I have trouble admitting that I suffer from an eating disorder. No, not for the reasons you are probably thinking. Yes it bothers me that after admitting I have a disordered relationship with food people automatically watch me eat, judge my portions and feel that it is socially acceptable to critic my choices or body weight, but that’s not the reason that I was thinking of. Ultimately, it’s because of the stigma associated with eating disorders.
Like many, it took my family doctor a while to diagnose me with Anorexia Nervosa. While my weight was enough of an indicator, my mind was in complete denial so even I didn’t see the signs that I was struggling from a mental illness. When I was first diagnosed, I just thought of myself as “different”. I thought I was flawed, I was embarrassed and I still thought that mental illnesses were personal choices. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that we all have mental health. Even if it doesn’t necessarily affect us in a way that it inhibits our productivity or well being, it is still very much present.
It’s much easier for me to express my anxiety about school work than it is to talk about my food rituals or fear foods. People can sympathize with nervousness before a test or speech, and depression is relatable since individuals go through moments of sadness, but unless you have experienced an eating disorder, it’s hard for you to imagine why individuals in recovery can’t just eat. I’ve never been vain, shallow or crazy for that matter, but those are the assumptions one often has about an “anorexic” which is why many never thought I was susceptible for developing an eating disorder. No in fact, in the eyes of most I was much too logical to stop eating because that could kill me and I valued good health more than my appearance. Looking back I can acknowledge that I possessed all of the characteristics that many with eating disorders typically have; I still am Type-A personality and I will always strive to be the best version of myself (but now in moderation). The fact of the matter is though, eating disorders aren’t about food nor are they a conscious choice. My restriction didn’t happen overnight the way some might think because of my drastic weight loss, and at the beginning of it all I didn’t have body dysmophic disorder and knew my appearance was much too hollow. Eating disorders are just a coping mechanism for dealing with life. I didn’t stop eating because I didn’t like food and I can’t say that I purposefully restricted my intake as a means to gain control. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, EDNOS are all addictions just like alcoholism or gambling. The only difference between most addictions and eating disorders is that you can eliminate playing poker (cards, slot machines, race horses), alcohol or drugs permanently from your life, but you need food to survive. That isn’t to say one is easier or harder to recover from.
Accepting help is brave no matter what illness you have been diagnosed with. There is so much stigma attached to mental health which used to make me feel shameful or weak. Without even realizing it so many of us attach unnecessary stigma to mental health. Just as you wouldn’t call an individual with cancer “cancer”, I believe we shouldn’t call someone struggling from anorexia nervosa “anorexic”. Try to avoid saying someone “committed” suicide, and rather use a sentence similar to “died by suicide”. So I guess I am sharing part of my story yet again because one day, I would love, for us all to view mental health the same way we view our physical health. Someone once told me that when we go to the doctor to make sure that we don’t have asthma, or that our blood pressure isn’t too high, we should also be asking the doctor to make sure that our mind is okay too. She was absolutely right because our brain is as equal (or more important) of an organ as our lungs and our heart. ♥ Molly
“Your past is just a story and once you realize this it has no power over you.” – Chuck Palahniuk