Eating Disorder are extremely complicated and are largely misunderstood in our society. Even after living with and fighting an eating disorder for over eight years, I still don’t understand all of the complexities of the disease, and neither do my friends and family. Sometimes the struggle of recovery can become even harder when we constantly feel misunderstood and unheard among those who love us because it perpetuates the illusion that we are alone in this battle. This list of 11 things I wish my friends and family understood about my eating disorder is not comprehensive, but it is where I’ve most felt the most disconnect.
1. The topic: I don’t want you to talk about my eating disorder as if it is a taboo thing to bring up. Yes, use common sense about the times and places you do bring it up. But the more you treat it as a taboo thing, the more I am inclined to hide it, which inevitably leads me further into the disorder. Please be real with me.
2. The food-talk: Since I already think about food for most of my day, I don’t really want to talk about food with you. I’d love to have conversations about pretty much anything else. I especially do not want to talk about your diet. Sometimes I may need to remove myself from those conversations, but it doesn’t mean I am trying to be standoffish. Please understand me.
3. The cure: I can’t “just eat,” and cure myself. While food will help any physical symptoms, I need to put in hours upon hours of work on my brain. The pressure of the “just eat” mindset doesn’t work either, because for me, food is not just food. Rather it is a terribly frightening monster that I must conquer at least three times a day. Please don’t pressure me.
4. The struggle: Recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done and likely will ever do in my life. Recovery from an eating disorder requires a great deal of constant energy, focus, and motivation, which is not always easy to find. Please encourage me.
5. The time: Recovery is going to take years. I am essentially reprogramming the way my brain thinks about myself, food, and others. And sometimes I may slip back into old habits and need to take even more time to heal. Please be patient with me.
6. The distress: Sometimes I am going to lash out over the smallest comment or freak out about the serving you give me on my plate. Don’t take offense to this. Rather help me block out Ed’s lies that are causing me to react so strongly. Please fight with me.
7. The voice: Yes, I do have another voice in my head that I have named “Ed.” He is constantly trying to control the way I live, think, and act. Over the years our voices have meshed together, and sometimes I will need help differentiating my voice from his. Please help me.
8. The lies: I am going to lie to you on occasion. I will lie and tell you everything is fine physically, mentally, and emotionally. This isn’t because I am trying to hurt you. In fact, its the opposite. I am hiding what I see as my failures from you so that I don’t have to hurt you further then I already have. Please forgive me.
9. The self-love: Yes, I know you love me and care about me, but sometimes that’s not going to be enough to keep me motivated and facilitate the change I need. I appreciate all you do and the love you show, but I also need to learn to love myself. Please reassure me.
10. The social: I want to hang out with you/y’all, but I don’t always want to hang out with you and food. I know sharing a meal and gathering around a table with each other is part of our culture of community, but sometimes I need a break. That’s why I say no to food-related outings so frequently. Let’s try to plan an outing now and then that doesn’t involve food. Please include me.
11. The reality: At the end of the day, eating disorders are not about the food. They are about so much more, and it varies from person to person. For me, its about the way I’ve never felt like I was enough and somehow some part of my brain thought that dropping a size or seven would help me like myself more. It’s taken a while to accept that this is not true and to begin to see that I am enough, just as I am. Please comfort me.
If you have a loved one in your life who struggles with an eating disorder, I’d encourage you to ask them where they feel the most misunderstood. Give them a safe space to have an honest conversation. Let them know you are listening and really want to understand better. You are an important part of your loved one’s journey towards healing because no one can beat this monster alone. The more we seek to understand this disease, the more we can fight it.