparing food intake, jokes regarding caloric intake, etc. Most women have it without even knowing (men, as well. do not turn a blind eye). We are conditioned by a society so obsessed with image, worth, perfection, and external perceptions that we take a neutral and vital aspect of life (food) and weaponize it. So, it is no surprise that eating disorders may emerge so rapidly from this set of circumstances.


Eating disorders come in all shapes in sizes. And, though there are sometimes set scenarios of anorexia versus bulimia, or ARFID versus binge eating, I personally believe there is no true classification for each illness. Eating disorders are incredibly personal and unique to the psychological motivators, circumstances, and behaviors of each person. Thus, why I must reiterate that eating disorders are not WEIGHT disorders and also not simply present in "eating." They are a mental, psychological, internal disorder and illness. They are a battle within your own mind. They are not a weight loss journey. They are not overeating. They are not tracking macros. All of these things can truly be achieved separate from eating disorders, they just happen to be a slippery-slope.


Yesterday in class, I look over to my right. I see a friend of mine searching the calories to something she presumably just ate. My heart just sinks. With so little to go off of, so little room to make it my business, of course I made no comment. It was not my place. But that is what is so hard. When do we make it our place? What can you say in these situations? Well, I am just a teenage girl, myself. I do not have that answer. It would be more destructive, I feel at this point in my life, to make a comment or try and push my in to encourage recovery or a better mindset. I don't know what goes on in her mind. And I am certainly not in a place with my own perception of food to start preaching to her about the dangers of eating disorders.


So many of these cases are closer to you than you think. Maybe you didn't look over your shoulder at the right instance, but your friend may have checked the calories on her phone. Maybe you went to the bathroom at a separate time, but a girl may have made herself throw up as a punishment for overeating just minutes before. Maybe he seemed fine at practice, but went home and ran 10 miles to burn off the "bad" food he had a lunch. And maybe she seems so happy, looks so healthy, but every smile is hiding a fight for survival and perfection that she is on the verge of losing.


Eating disorders are everywhere, and its a darn shame. It's more than a darn shame, actually. It is terrifying. Terrifying that we live in a society that simply does not adapt to the information it so clearly has regarding the presence of eating disorders. Terrifying that brands put on a show to say they are discouraging disordered eating, but for the intention of money, not lives. Terrifying that people refuse to change their minds, and continue to make direct comments to someone about how their body is dissatisfactory to their eye. Terrifying that every person is indirectly conditioned to associate weight, looks, and a false perception of health with WORTH, ADEQUACY, and VALUE.


Nearly any and every relatively-educated person is aware of eating disorders. But nearly nobody cares enough to understand them. What are they? What do they do to a person? How are they classified? What causes them? Do they have a look? Are there warning signs? How to prevent them? I can guarantee most people have never so much as googled these questions. Knowing they exist is not enough. Knowing they "supposedly kill people" or have health effects is not enough. Learn their severity. Attempt to understand at least a sliver of the daily struggle of a person with one. Then maybe, just maybe you might be more motivated to prevent them. And do not shy aware from uncomfortable conversations.


I don't know the answers. That is never what my writing is about. This is about recognizing problems in their entirety (Entirety of this matter, which I do not intend to pretend is found in this brief rant of thoughts). I just urge you to look at your environment a little more intently, to do some research, and to make an active effort in your own life to stop glamorizing and normalizing them. Our world cannot take anymore anorexia jokes, body comments, or desensitization to people suffering from this mental illness.


Be kind. Be aware. Be prepared to help.


And please, please, never pursue unhealthy behaviors in your own life. By unhealthy, I mean mentally unhealthy. Exercise can be unhealthy, as can salads, water, weight loss, weight gain, small portions, big portions. All this in the same way that rest days, gallons of ice cream, pizza, and sugar can be so healthy. Do not try to change yourself. Do not believe the falsity that changing your body may create perfection. Do not listen to the voices in your head that tell you that putting your body in survival mode will allow you to fulfill other desires in your mind.


You are enough. You are meant to live not survive. Do not want to develop an eating disorder because you believe it will give you a body, a persona, an advantage, or a lifestyle you want. I promise, no matter what you surroundings may tell you, it is never worth it. AND PLEASE STOP making jokes about eating disorders. I cannot stress that even these brief conversations and remarks are enough instill the acceptance of eating disorders in our minds indirectly.


And if you are struggling, reach out. To anyone. The National Eating Disorder Hotline is there. Teachers, peers, friends, families, doctors, are there. And if you ever get a response that invalidates your struggle and makes you second guess yourself, do not be discouraged. Those people are figuring it out for themselves, and that is not your battle. So continue to seek help.


Keep talking,

Taylor


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