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5 Things I Wish People Knew About Eating Disorders

02/01/2017 03:15 EST | Updated 03/28/2017 04:50 EDT
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It's Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Canada (Feb.1-7, 2017). It has taken me about 15 years to ADMIT that I had an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa) as a child and teenager.

I never knew there was such a thing as Eating Disorder Awareness Week or that there were resources that could have helped me. I felt alone and ashamed.

When I recovered after my 10-year battle with anorexia, I made the choice to brush that part of my life under the rug. I never spoke about it until recently and always felt shame. I wish I knew more about eating disorders at the time and spoke to others and allowed myself to heal properly.

There is a constant battle in your mind that never seems to go away.

If you know someone with an eating disorder, here are a few things to be aware of:

1. There are different types of eating disorders

a. Anorexia Nervosa - People eat very little and therefore have a low body weight

b. Bulimia Nervosa - People eat a lot and then try to rid themselves of the food (vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, stimulants or excessive exercise)

c. Binge Eating Disorder - People eat large amounts of food in a short time period and is associated with negative psychological and social problems but without purging

d. Diabulimia - Deliberately taking less insulin in people with Type 1 diabetes for the purpose of controlling weight

e. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Behaviour - This is more than just "picky eating" in children. They do not grow out of it and often become malnourished

2. Myths & Truths

a. Only young girls are affected - FALSE! Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status

b. Eating disorders are a choice - FALSE! Eating disorders are a biologically-influenced mental illness.

c. Only environmental factors are to blame for an eating disorder - FALSE! Genes play a role in eating disorders but environment also influences their development.

3. Some Scary Statistics (Taken from http://nedic.ca):

a. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness -- it is estimated that 10 per cent of those with anorexia will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder

b. 1.5 per cent of Canadian women aged 15 to 24 had an eating disorder

c. 4 per cent of boys in Grade 9 to 10 reported anabolic steroid use

d. 28 per cent of girls in Grade 9 and 29 per cent in Grade 10 engaged in weight-loss behaviour

4. Eating Disorders are a Mental Illness

No one wakes up wishing they had an eating disorder. It is SO painful on every level:

a. Mental - There is a constant battle in your mind that never seems to go away. I would try to silence the voice in my head that told me "You are fat," "That piece of bread has 80 calories," "Go run another mile or bad things will happen."

There is NEVER peace of mind.

b. Physical - Whether my organs were shutting down or I'd faint on a daily basis or I twisted my ankle on my third workout of the day because my body had no fuel, I'd push myself to keep moving.

My body NEVER got a break.

c. Emotional - A voice in my head CONSTANTLY told me, "You are not good enough, you are not worth it, you deserve to die, you are ugly and fat." This voice held more power over me than any person.

My emotional health took a beating and LOVE of myself was a foreign concept.

5. Stigma, Shame and Isolation

There is still a huge stigma and shame around having an eating disorder. It is easy to feel alone and isolated from the rest of the world.

I still remember when my best friend at the age of 12 told me "Can you just get over this non-eating thing." My eyes still well up with tears when I think about it because of how alone I felt. I felt like I was living all by myself with no one to turn to. I didn't have a friend that was going through the same thing and understood how I felt.

Instead I saw people passing judgement and uttering phrases like "Eat cake, you're too thin." "Gosh, you're going to run again -- you're a stick!" which only makes a person with eating disorders feel even more distanced.

Please don't judge someone with an eating disorder or condemn them for not doing things according to your timeline.

When you say things such as "I love you" or "You are a beautiful person, inside and out" or "I am always here for you" or "I'm just a phone call away", you are helping someone with an eating disorder to feel welcome and that they are not alone.

When you treat someone with an eating disorder with kindness and compassion, you help them know they can turn to you if and when they are ready without judgment.

I encourage you or your loved one to visit NEDIC's website for more information or call their toll-free help line because Talking and sharing helps!

http://nedic.ca or 1-866-633-4220

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