The content of this blog may be sensitive to some readers.
While this is my second year participating in NEDAwareness Week, there are some things I've learned since last year's NEDAwareness Week that bear repeating. This year's theme is "Three Minutes Can Save a Life," and focuses upon a free, three-minute screening you can take if you have a hunch about your own or a friend's disordered habits. Anyone of any gender, sexuality, race, class, and body type can have an eating disorder. They are not exclusive to any one group and should not be treated as such. I encourage you to take the screening. I tested it out and it truly did take (maybe even less than) three minutes. Thankfully, my results did not include encouragement to seek help for my possible eating disorder like they would have in the past. This screening is a useful tool for possibly detecting eating disorders and encouraging those struggling to seek the appropriate professionals and resources if needed.
So, what have I learned in the year's interim?
Firstly, I don't feel the need to post a before and after photo like I did last year. I've had time to reflect on this, and believe that posting a low weight photo (even without numbers involved) is unnecessarily triggering to others and even myself. I don't need to prove that my disorder was valid, and you don't either. Posting these kinds of photos only encourages misconceptions and the idea that someone only has an eating disorder if they're extremely thin. This is very often not the case, much to the sensationalizing media's dismay. NEDAwareness Week is about recovery, raising awareness, and education. These three things can be done without accompanying low weight photos. See Claire Greaves' article for more information.
Recovery still is a choice I make weekly, and not so much every day any more. This may not be the case for you, and that's okay. Everyone's recovery is different. My disorder seems to fade into the background more often, even though I do post about my recovery quite frequently. Counter-intuitively, it seems a bit harder during this week, as numbers are thrown around and people reiterate false statistics and "knowledge" about eating disorders, despite never having an ED or working in a profession that encounters them.
Properly nourishing my mind and body is still essential. I still get shaky if I go too long without a meal or snack, and am still learning to hone in on my hunger cues. I am continuing my intuitive eating process, and know that I won't achieve anything if I don't have fuel in my system. Food is important in all steps of the recovery process, even if you consider yourself at the recovered stage like I do.
Another huge part of my recovery includes regularly talking and posting about it on social media. This has helped me strengthen my resolve, but it may not do that for you. Again, that is fine! It took me about three years to admit I sought treatment for an ED, let alone even want to talk about the experience. It's a personal choice on whether or not you want to discuss your past or present struggles.
Two things that go hand in hand here are selfies and body tolerance/positivity. Posting selfies has improved my self-image. It's not about the likes; it's about the bravery required to post them in today's appearance-obsessed and judgmental world, combined with the fact that I used to hate myself, mind and body included. I know this may sound hypocritical when compared to my above statements about low weight photos, but these are in an entirely different realm. These photos are a celebration of where I am now, and how far I've come from the days when the eating disorder ruled every minute of my life.
I want to point out that while body positivity (and tolerance on the days that are harder) has done wonders for my own body image, I do still struggle with the things that contributed to my development of the ED in the first place: anxiety, depression, and compromised self-worth. I am currently working on these things in therapy, after picking it back up after a much too long break. The ED was a symptom of these larger issues, and this is something I wish I could reiterate to everyone who thinks eating disorders are just about appearance or food.
Cultivating a life without negative influences and without playing into anything that would encourage the disorder and threaten your recovery is critical. A good treatment friend, Cassie Meade, understands this. We have successfully continued our friendship while recovering without upsetting or competing with each other. You can view a condensed version of points made in this article in our infographic, designed by Cassie with content supplied by me. We collaborated to make a bite-sized version of what we feel have been the most important steps to take and follow in our solid recoveries of three and four years, respectively. Please take the plunge into recovery. It is one of the hardest things you'll ever attempt, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.
Please see NEDA's website for support and resources if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder.
This article originally appeared on Quirky Daily.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.