Today, we are covering a topic that I never in a million years thought I would ever write about publically. People don’t want to read about eating disorders or how I’ve had my own struggle with food or all the ways society has played a role in preventing people from getting the help they really need. These were the things I would tell myself to allow me to not have to write about this topic. But, I’ve taken a long hard look at why I have this blog, and one of the key reasons is to help people. Another key reason is to connect with real women about real issues – eating disorders being one of the realist.
I first name my blog Eat Pray Wife so that I could focus on writing about food, faith, and family… But, I never thought I would write about food this way.
A few months ago, I opened up on the issue and my personal struggles with food, which I’ll touch on throughout this post, and I just want you to know up front: I don’t have all the answers. Also, my issues might not look like your issues. But we all have them. Okay. Enough stalling, let’s jump in.
Let’s go ahead and break the stigma and reassure ourselves that a non-diagnosis doesn’t mean that your issues with eating are a non-issue.
That’s the lie I believed for years.
I don’t have a formally diagnosed eating disorder. I’ve never been to therapy for my eating habits. I’ve never undergone formal treatment or testing for an eating disorder, and I am not currently talking to a therapist about my eating habits.
But if you listen closely to my history with food, you will quickly learn that this girl has had some “issues with eating“.
Last week was eating disorder awareness week, and it kind of pushed me to go for it with this post. I want to clear up some of the misconceptions about disordered eating. This blog post isn’t just for the girls who have issues with food. It’s for the parents who don’t realize their kids are hiding food under their napkins at dinner. It’s for the teachers who don’t see their students constantly tugging at their clothes. It’s for the friends who don’t know what’s going on, but they know something’s going on.
**I would usually insert a disclaimer about how I’m not qualified to make any type of real observations about these topics since I’m not a clinician, but the truth is, I’ve studied eating disorders for over 8 years in an academic setting. I’ve also been living my own struggle with food for nearly 15, so I’m not speaking as a therapist today. But if I wanted to, I could.**
Let’s start 15 misconceptions about eating disorders. Again, you don’t have to have a formal eating disorder for these myths to apply. You may have one without realizing it. Or you may just have issues with food (like me).
Stop believing the lie that:
- Only skinny girls have eating disorders.
- All skinny girls have eating disorders.
- Athletes are immune to eating disorders.
- Pageants cause eating disorders.
- Kids can’t get eating disorders.
- You have to have a formal diagnosis to have a problem.
- Tumblr is a great place to get help if you have an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders are all about food.
- Boys don’t get eating disorders.
- You can “get over” an eating disorder simply by eating.
- It’s solely a spiritual issue, and you just need to pray more.
- It’s not okay to talk about it
- But it is okay to joke about it.
- Calling someone out publicly about their body in any way is acceptable.
- You are incapable of healing and will always suffer from your issues with food.
These lies barely scrape the surface when it comes to myths about eating disorders, but we have to start somewhere. I would be doing you a huge disservice if I just presented the lie and didn’t explain the truth, so follow along below and sit with me while we unpack each of these lies.
1. Only skinny girls have eating disorders.
By now, most people know this isn’t true. But there are still people out there who think that being overweight has nothing to do with having an eating disorder. Not all cases fit a formal diagnosis, but have y’all ever heard of “stress eating” or “binge eating” or even “depression”. All of these things can be linked to eating disorders. We might call them different things, but it’s an issue with food. Maybe it’s not compulsive and it doesn’t meet all the necessary criteria for a formal diagnosis, but it’s something worth looking into if it’s affecting you in a negative way.
We all have different ways that we deal with life, and our body often pays the price when our methods are unhealthy.
When I was in high school, I was throwing up after lunch most days, and when I was in college, I just skipped lunch altogether. I mean I was little(ish), but I wasn’t “anorexic thin” as people like to call it. Nobody knew bc the only signs people see are the ones with 0% body fat, skin and bone body frames, and a frail figure. I have never fit that mold, so I’ve never triggered the thought “does she have a problem”?
Sidebar: One of the things about bulimia (basically bingeing and purging) is that you often gain weight and get all bloaty instead of losing weight and being super thin. So, if your only indication of a person having an eating disorder is if they are super thin, then you are missing probably everyone who has one.
