National Eating Disorder Awareness Week spans from Feb. 26 to March 4. In order to spread awareness at UMass, the club Active Minds will be tabling on Goodell Lawn Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, March 1. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, I’ve compiled a list of what people should know about eating disorders.
1. Not everyone with an eating disorder is underweight.
Anyone of any gender, race, class or sexuality can develop an eating disorder, and there’s a whole spectrum of eating disorders inside and outside of anorexia and bulimia. There’s often a stereotype of white, middle-class American girls developing eating disorders, but eating disorders do not have a specific “look.”
2. Watch your words.
You don’t know who around you is battling an eating disorder and unsolicited comments about bodies or food can be insensitive and triggering. A majority of the time, eating disorder sufferers lose all rational thinking when it comes to their bodies. I can’t count the amount of times someone has told me I look “healthier” and it brought me to tears because they had noticed a change in my body and it validated all of my hypercritical, paranoid thoughts. Your version of a compliment could be their version of an insult.
3. Eating disorders are NOT about food or weight.
They aren’t superficial attempts to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans, they are coping mechanisms for underlying issues. They are classified as addictions and they can be deadly.
4. Eating disorders do not fix anything, but they can break everything.
Eating disorders often begin as an attempt to change something about ourselves that we aren’t too fond of. Initially, they might seem to benefit us. But in the long run, they do not bring happiness, beauty or popularity. They can cause long-term or permanent damage to our bodies and brains.
5. Recovery is extremely difficult.
According to the Eating Disorder Institute, full recovery is not possible. An eating disorder is “A lifelong chronic neurobiological condition that has two states: active and remission. You cannot be ‘cured’ from this condition once it is activated, but you can enter a robust and often permanent remission.” Although I have been weight restored for two years, I still have to make the conscious decision to ignore my disordered thoughts every day. This does get easier, but it still isn’t easy for me despite the fact that I appear to be at a perfectly healthy weight. Even after the worst is over, eating disorder sufferers often have exteriors that do not match their interiors. Be patient if you know someone in recovery; they are trying their hardest.
6. If you think someone you know may have an eating disorder, approach them with compassion and concern.
Don’t accuse them of anything, but give them specific examples of their changes in behavior and ask them what is going on. They might be in denial and they might be angry at you, but believe me, they will be glad you spoke up later on. They will be glad someone cares enough to say something.
7. Better safe rather than sorry.
If you are reading this and asking yourself, “Hmm … Do I have an eating disorder?” then you are considering it for a reason. Listen to that thought and seek help. Don’t wait until you decide you’re “sick enough,” because there is no such thing. If you are sick, you are sick. Disordered/obsessive thoughts, anxiety around food and dieting can spiral out of control, so please contact a medical professional if these are becoming a pattern for you or you don’t feel like yourself.
8. If you are struggling, you are beautiful, you are worth it and you are enough.
One day you will realize you conquered a milestone that seemed insurmountable when you were at your worst. These moments will give you the strength to keep going. It gets better.