Glencoe health textbooks define anorexia nervosa as “a disorder in which the irrational fear of becoming obese results in severe weight loss from self-imposed starvation.” It is no wonder then, that people all around the world have a completely misconstrued idea of what an eating disorder truly is. By defining one of the most deadly mental diseases as simply “an irrational fear of becoming obese” it is downplaying, and simplifying all of the factors that trigger an eating disorder. We are taught that anorexia is simply a diet. However, a diet is a choice, and a mental illness is not. This is what we are taught growing up in middle school, so it is no surprise that nearly everyone is ignorant about the disease.
It is not only the education system that has a flawed way of teaching about eating disorders. Society is another powerful force that shapes us, and so are the people leading our society; such as celebrities. Take a rap song by Big Sean with the lyrics, “how your waist anorexic but your a** is colossal.” This not only holds the false idea that all people with anorexia are thin, but it also makes a joke out of something that kills hundreds of people globally each year - that’s right, GLOBALLY, not just the skinny blonde cheerleader in your math class. Or, take the ignorant words of the supposedly body positive Meghan Trainor. She once said to E! News, “I was never strong enough to be anorexic. I asked my mom to make me celery once for lunch but I gave up and just ate a sandwich instead.” Here, Meghan Trainor is insinuating that eating disorders are a choice, and even that they should be glorified because it takes “strength.” Coming from a survivor, having an eating disorder doesn’t make you strong, it makes you a victim of the most fatal mental disease in the world.
If I was asked to define an eating disorder, there is no way I could go about it. It is far too complex to just fit into a phrase. To me, an eating disorder is caused by years and years of deeply ingrained emotional issues, or even being born with the gene to be prone to addiction. Much like alcoholism, a person becomes addicted to a behavior. But in the case of an eating disorder, a person becomes addicted to what it feels like to be starving. So, why is it that when an alcoholic needs help, they are sent to rehabilitation, but when an anorexic needs help, people simply say, “Just eat. It’s not that hard”?
All of these misconceptions about what an eating disorder is are the things that made my recovery so difficult. After telling people my story, I will always get the question, “So did you just agree to start eating again?” In response, I always say, “Nobody would ever choose to hurt themselves in the way an eating disorder hurts. So no, nothing I ever went through was a choice.” Eating disorder recovery is a long, complex journey that does not just end when you are fully recovered. The effects of having had an eating disorder stay with you for the rest of your life, if you are lucky enough to live through it. Whether it is living without a menstrual period, meaning you can never have children, or needing to take calcium supplements at the age of 12 because you already have the onset to Osteoporosis, there is something that always reminds you of the grueling, dark times.
Overcoming an eating disorder was the most difficult time of my life. It didn’t just involve refeeding in the hospital; it involved dealing with the stigma mental diseases seem to have in our society. It gets tiring having to explain my situation because most of America was never taught the truth behind an eating disorder. It gets tiring that people assume eating disorders are a way to get attention. It gets tiring when people think that recovery is as simple as eating normally again.
The only true way that we can eradicate the ignorance about mental illnesses in our country is to educate. Raise awareness, break down the stigma. Communicate to people everywhere that it is OKAY to be struggling with something internally. Become a lobbyist for increasing the amount of money put into psychological research. Notice that the first step America needs to take when it comes to mass shootings is to recognize the possibility that these perpetrators may have a mental illness, rather than blaming everything on the gun. Realize that in order to live a successful life, your mind must be at peace too. To educate the world is to change the world.
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