Sidebar 2: It is almost 4 times more likely that someone will develop a binge eating disorder (which causes excessive weight GAIN) than they are to develop anorexia (which causes excessive weight LOSS).
2. All skinny girls have eating disorders.
HA this one though. I know so many girls who are like mega thin, and it’s either strictly genetic or they are serious about their fitness regime mine. I also know girls who are super thin, and they have super real medical issues that have nothing to do with an eating disorder. Then, I have a handful of friends who really do struggle with food, and of those, only a few are actually “look” the part. It’s so crazy how we think we can see the problem when the problem isn’t always as it looks.
Some of the “skinniest” versions of me were when I was actually being really healthy. I was counting calories and maintaining workouts, but everything was in balance. Isn’t that ironic… often, when I was going about things the wrong way, trying to lose weight through unhealthy methods, I didn’t get results. But when I would be super intentional, consistent, eating several small meals a day, drinking my water, and exercising regularly, I was able to achieve my goals. Weird.
3. Athletes are immune to eating disorders.
Okay, people, this is kind of a weird one because there are so many ways to be an athlete. There are tons of ways to “do it right” so to speak, and there alternatively are many ways to cheat your body.
Coaches and trainers are becoming more aware of these issues, and some are doing something about it, while others continue to turn a blind eye. Dancers are often in the spotlight for these types of discussions, but it’s not just them. Gymnasts, runners, group-sport athletes, all at risk in some way or another. The pressure is intense. Sometimes, it’s a scholarship or just the need to perform.
Also did you now that it is actually possible to over exercise?
There was a time before the wedding (I know.. sweating for the wedding doesn’t count when talking about crazy weight loss journeys because of yolo and whatnot, but anyway). I remember working out 2, sometimes 3, times a day, burning way too many calories and pushing myself to the point of absolute exhaustion because I was bound and determined to be a size 2 at 125 pounds on my wedding day. I dare say that’s too much. It wasn’t healthy physically or mentally.
4. Pageants cause eating disorders.
It’s a lie.
Pageants cause eating disorders just like saying sports cause eating disorders. They both teach a person how to be disciplined, and what that person chooses to do with their ability to be disciplined is on them. (and their coach)
Don’t blame the game, blame the methods.
The training process of pageantry can lead you down a path to destruction if you don’t have the right tools, the right coaches, and the right mindset. It’s all about what you are trying to achieve, why you are trying to achieve it, and how you go about achieving it.
Shame on the trainers that are calling girls fat, making them cry, and telling them to take laxatives. (They aren’t all like this btw.)
More on this later. I honestly could write a book about this.
5. Kids can’t get eating disorders.
“51% of girls 9 and 10 years old feel better about themselves when they are dieting.”
It’s getting worse.
“Hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 years old increased by 119 percent between the years of 1999 and 2006.”
It’s manageable. (and preventable in some cases.)
“With treatment, 60% of eating disorder sufferers make a full recovery.”
6. You have to have a formal diagnosis to have a problem.
Guess what. Most people who struggle with food and body image and issues with their weight don’t go to a psychiatrist for help. They go to the gym or to a trainer or rely on the internet to get help losing weight. These people are not going to get a diagnosis at the gym, because they don’t want help with the problem they have, they want results for the problem that has been created. The problem they are denying.
My story never had a formal diagnosis. I never reached out for help. I was never diagnosed or treated. And when I look at everything I’ve put my body through, I mean, I don’t fit into a perfectly formulated list of criteria in the DSM. I mean, there is this one category of eating disorders called EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), but I don’t even know if clinically, I fit that category.
What I do know is this – I had a problem. I had an issue with food and my body. In my case, a diagnosis wasn’t going to change anything, but getting help and figuring out how to have a healthy relationship with my body and with food was going to help. From bingeing and purging to just not eating to horribly low restrictions to just binging… I’m kind of all over the map. Red flags everywhere. But, my path to a better, healthy me started with recognizing that even without a diagnosis, I needed to make changes. And that’s where I started.
7. Tumblr is a great place to get help if you have an eating disorder.
Honestly, if you are actively trying to recover from an eating disorder or any legitimate struggle with food or your body image, I would 1000% encourage you to delete all of your social media apps from your phone. Do it for a month. It’s fine. They won’t forget about you.
