February 23-March 1 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
Eating disorder awareness is awesome, but the most important part of this is that people become aware of how hidden and prevalent it really is. The key to my own recovery was recognizing it within myself, but this was difficult to do since I was never severely underweight. While my BMI was under 18 at one point, it was nowhere near being sickly thin, which made it difficult for me to see myself as having an eating disorder. And often there are people out there with a BMI under 18 who don’t have eating disorders, too, who are wrongly accused.
Thus, we must clearly emphasize how much of a psychological problem this is–that it is how we approach food and our habits around food that make an eating disorder what it really is.
Awareness comes in knowing that eating disorders are not always visible and can happen to anyone (that includes men!). I believe National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is about breaking the misconceptions and stereotypes of eating disorders. It is to become aware of more than just “stick-thin white girls,” that the demon lies deep inside the mind, and perhaps the ones who suffer the most seem to be far from the right “image” we have grown up to think eating disorder to look like.
I think the biggest eye-opener for me with this entire “coming out” experience was the realization of how many people deal with it. And I think what made it more difficult was the variety of experiences, “rituals,” weights, and definitions of eating disorders. Eating disorders also commonly stem from/are a part of anxiety, depression, or OCD tendencies (or all three!).
Everyone’s eating disorder varies. After studying and observing others who deal with the disorder, I see a variety of “rituals,” rules, etc. An example of my own ignorance would be was when I suspected someone I knew might have an eating disorder. But I kept putting it off because some of the foods he decided to eat would have been “forbidden” for me. He mustn’t have an eating disorder because he is eating THAT food and I could never allow myself to eat THAT.
But I soon found out that he did suffer, and my awareness for eating disorders expanded beyond what I knew in my own head with my experience.
All I ask is that we open our minds and watch out for our friends and family–notice subtle cues, any changes in behaviors with food (even if just small–something as simple as trying to eat healthier should be filed away in the mind to pull out later if anything progresses from there). If anything, just learn to care about others and encourage yourself to ask how others are doing. Something as simple as showing you care can help others to open up–because for me, learning to speak was the best way to admit something wasn’t right.