National Eating Disorder Week 2023: A Toxic Relationship That CAN be Broken Up With

“My worst days in recovery are better than the best days in relapse.”  – Kate Le Page

Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders, Grief, Suicidal Thoughts.

National Eating Disorder Week: The Facts

Today kicks off National Eating Disorder Week. A week of education, reform, raise money as well as awareness, and to let those in the throws of an ED (eating disorder) know that they are NOT alone and that recovery is possible. That there IS something to live for beyond binging and purging and starving yourself. Every year I have shared my journey, because it is ever evolving. As I wrote last year, while I think the aim of National Eating Disorder Week is a great one, it is a battle that is fought 365 days a year. There are no days off because it is constantly there, whether it is in the forefront of your mind or buried so deeply in the subconscious, yet, you STILL know it is there nagging at you.

There is still so much misinformation about eating disorders. “It is a skinny girl’s disease” “Oh it is white privilege” or “Only those with money have it.” “They are lazy, if they just did some exercise.” “They are seeking attention.” “They just want to be thin.” On and on and on. And they are ALL wrong. Eating disorders rarely have anything to do with weight, though that is how it is shown. it is a mental illness. One that affects 9% of the population worldwide. Nine percent and that is just what is documented. Because the truth is, so much of an eating disorder is still unknown and under researched.

What isn’t, is that eating disorders are one of the leading causes of death with those with a mental illness out there only second to opioid overdoses. What is more, roughly 26% of people with an ED will attempt suicide, and even more have suicide ideation. I wish I could say that these statistics are crazy to me, but as someone who struggled over half of her life with an ED, it isn’t.

Eating Disorders aren’t the “Skinny bitches disease.” In fact, those who are obese especially morbidly so are classified as having an eating disorder. You do not have to weigh a certain weight, nor do you have to be starving yourself, or vomiting to have an eating disorder. Body shapes of every kind, every weight, all genders, all ages, and all ethnicities are at risk for an eating disorder. And in fact, recent studies have shown that there is a huge genetic component to those who have an eating disorder, which makes sense because it is a mental illness. Not unlike alcohol or drugs, Because ultimately at its core it is a coping mechanism.

A Perfect Diet Culture

My ED was never about being thin. It might have seemed that way. There is no doubt, we live in a society that glamorizes certain standards of beauty. Thinness, blondness, being outgoing, having boobs. If you have that, then you must have it all, you must have a charmed life. What is more everyone will not only want to be your friend, but you will also have more advantages and opportunities. You will have more REWARDS. And we live in a society that is ALL about rewards.

While they never passed comments on my body, I grew up surrounded by women who were constantly dieting. The PMS diet, and the grapefruit diet, going fat free and then of course came Adkins and weight-watchers and then it was ALL over. Of course the inundation of “diets” while it felt like it was more in my face with television, magazine, and then later social media, fad diets have ALWAYS been around. I remember talking to my grandmother, long after I had gotten help for my eating disorder, and she talked about the diets her mother did and later she and her sisters did as well. It wasn’t this new phenomenon. Dieting and thus eating disorders have been around for centuries, we are only JUST starting to talk about it now. We are only JUST starting to de-stigmatize it. Of course there is still SO much work to be done.

A Toxic Relationship

If our first most complicated relationship is with ourselves, then for the majority of us the second most complicated relationship would be with food. There is still SO much shame, so research is still skewed, BUT I can honestly say, I do not know ONE person who has not had a tumultuous relationship with food, and I do include anyone who diets in that. (FYI having a medical reason for not eating something is NOT a diet in my opinion). What is worse, unlike drugs or alcohol, where we CAN break up with them, we NEED food to survive. It truly feels like a never ending toxic relationship cycle.

But it does NOT have to be. I struggled with body dysmorphia as young as seven, if not younger, and the reason for that was I was having a hard time in school with friends and being bullied, (being book smart will get you teased as will living under your siblings shadow and I had four of them) and home life was tumultuous, my Mom especially was very unhappy and I internalized that to the extent I tried to be absolutely perfect. If I was perfect maybe everyone else would be happy. I was a right ol’ people pleaser 101 right here. It only got worse, as I got older, dealing with a hormonal driven illness, that the full extent of it was only diagnosed this passed year, some seventeen years later, and exacerbated in epic form with the passing of my sister. But it was also the passing of my sister (and my move to New York) that ended up getting me into rehab and recovery.

The Reward

Food, exercising, as I was also a figure skater, it all became a tool to give and take as punishment and reward as I was going through all of this. I felt I wasn’t deserving  except int he form of punishment and food was that tool, much lie drugs and alcohol, I used to do it. Thankfully we are changing how we raise our children, but as a child, I saw food was used as a reward. If you are good you’ll get ice cream or candy. But I also saw it with adults, you lost ten pounds you can have that cake. I witnessed my sister dieting like crazy before her wedding (I was nine at the time) to fit into her dress and when she lost five pounds she would reward herself with a food indulgence. Even now, most diet plans have “Cheat” days, like food is the enemy and you are not deserving UNLESS you do XYZ.

I wish I could say that it is a societal thing now, and I know many people would disagree with me on this but it isn’t. Food has been weaponized for centuries. We have created a system where if you are worthy you get an extra ration, but if you aren’t you starve. It has been drilled into our minds, passed down from generation to generation, that food is a weapon and a reward, and how you act, what you are worth depends on what you receive. Because of this, it has created a codependent relationship, that is also incredibly toxic because we NEED food to survive. Yet, how can I eat if I am not deserving?

We are Deserving

I call bullshit on that. WE ARE deserving. What you weigh, how you look, what you eat, has no bearing on YOUR value. On who YOU are. I have spent years, decades now, fighting that toxic mind set. Of changing the pathways in my brain and creating new ones, ones that have banners that say food, whether it is carbs, (which are in everything soooo) sugar, animal products whatever are okay. They are more then okay. I am deserving of them. What is more I am deserving of living my best most beautiful bad ass life, in recovery, which regardless of what anyone says is possible.

Rome was NOT built in a day, and we are dealing with centuries, not just decades, of behavior that has been passed down from generation to generation. Breaking those patterns is not easy, but then the biggest misnomer of life is that it IS easy. One of my mottos is that recovery isn’t never struggling, but being able to have the tools to go THROUGH the struggle not around it, every day. Food does not have to be our enemy regardless of what society tells us, and WE do not have to be our own enemy either. We will have bad days. Heck we’ll even have days where we fail, but that is alright , because it not only is how we learn, but it is how we grow stronger. And friends, to have gone through this battle, and I truly went through, no easy short cuts, I am strong, and SO are you! If you are struggling, you WILL get through it. And I am always here if you need or wish to talk. Sending so much love to you all!

And as always I welcome thoughts and comments on anything I have written. Love you friends <3 

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