Mental Health Moment #3- What someone with an eating disorder wants you to know

Happy Friday lovelies! As my last post before… 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (eek!!), I wanted to end the year with another MHM that I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. Today’s post is going to be all the things that someone with an eating who’s dealing with/recovering from an eating disorder wants you to know. Throughout my struggle with an ED, I’ve struggle to find a way to explain everything that’s going on in my head. And while I would love to just sit down with everyone who’s been supporting me through this to explain the rationale behind all of my thoughts and actions, I also have a fear of being a burden on people or being “too much”. I wanted to write today’s post for all those who struggle to voice their thoughts and feelings, and also for all those amazing people who are supporting friends and people around them who are dealing with an ED or any other mental illness. Remember we’re all in this together. See you at 12 Days!! 

As hard as we try to explain what it feels like, there’s truly no way to understand it unless you go through it- I’m not saying this to look for pity, I believe this is true about almost everything in life. You’re never going to fully understand something unless you go through it yourself. What I’ve learned that’s important about this is that it’s okay not to understand. You don’t have to know exactly what someone is going through in order to be supportive of them. Trying your best to be empathetic towards the situation without pretending like you completely understand is all we’re asking for. We aren’t expecting you to understand the debilitating nature of the disease, we’re simply asking for love and support. 

You don’t have to be super skinny to have an eating disorder- This is one misconception about eating disorders that I unfortunately hear and see a lot. Having an eating disorder does not mean you have to be super skinny, and just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders come in various forms and not all of them lead to extreme and excessive weight loss (though some of them do). I’m one of those people who’s not super skinny and my eating disorder didn’t make me super skinny. There have been cases where I’ve opened up to someone about my battle only for them to respond, “but you don’t look like you have an eating disorder”.  Just like our bodies, eating disorders present themselves in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 

Our actions are driven by a force that we can’t control- It’s east for someone looking in to questions why we can’t just stop our behavior, and that’s a fair question for someone who’s never struggled with this disease before. What’s important to understand is that our behaviors are controlled by the eating disorder; the eating disorder presents itself as another voice in our heads telling us what to do. I know this may sound crazy to have another voice in our heads, but it’s a very subtle and convincing voice that’s perpetuating our actions. It’s much harder to shoo away than our own thoughts, and that’s why recovery is one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging things to go through.

It’s not something we can just “get over”- This one ties in with the above statement, but an eating disorder is a serious mental disorder. One that’s established its position in our bodies and fights against it’s extinction. For someone to say “just get over it” is one of the most harmful and hurtful things we could be told. The fight to beat the disease is a constant battle that we are dealing with 24 hours a day. I heard this analogy in one of my classes and have been using it to describe the battle: ‘If your friend was suffering from food poisoning and was in the bathroom throwing up, you would just tell them to get over it would you? So why would you say that to someone who’s dealing with a mental illness?’ It’s not something we just “get over”. 

An eating disorder is more than just food and weight- A lot of people think that eating disorders just have to do with what/how much we eat and how much we weigh. While that’s part of the story, there’s also so much more to it. Without going into too much detail, eating disorders affect our everyday lives more than you know. It affects our confidence not just in the way we look, but the way we carry ourselves and live our everyday lives. It can fester inside of us and create a deeper level of insecurity that goes way beyond looks. Please remember that this disease is something we deal with all day, not just during meals. 

You don’t have to be afraid to talk about it- I know it may seem like a taboo subject, but it’s okay to bring it up, just be smart about it. For me personally, the hardest thing about this was feeling like I couldn’t talk about it. The only reason I felt this way was because no one else around me was talking about it. Once I opened up, I had so many people in my life reach out to share their own stories. As a supporter, don’t be afraid to ask your friend about their progress. Make sure the time and space is right, you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but it okay to bring it up. Sitting in silence can be debilitating. 

It can be hard to be honest and open, no matter how close we are- Opening up about the battle can be one of the hardest things to do. For me, there’s always a degree of embarrassment and shame, when it comes to talking about my eating disorder, that makes it incredibly hard to open up to my friends about it, especially my close ones. Please don’t take offense if your friend is unable to be honest about everything with you, it will take time. But once we find the people we can trust, it make a world of a difference. 

Recovery is not a straight line, in fact it’s far from that- This is something I didn’t fully appreciate until recently, but recovery really is not a straight line, it’s full of ups and downs, twists and turns. There are going to be good spurts and bad spurts and it’s all part of the long recovery process. Unfortunately there’s no magic spell we can cast to cure an eating disorder, so it’s going to look different for each person. There’s no rule book to outline how recovery works, it’s difficult and nuanced. It’s hard to tell when relapses are going to happen, sometimes it’s expected but more than often it’s not. And as difficult as it can be, it’s all part of the recovery process. 

There are good days and bad days, and it’s so hard to control- While an eating disorder is something we are dealing with all day everyday, we are still normal human beings as well. There are days where we feel good, happy and confident, and days where we feel sad, frustrated and insecure. And while this may just sound like an excuse, it’s usually way out of our control. It’s not just a “mood” we can get out of, it’s a deep feeling engrained in our minds. Sometimes we want to be by ourselves, and sometimes we just want to be around all our friends, it all just depends on the day. 

Little actions mean more than you realize- The small things mean so much to us, even if you don’t realize it. Simply asking how our day is going or sending a one-line supportive text can turn our day around. Sometimes we just need reminders that there are people around us who care about us. We’re not looking for attention, in fact we don’t want/need attention, we just need a few people around us who care. The small gestures are the things that we appreciate most. So even if you don’t think a text or a quick check-in will do anything, do it anyway. It’s so incredibly appreciated. 

I just wanted to end by saying that I am so grateful for all the people in my life who have supported me through my battle. While this has been an extremely difficult thing to go through, I’m also amazed by the outpouring of love and support I’ve received from the people who truly care about me, and I will be thankful for that everyday for the rest of my life. I am also grateful for anyone else who took the time to read this to try and better their understanding on this subject. Whether you are just trying to educate yourself or are wanting to support someone in your life who’s dealing with an eating disorder, I’m thankful that there are people out there who are supporting others. We are all in this together, never forget that. xx

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