50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors to manage their weight. They may be skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, or taking laxatives to control their weight; regardless of what action they are taking in attempt to stay thin, it can lead to an eating disorder. If you have ever wondered why I am so passionate towards creating awareness for ED, it is because I hope with every blog I post, that someone may realize thin isn’t always healthy and overconsumption of food doesn’t take away your stress, it only creates more.
I have overcome anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa (I purged using excessive exercise), and a binge eating disorder. More people, especially female, than you probably realize have had one of the three eating disorders at some point in their life. A lot of college girls use purging (bulimia) as the answer to keeping their weight down when they are only eating food from a cafeteria and/or drinking beer on the weekends. I knew plenty of girls in high school who found it easy to skip lunch without their parents knowing or asking questions about their unhealthy behavior, and thanks to the easy access of knowledge through television, magazines, and the Internet, these behaviors are coming more frequent in young people who are just barely starting elementary or middle school.
In the United States, 20 million females and 10 million males suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life!
By the age of 6, young girls especially, start expressing concerns regarding their weight and body size. 40%-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about becoming fat. These concerns, more often than not, follow them through life. Just last year I was babysitting a petite ten year old. She was trying on hats at a store we were walking through; as she posed in the mirror, she pushed out her tummy and said, “I’m to fat to be wearing this shirt.” I stood their speechless, unsure of where to even begin expressing how untrue that statement was. Unfortunately, she is far from the only girl under the age of twelve who has expressed their weight concerns to me. With each girl I meet in that situation, my blog becomes more and more important to me. If I can help one child, teen, or parent understand the danger and complexity of an eating disorder, than my time blogging is well spent.
Genes and personality most certainly play a role in the development of an eating disorder. Environment, however, is what pulls the trigger, and we, my friends, make up the environment! What we say and do from day to day concerning our weight can impact others without one even meaning to. My original concern about weight initiated when a close friend of mine began complaining about her love handles, and the diet I started that lead to my ED began shortly after my parents started on the South Beach Diet. No one is to blame for my ED, but there are a lot of small things in my past environment that triggered my issues with my body to arise. From those issues, my ED gradually developed. It is important to be aware of how the words you say and actions you choose can impact those around you.
Parents- If you curse in front of your kids, even just a few times, it’s likely they will repeat those curse words. Same goes with how you speak and treat your body. If you put a great deal of focus on your weight, size, and dieting, it won’t be long before your kids begin having similar concerns.
Friends- Although it may seem harmless to be discussing your weight and clothing size with friends, it is really unhealthy for both of you to allow that to be a focus of your conversation. You may think your friend tells you everything, but he or she may be hiding how they truly feel about their body. You could be making their worries worse through your discussion about your own weight.
If you know someone who already has an eating disorder, it’s important you understand: eating disorders have significant physical and emotional effects. Eating disorders are much more complex than just getting someone to eat or not binge. The emotions attached to their ED are extremely strong. A lot of times eating disorders are attached to a feeling of comfort. When I was anorexic, starving seemed to be all I knew. Begging me to eat more than one meal a day was like asking me to stand in a pit full of snakes. It was terrifying! Even when I had only been skipping meals for a few months, since food and how to avoid it seemed to be all I thought about, it felt like all I knew. Forcing me to eat would get you nowhere. My disgust for food was so strong that when I was forced to eat I would end up in tears. All my parents could ever do was ask, hope, and pray that I would eat. Unfortunately, because of my anxiety towards food, eating had to be when I was ready and mentally prepared to put food into my mouth.
Imagine someone making you eat something you would never want even close to your mouth. What people find revolting to eat varies, but for the most part, the idea of eating cow tongue, dog, or a bug disturbs people. Whatever it may be for you, imagine how you would feel as the item got closer and closer to being put in your mouth. Likely you would be grossed out, probably a little scared, and your stomach in knots. That is what it is like for most people battling anorexia. So to say, “why don’t you just eat,” is no different than asking a person with coulrophobia (fear of clowns) to go to a circus.
It’s hard to get accurate statistics on eating disorders because so many ED cases go undiagnosed or unspoken of. Part of the reason I started speaking openly about my ED is because I wanted people to stop talking poorly about them in front of me. Friends of mine would accuse girls in our class of having an ED and follow up with, “you know she is only starving for attention.” For a long time I stayed silent and let the rage build up inside of me, not bothering to say a single word to them about how naive and rude they were behaving. My silence and my friend’s ignorance eventually lead to a rough patch in one of my friendships. I got to a point where I couldn’t handle her jokes about people and celebrities with eating disorders, but at the same time, I was afraid to tell her to stop. I worried that asking her to stop would lead to questions; so instead, I avoided her for months until she gave up trying to find out what happened between us.
The point of that story is to, once again, tell you to be careful what you say about the subject. I cannot change how tabloids treat the subject of eating disorders, but maybe I can convince you to read what they say about them in a different light. ED is not a choice, nor is it easy to overcome! Since the start of my blog, I have had over a dozen friends come to me to open up about their past and/or current struggle with an eating disorder. Only one of them was properly diagnosed and sought treatment for their ED, and only two of them are willing to speak to others about their ED. So even if you think no one you know is battling or has had an eating disorder, I’m here to tell you, you are wrong. Most likely you know several people who have struggled with an eating disorder at some point during their life; therefore, you should be careful how you treat the subject, understand the damage they can cause to someone’s life and relationships, and educate others on the truth of eating disorders.