Hey everyone! It’s Becca. Rachel is letting me guest write on her blog again. So, before we get started, here is the obligatory apology for not being as good a writer as her. But bear with me! I have some important things to say.
I’m going to say this one time and one time only:
EATING DISORDERS ARE A REALLY BIG DEAL AND PEOPLE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THEM EVEN THOUGH NO ONE WANTS TO.
Okay. Now that we got that out in the open, I’m going to explain why I am so passionate about talking about eating disorders. This is going to be personal, but brief. I won’t go too in depth of the struggles I have had, although they have been pretty bad at times. I have struggled with an eating disorder off and on for 9 years. I remember always feeling uncomfortable with my body. When I saw always, I mean I remember standing in the front of the mirror in second grade thinking I was fat. However, the first time I threw up my dinner was in seventh grade after one mean comment from a boy who at the time was probably trying to flirt with me. Then began a long journey of bulimia and at times, some anorexic tendencies. I wasn’t constantly acting in these behaviors, but it was still always very mentally taxing. I can’t remember a time I’ve looked in the mirror and felt 100% confident about the way I looked. Hell, even 90% confident. There were times where I really really struggled but felt like I couldn’t talk about it. Now, I go to schools of all different levels around Nebraska to talk to students about eating disorders and positive body image.
Like many mental illnesses, eating disorders are a big deal that no one wants to talk about. In fact, the first time I gave a lecture on eating disorders was for a program in Seward, Nebraska that focused on taboo topics. People equate the awkwardness of talking about mental illness with the awkwardness that comes with the sex talk. Let that sink in for a second. We are not talking about where babies come from, or how to keep a baby from happening. We are discussing an issue that needs to be addressed in order for an individual to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Honestly folks, this is not the most awkward thing we could talk about. You know how I know this? Because nowhere in my talk do I say the words penis, vagina or sperm.
Unfortunately, there is just not enough education about eating disorders. Almost every school that I have spoken at, the students could not name all three kinds. How many of you, when the topic of an eating disorder comes up, thinks about a dangerously thin girl picking at her food, and that’s it? How many of you knew that there are three main kinds of eating disorders? How many of you know that 4 in 10 people will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, and that only 1 in 10 who do have an eating disorder will seek treatment for it?
No judgement if any of this is new information. I blame the media and how they portray eating disorders. I blame the lack of education on mental illnesses in school. I blame the administrators of schools who have said, “I just don’t think this is a big enough issue to bring to our students.” (Yes, I have been told this. Twice.)
As a quick, and very brief lesson, there are three main kinds of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, or BED. Anorexia is the restriction of food as a result of an intensely distorted body image. It is the most visible of the three types, which is why this is the one that most people think of. BED is the bingeing of food, usually in an effort to find some type of control or fulfill a void. Bulimia is similar to BED, except after a binge, a purge is done in the form of vomiting, using laxatives, or an overly intense workout. It is also a result of a distorted body image. All of these eating disorders have dangerous side effects that seriously risk one’s health.
95% of those who have an eating disorder are between the ages of 12 and 24. This age hits middle school, high school, and college aged individuals. If 24 million people are struggling with an eating disorder, why are we doing nothing about it? Why is it so hard to accept that this is an issue that men and women, boys and girls are struggling with? This is why I give the talks that I do. I simply want to start the discussion and raise awareness on eating disorders as a whole. I can’t imagine how different my life could have been if I had been introduced to something like this when I was in middle school or high school.
I have seen first hand how impactful this can be on students. After one particular day of speaking at a high school, a girl asked if we could talk after school. We sat down for about 15 minutes and she told me about her own eating disorder and the depression she also struggled with. We discussed her options of who to talk to and steps to take in a healthy direction. After we were done, I looked outside of the room that we were talking in and saw four other girls who wanted to tell me their personal struggles. I left feeling like I had done something to make a difference and that I guided these girls in a healthier direction, but it was overshadowed by the fact that this clearly a really big issue that has been ignored for too long. I have seen first hand how many young girls and boys are affected by an eating disorder.
One thing that really affects those with an eating disorder is the dangerous act of comparison. There is a quote I really like: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Through everyday life, and especially with social media, it is so easy to get caught up in the game of “I wish.”
“I wish I was as skinny as her.” “I wish I had her arms/legs/abs/butt/smile.” “I wish I was as carefree as he looks.” These wishes are seemingly harmless, but if these thoughts are what are constantly running through our heads every time we get on social media, we forget about the things that make us who we really are. Social media is great, but we have to remember that not everything we see on instagram is real. It’s called photoshop, people. And a lot of people are really good at it. It’s called taking a hundred pictures and choosing the best one. It’s the perfect lighting, angles, and cameras that make these pictures seem so perfect. I promise you, you are doing just fine. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Put down the phone and close your laptop. Otherwise you’ll eventually lose out on the things that make you you.
We have to remember that our bodies are made for so much more than romping around in a swimsuit, or posting endless pictures on social media. They provide us with so much more than the attention from the guys/girls we are trying to impress. Your body allows you to be the truest form of who you are, and I think that pretty dang cool. There’s no one else in the world like you. Don’t let constant comparison take away the joy of who you are.
I want to end with this. If someone has strep throat, they go to the doctor. If someone tears their ACL in their knee, they see an orthopedic surgeon. If someone has a mental illness, they need to see a therapist. But for some reason, as a society, there is such a negative stigma surrounding the idea of seeing a therapist.
Eating disorders and mental illnesses are a big deal. Let’s do something about it and end the stigma.