Spend a dedicated 30 days clearing your mind from all outside and social media related triggers, and see how you feel. I did this, and there are apps that I refuse to put back on my phone because I am simply not disciplined enough to use them appropriately. They are my triggers, and I don’t have room for that in my life if I want to heal.
Sidebar: The internet is a great thing. It also gives you access to horribly useless information that can be used to harm you. This includes Pro-Eating Disorder Websites. How do I know this? Because when I was a teenager, I used them. I almost did not put this here because I didn’t want it to direct someone there and cause them to stumble even further, but the truth is, if you are reading this post, you are either looking for help for yourself or you are worried about someone else. You need to know that there are corners of the internet dedicated to helping people have an eating disorder. Not helping them recover from an eating disorder, but literally helping them to hide their disorder, and even teaching them other methods of having their disorder. It’s disgusting. It’s highly triggering. And it needs to be exposed.
8. Eating disorders are all about food.
Not so fast. It’s not about food at all. Well, food is a byproduct of the issue, but the real problem is underlying. Food is not the root of the problem is probably a better way to say this.
For me, food was not my problem. Control was my problem. I experienced traumatic events as a child that left me feeling out of control. I used food as a way to be in control. I couldn’t control my circumstances, but I could control _____. Fill in the blank with my weight, my body, my food intake, how I looked, what I weighed. Anything pertaining to my body, as long as food was the method of my madness. With food (or without, should I say), I felt like I was in charge of the situation.
This is why food is not the problem. People don’t just “get anorexia“. They get a trigger. They get an insecurity. They get an unfortunate set of circumstances. And those things can sometimes lead them here.
9. Boys don’t get eating disorders.
Okay, so it’s statistically more likely for women to develop an eating disorder than it is for a man, and we could unpack this a little and try to determine why this is the case. Social pressures, magazine clippings, social media triggers, unrealistic expectations from society… it’s pretty easy to figure out why this affects women more than men.
BUT, that doesn’t mean that men are just immune. Guys are also at risk of developing eating disorders.
“In the United States alone, eating disorders will affect 10 million males at some point in their lives.”
“due in large part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder.”
10. You can “get over” an eating disorder simply by eating.
Refer to #8. Since food is not really the root of the problem, food is also not really the solution to the problem.
Telling a person with anorexia to just eat is like telling a person with a binge eating disorder to just stop eating. Either way you say it, it doesn’t work, and it’s hella rude.
If you go back to #8, what I needed was someone to help me figure out my control issues, not necessarily my food issues. I need someone to help me process trauma and resolve the conflicts and issues that came with it. Telling me to eat was not going to fix my problems.
11. It’s solely a spiritual issue, and you just need to pray more.
I was actually told this one time.
I was also told this when I was mourning the death of my grandmother and couldn’t find the strength to get out of bed.
And I was told this when I was suffering from crippling migraines, and again when I was dealing with anxiety attacks that were preventing me from living my best life.
Mental health is not a spiritual issue.
I’m only partly joking when I say that. But I got your attention. It is a spiritual and mental an often physical issue. It is all connected, and you need to do work in ALL the areas (not just your spiritual health areas) to help the issue.
Yes, God cares about your mental health, and He has allowed awesome people to go to school and get qualified so that they can help you carry out your best life.
Pray will most definitely help you in your journey to recovery, but you gotta put in the work too. Don’t expect God to do it all for you.
12. It’s not okay to talk about it.
I don’t say this facetiously or with attitude. I get it. Eating disorders make people feel weird. Especially people who haven’t struggled in the same way as someone with eating disorders or food issues has.
It can be awkward knowing how to start the conversation or even just to be a part of the conversation at all. Here’s how it works with me and a few of my friends – “Hey, just checking in.” That’s all. We know what that means. It doesn’t mean “Hey girl, how are you?!” It means – “Hey, I’m opening the door for whatever conversation you may be needing to have right now. I’m here for you, without judgment. I’m available to listen. And I’ll give advice if that’s what you want.”
