Trigger Warning: The following article discusses eating disorders
What do you think of when you hear “eating disorder”? Many will point to the stereotypical depiction of an emaciated white, teenage girl refusing to eat. Maybe you thought of a diet, or you associated it with being underweight. Although these elements might be true for some, it’s not the reality faced by the majority. We might have the misconception that eating disorders only affect women, but the truth of the matter is that eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect an estimated 30 million people in the United States alone, and at least 9% of the population worldwide. Whether you’re in a smaller or larger body, you deserve to receive help, regardless of if you feel “sick enough.”
But, what does it mean to feel “sick enough”?
When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I struggled to reach out for help because I felt that I didn’t fit the standard of what people considered an eating disorder. I wanted to look like the models on Instagram and be so sick that someone would notice my pain. I felt invisible. I felt as though no one would help me unless I was skin and bones, so I set out to reach this unreachable “sick enough.” As a result, I lost most of my friends and my family felt further and further away from me. And when I finally came around to acknowledging that maybe I needed some help, I had already deteriorated so much that it warranted an inpatient level of care. Even at my worst, I still felt like I wasn’t sick. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be one of the few to receive treatment, but the sad truth is that only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder ever receive treatment. Eating disorders are complex and if left untreated, can not only lead to significant long-term health challenges, but also death.
See, that’s the thing with eating disorders. They lie by telling you that you will be happy once you lose “x” amount of weight. Or quite commonly, that you are not “thin enough” to have an eating disorder. Recovery for me has included dismantling these beliefs and acknowledging that I have a choice. We all do. Just because you have these thoughts does not mean you have to believe them or act on them.
You will never feel sick enough, no matter how much the eating disorder lies. You will continue to adjust your goals until there is nothing left of you.
So, what can we do when we live in a world that idolizes thinness? What can we do when diet culture is all around us, being taught to us as children and leading us to develop unattainable ideas of what our bodies should look like?
The truth? A lot.
We need to educate ourselves on the dangers of dieting and work to challenge the toxic messages we receive from diet culture. We must use our voice and speak up against diet talk, whether that is at the dinner table, holiday gatherings, or eating out. We can challenge diet talk when friends or family comment on our food, or whether or not we exercised. Being able to set boundaries is extremely important and although difficult, also key in helping not only yourself but others.
It is also important to remember that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t care about your sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race. So, to anyone reading this…if you are struggling with an eating disorder and you don’t feel “sick enough,” I see you. If you feel like the number on the scale or the number of calories you’ve consumed in the day determines your worth, I see you. You don’t need to justify your pain. I see you and there is help out there.
But even though the help is out there, we must also acknowledge that not everyone has access to treatment. Treatment, especially higher levels of care, is extremely expensive and usually not covered by insurance. Funding for mental illnesses is limited and not enough people are getting the help they need.
We must remember that eating disorders are illnesses of the mind, not the body. Eating disorders can manifest physically but even if one is at a “healthy weight,” the mind could be undergoing extreme distress. I urge you to check in with yourself and question the things you were made to believe about your body. Check in on your loved ones if you feel they are struggling. Approach yourself and others with compassion and empathy.
Surround yourself with body-positive people who accept you as you are. Fill your social media feeds with accounts that make you feel good, not like you need to change yourself. Work on achieving a balance in all aspects of life and remind yourself that “perfect” is a social construct that does not exist.
If you are interested in learning more about eating disorders or want to see if you might be struggling with one, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website. Recovery is not linear and there is no “right” way to do it, but it is possible. There is hope.
It’s time that we address the dangers of this deadly disease, dismantle the “sick enough” ideal, and come together to work on being grateful to our bodies for what they do for us, not for how they look.
Andrea Chavez Trejo is a strong advocate for mental health who believes that balance and compassion are key to living a more fulfilling life.