Eating Disorder Awareness: Community Messaging Matters
Today is World Eating Disorders Day and I want to talk about how important community messaging is in recovery.
Binge eating disorder has been such a part of my life (since I was ten years old) that it just seemed normal to me. Normal to sneak food, eat food out of the garbage can, eat sugar out of a bag with a spoon, hide food in my room and car, and drive around at 3am to multiple fast food restaurants eating from every one of them while parked in dark and random parking lots.
My whole life I was always told that because I am built bigger, I am worth less. No matter my actual size (from a juniors size as a kid to size 18), I have always been told I am too big. I was told that my body type and shape instantly showed other people that I was lazy, undisciplined, and undesirable. This constant message that I was bad because of my body helped lead to a really disordered relationship with food.
I have various blog posts about my recovery from binge eating disorder, which you can read at the end of this post. It’s been a long journey. We even used to lock up our food in a closet in the basement so I couldn’t eat while I was in the house (per doctors orders.)
Then, in 2007 I went to CrossFit for the first time and finally got a different message from a large community of people.
At CrossFit I was told that your size or ability is not an indicator of your inherent worth. Every person is worthy. In 11 years, not one CrossFit box I have gone to has treated me as less-than because of my weight and/or ability.
They taught me that I was good enough as I am and that I had power and agency to really look at all of the eating disorder recovery I had done and see what worked for me and what didn’t. I could take what worked and leave the rest. I could try my own ideas based on how my body, mind, and spirit felt. They also repeated over and over that no one else gets to dictate another persons worth and dignity.
This freedom to not associate my worth with my size and the freedom to advocate for myself within my recovery program was essential to recovering from binge eating disorder for me. (Everyone has a different experience of what works for them.) It meant that food or size had no moral value, and I could just eat in a way that felt good for me. I could be whatever size worked for my body and life.
Eating disorders are caused by a multitude of factors- I believe a combination of environment and brain chemistry. Lots of people who look like me grew up with the same negative messages about their bodies but did not develop an eating disorder.
While community can not be held solely responsible, that doesn’t mean they are not obligated to do better.
It is important that the fitness industry, families, schools, work, and friends are aware of eating disorders. They need to understand that if they promote the message that your body size and/or type determines your worth, they will fuel more eating disorders. If, instead, they promote the idea that every body is worthy as they are, then they can help create a different community message. One that heals rather than harms.
Today I get to coach other people to help them move well and live the life they want. I get to wear some awesome leggings that embrace rather than shame my body type, and I get to eat and move in a way that makes me feel great.
So, if you have an eating disorder or you have been told your size is not acceptable, know that you are worthy and loved as you are. No one else gives you your worth, you just have it. If you are in a harmful community, get out if you can. You can also look for more positive communities through certain online support groups, churches, sports, gyms, and always a really good therapist.
If you need immediate help with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at (800) 931-2237
For a good mindful eating recovery program, check out Am I Hungry? They often have local groups and individual therapists.
Want to help others? My leggings (not an affiliate link) are from GRRRL Clothing and as part of their efforts to extend awareness of eating disorders they have launched a sale to benefit NEDA. It’s called the 15:15:30 sale and it goes until midnight PST on June 3, 2018. You get 15% off storewide (with code Neda at checkout). They will give 15% of your purchase value to NEDA in order to support the 30 million living with an eating disorder.
My Other posts on Binge Eating Disorder:
Interviewed for this article: Raising My Kids to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food Despite my Eating Disorder.