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True Awareness of Eating Disorders

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:05pm
Yes, I do realize this post is a day or two after the end of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but our Internet connection was down. So there. ::sticks out tongue::

But I was thinking- what do people really need to be aware of about eating disorders? I would wager a bet that most Americans know, on some level, what anorexia and bulimia are. They are plenty aware of eating disorders. Anorexics want to look like models and bulimics want to have their cake and puke it too. Right? People with eating disorders have crappy parents who just need to butt out of their lives and then they will be able to manage their symptoms and remain obsessed with the size of their ass for the rest of their lives.

Though I have not conducted any sort of scientific polls (nor, having studied the process in grad school, would even try to attempt such a thing), that seems to be the general understanding of the general American on the street, courtesy all of the tell-all stories in the media. Essentially .

But that ain't what an eating disorder is, or is about. In fact, anorexia isn't really about anything. It's no more "about" something than cancer. It's an illness. It's a biologically-based illness. It is not a choice. It is not a bunch of skinny chicks wishing they could be (insert name of super-skinny celebrity here). The model-wannabe syndrome is both culture-wide and a symptom of anorexia. It's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the promise of the ending of food and weight anxieties. But it's not the cause, and it's not what even promotes the continuation of eating disorders.

We live in a culture that promotes eating disorder symptoms. We do. Flat-out. My co-workers in the "Big Fat Loser" contest are proof of that. Our culture holds those with anorexia up as some sort of role-models. If they can starve, so can you. If they can lose weight, so can you. Models look like anorexics, whether they actually are or not. Our culture also holds food restriction and malnutrition as a normal way of life through dieting. An eating disorder is, in no way , a diet. But it sure does look like one, and it sure can be swept under the rug as one.

Eating disorders are genetically-based. Though I have no evidence of full-blown eating disorders in my family, there is plenty of evidence of mood and anxiety disorders, along with substance abuse. All of which alter serotonin and dopamine and all those other cool neurochemicals , even from birth. Could there be an eating disorder somewhere in our family tree that I don't know about? You betcha. But what's more likely is that the triggers weren't there (dieting, emphasis on thinness as a culture, the promise that losing weight will lead to happiness, eating "healthy", etc). I view the anorexia as an extension of the OCD , from which I also suffer. The similarities are too striking for me to brush aside. The obsessions. The rituals. The mind-numbing, mouth-frothing fear. The hopes that if you can do everything just right then the fear will go away. That my brain latched onto fears about germs and weight (among other things) could be entirely random. I wouldn't have been afraid of AIDS before 1980. We didn't know about it. In another time and place, I might not have been afraid of food and weight. Because no one gave a shit.

I also want to know that you can fully recover from an eating disorder. If I were to become completely blase about food (so I didn't eat biggie), I would be an idiot. I don't have the luxury of skipping meals. My brain doesn't allow it. But that doesn't mean my life has to be ruled by thoughts of food and weight. It's like a bout of skin cancer- you may be cured, but you can almost be damn sure that you'll religiously use sunblock. An eating disorder changes your life, and the lives of all those who care about you.

Lastly, I want you to know that an eating disorder is not a choice. I never "chose" to become anorexic; it just sort of happened. I can't explain it. For years, I chased after the "why", hoping that if I could untangle the reasons behind my illness, then I could solve it. I've learned that there is no "why," that anorexia and eating disorders don't make a whole lot of sense. I'm moving on from that. My anorexia may have begun with an innocent decision to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose five pounds, but it was not perpetuated by conscious choice.

But those of us with eating disorders and other mental illnesses need the support of our family and friends. We need our family and friends to be educated on the topic of eating disorders, for them to know all of the things about which I just wrote. We need support, not condemnation or judgement.
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