Last week I went to my friend B's house for some catch-up time over tea. Her roommate was home with a few of her friends, all in their mid-twenties. We began talking and it wasn't too long before the subject of healthy living, eating disorders, workout routines, body size and food came up.
There were five of us plopped around the living room, and it turned out that the only person there not to have struggled with an eating disorder on some level, at some point in her life, was my friend B. She said she felt like she was the odd man out, and she was. B takes excellent care of her physical and mental well-being, and I've always appreciated the way she treats her body as a temple. It shines through and makes her a real beauty. However, in this conversation, it was as if she was questioning whether or not she paid enough attention to her figure because she had never gone to the extreme lengths of anorexia or bulimia to make herself thinner.
Over the next few minutes, each girl shared stories about her eating disorder and the lengths that were necessary for her recovery. I noticed a slight elitist edge in the tone of one of the girls' voices as she spoke about what treatment facility she had been admitted to many years ago. It was one of the big names.
If a fly were on the wall, he may have said that the conversation painted eating disorders as some sort of right of passage that overly self-aware women experience, and can later speak about as if they belonged to some sort of select secret club. A club who's members only gained entry if they were disciplined enough to starve themselves or spend their days in spinning classes or Tracy Anderson dance-athons.
I got a gross feeling inside when I realized where this conversation was headed, and it made me sad that B would actually feel left out for not sharing the experience of starving herself or sticking her head in a toilet bowl to attain size zero status.
Over the course of my sixteen-year modeling career, I went down the road and back again with diets, weight obsession, extreme workouts and all things eating disorder related. I have shared my experience of my battle with my body to be pin thin in hopes that other women don't follow in my footsteps. It was a terrible time, and it still takes commitment to stay in a healthy place physically and mentally.
The conversation we were having in my friend B's living room was not a new one to me. Women talk about this stuff all the time, and it seems to me like one celebrity after another is coming forth to say that at some point in their career, they suffered from an eating disorder. It is a vitally important subject to bring awareness to, because the reality is that women really are suffering. Not just a few women, but a lot of them. It's not even just women -- it's men, too. The problem in these conversations is that I'm noticing an attitude of pride and superiority from people that speak about their eating disorders lately. Having the discipline to abstain from calories or stay on the treadmill for four hours a day to look like a coat hanger is something people are glamorizing and bragging about.
Let me point out something that people seem to be forgetting: Eating disorders will shorten your life. How glamorous is that? You cold fall into cardiac arrest and die. You can ruin your bone density permanently so that you will never be able to participate in impact exercise again. The enamel on your teeth can wear off and you can experience tooth decay. Infertility and odd body hair growth can occur. Oh yeah, and your kidneys can fail too. Really sexy, right?
Those are just some of the physical repercussions. Emotionally, depression can set in or become exacerbated by an eating disorder. Oftentimes, this is accompanied by extreme anxiety, guilt and shame as well. Isolation is a natural tendency for someone suffering an eating disorder, so the joys of a social life also diminish.
Side effects vary from person to person, but none are fun. Not even that moment that you finally button those size 2 jeans you know are unrealistic for your body frame. Once that occurs, you will not be washed over with a wave of happiness. You will still just be you, and hungry. I can guarantee that. I hesitate to say this, but if all of those consequences are not enough to keep a person from romanticizing an eating disorder, think of this -- they don't even work to keep you thin. It may work short-term, but over time, muscle loss occurs and the body begins to hold on tight to any calorie that is consumed because it is scared no more are coming and it is starving to death. This means the furnace that is your metabolism, fueling and energizing the body, runs with a very weak flame. It can take years to correct this, and you will have to start eating food again if you would like to live a long life. In those years guess what? Yep, you got it -- you will probably gain more weight than you started with.
I realize eating disorders do not always consume a person solely because they are trying to be thin. They can be complex and as difficult to get to the bottom of as any other disease, and they deserve to be approached with a great deal of compassion. Healing takes extreme devotion and courage to face the sickness inside of the soul that is the disorder, but it can be done. My heart goes out to all that are on that journey. I'm sure they can tell you that it is not glamorous, and they are grateful they are learning a better way.
Seeking treatment for an eating disorder is courageous. If you are suffering, you are not alone. On my journey, I have learned that healthy and happy really is the new rich and skinny. I also learned the answer to body love and acceptance is not to focus on loving a certain body part, but to focus on overall happiness. The rest happens on it's own.