NEDA for all, not just some
(Disclaimer: In this blog, I’ll be speaking about eating disorders. If this content may be disturbing to you, do not read any further.)
We are currently two days into National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week. It is a time for people to celebrate recovery and uplift those who still battle their own demons day in and day out. Although we live in an era where terms like “body positivity” and “health at every size” are buzzwords, I believe there to be many misconceptions that should be more thoroughly highlighted during NEDA week.
- You can not see eating disorders. Read that sentence again. The media has pushed the standard image of someone with an eating disorder: it’s typically a rail-thin teenage girl. Because of this narrow idea of how eating disorders present themselves and who they impact, they often go undetected in people who have a “normal,” overweight or obese BMI. Even if they lose an alarming amount of weight in a short period of time, doctors will often congratulate them on their weight loss without questioning the process contributing to the change. You never know how much somebody may be struggling with their body image and their eating patterns. Physical appearance is not an indicator of whether someone has a healthy relationship with food. Let me use my experience as a personal example. When I was a junior in high school, my self-esteem was very low. I chalked it up to being overweight, so I became obsessed with losing weight and looking like my thinner peers. Although it got to a point where I was eating one small meal per day, my lowest documented weight was still technically overweight. I felt that, since I wasn’t even close to being underweight, I wasn’t “sick enough” or “good enough” at losing weight. This feeling created a sense of inferiority and was yet another blow to my confidence. It is impossible to know how someone eats or behaves around food by looking at their size. The notion that an eating disorder can be seen needs to change in order for as many people as possible to receive treatment and get on a path to recovery.
- Eating disorders fall under a wide umbrella. Anorexia is typically the first eating disorder to come to people’s minds, and most understand what it entails. However, there is a multitude of other eating disorders that greatly impact people’s relationship with food and with themselves. Debilitating conditions such as bulimia, binge eating disorder and orthorexia are not well understood in the cultural lexicon. It is important that we strive to understand these iterations of disordered eating better. We have to recognize that they exist and are detrimental to many people’s health and overall wellness. When anorexia is the only topic of conversation, it invalidates others’ struggles and excludes a wide range of people from the conversation. While anorexia is clearly a huge issue, we as a society need to learn more about other ways that people suffer from disordered eating patterns. These voices often go unheard, and validating everyone’s unique experience is a way to make NEDA week more holistic and beneficial for all of us.
- No two stories are the same. While many people think that eating disorders stem from a desire to be skinny, this is not always the case. I would argue that they often spur from a desire to control one aspect of life when everything else seems tumultuous and uncontrollable. Sometimes, it stems from a life-changing event. If you watch an episode of My 600 Pound Life, the sufferers often find that their eating patterns spiral out of control due to trauma. Many have had extremely upsetting life occurrences that cause them to cling to food as a reliable form of support and comfort. Although it is easy to judge someone in such a situation, the backstory behind their issues tend to be shockingly sad. It’s always important to have an empathetic attitude toward people who deal with food-related issues. You never know what someone is dealing with and how people cope with the lows of life.
I felt compelled to write this article at this time and place because of an incident that happened around this time last year. I was walking down Raleigh St. when a car of teenaged boys yelled out “Heyyy, thickums!” to me in a sarcastic tone. The cowards chuckled to one another as the car rolled by. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to react, except to hold in the tears until I got home. Then, I called my mom and explained what happened between sporadic breaths, sobbing to her about the cruelty others can so needlessly fling toward others. I think a lack of empathy is a deep-rooted societal issue. It especially comes into play when we are exposed to others’ intimate and internal problems. Although casting judgment upon others is often our gut instinct, I urge you to consciously combat that as much as possible. During a week where eating disorder awareness is being promoted, I want to especially prioritize showing love and care toward those around me. I challenge you to do the same. We need more compassion and care in this world, without a doubt. And one easy step of that process steps back to the age-old adage: never judge a book by its cover.