We can have these conversations because we trust that these are judgment-free zones. Not care-free, but judgment-free. Sometimes, we get into it and healing happens. Other times, we’re not ready for change, so we say something like “I’m struggling, I’m safe, but I could use some prayers. When I’m ready, I’ll reach out.” and it’s left just like that. This allows complete transparency and honesty with the ability to not talk about something you aren’t ready to talk about. You have that right.
If you have someone in your life who is dealing with these kinds (or really any kind) of issues, find a way to create this space. It has been a tremendous place for growth and healing in my life and in the lives of some of my closest friends.
13. But it is okay to joke about it.
This, I say with absolute sarcasm and full neck roll attitude.
I get it. You don’t know how to talk about eating disorders. SO either, refer to #12 or shut your mouth.
Stop telling girls to “go chew on a chicken leg”, and to “Put some meat on their bones”. You are literally ONLY MAKING IT WORSE.
You are either going to piss someone off…
Or you are going to give them the gratification they need after skipping meals all week to look a little thinner. You are NOT helping the problem. You are encouraging bad behavior by telling them that what they are doing is working, and they are looking mighty thin.
14. Calling someone out publicly about their body in any way is acceptable.
This is almost as bad as #13, but it covers a much broader side of the spectrum.
STOP talking about other people’s bodies online, in public, and pretty much altogether. It’s none of your business what people’s bodies look like. If it’s not on you, and if it didn’t come out of your, it’s not your responsibility.
Honestly, the only time it’s appropriate to talk to someone about their body is:
- If you are their healthcare provider
- If they are paying you for your advice (personal trainers, therapists)
- If you are a parent
- If you are genuinely interested in their wellness, AND if the conversation is welcomed. If they say NO. It’s 2019, and No still means no.
Literally, if I had a dollar for every time someone said something about my body, what I’m eating, how I’m eating, what I’m not eating, whatever… I would be filthy stinking rich. This is honestly why I hate eating food in front of people because people always have something to say about what you are eating, and it’s really pretty much irrelevant to the conversation unless you are like a major foodie or a chef.
And I must say, I get that not all comments about food are meant to be annoying or disrespectful, but just because you don’t mean to be rude doesn’t mean you aren’t being rude.
15. You are incapable of healing and will always suffer from your issues with food.
Precious, beautiful, lovely soul who is believing this lie, my heart aches for you. This is not your truth… This may be your lie, but it is not your truth.
You are capable of healing. You are capable of recovery. And you are capable of living a happy, healthy life. I know this. I’ve seen it in the lives of my friends who have walked a hard path of recovery to self-discovery and happiness. I have seen it in my life, as I’m actively living out the part of my journey that chooses my health over my control. And, I know that if given the chance, I could see this in you. Recovery is possible. Healing is available. You are worthy.
Now, I said I would give you the misconceptions, and then I promised to give you some truths. Lastly, I need you to have some resources. Again, if I identify the myths and pour on some truth, I’m still leaving you empty-handed without the proper tools to make progress in this whole messy situation with eating disorders and food issues.
If you have issues with food, and you are ready to even consider working through that, I want you to give yourself a hug. I am proud of you. I am also so sorry for you. And I want to encourage you. I can’t take away your issues with food. It doesn’t work that way. Nobody did that for me, and nobody will do that for you. BUT, you can get help. You can get on a path to recovery, and you can live a happy, healthy life where food is no longer your obsession. I promise you, that is a reality that you deserve and you can have. It’s your decision to take the first step. Here are some resources for you:
If you are a parent and think your child or teen might be dealing with some of the issues mentioned in this post, I am praying for you. This is not going to be an easy road, but please take the time to have the hard conversations, make the difficult appointments, and be so annoyingly intentional with them. Here are some resources for you:
If you have a friend who needs to read this blog, please share it. You aren’t calling them out by saying “Hey, I read a really great post the other day. Wanna see?” They might reject it at first, and that’s okay. They might also read it later and gain access to some really necessary truths and insights that help them.
Eating disorders affect approximately 8 million people in the U.S. alone, currently. It is highly unlikely to not know someone suffering from an ED. You may not know that you know, but with the information in this post, I hope that you are more aware of what to look for and how to help when you become aware.
Stay safe, my friends & Look out for each other.
– the Wife