I’ve written many things about my past struggles with an eating disorder. Sometimes, it feels as though it was so long ago, and other times the memories are fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.
However, one thing is for sure: life without and eating disorder has always been so much better than life with one.
When I look back on the past two years, my decision to speak out and advocate for eating disorder (ED) awareness has probably been one of the greatest decisions of my life. Originally, my intention to open up about my past battle with anorexia was to help others—I wanted to use my experience to give hope to others currently struggling. However, I never could have anticipated the liberation and complete freedom that would come with being so honest about my experience. Although I considered myself fully recovered before deciding to speak out about EDs, being publicly open about my ED has further emphasized the importance of healing, loving life, and enjoying every day—which includes enjoying food, enjoying my body, and, above all, enjoying myself.
The reason I decided to speak about this is because I feel that in the past year, I’ve found the importance of simply speaking out. Not only does it reduce stigma surrounding eating disorders—people who meet me would never know I had an ED as a teen (What, you had an eating disorder? But you seem so comfortable with food now!)—but it also desensitizes others to the big bad word ‘eating disorder’. I mean, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The word itself has such a negative connotation—‘disorder’ and ‘eating’ in the same package. And, when you learn about the truths, statistics, devastating consequences and the suffering behind an ED, the phrase ‘eating disorder’ becomes even more terrifying to someone who’s never experience one. EDs are truly horrible disorders, no doubt. I could write pages about the despair, isolation and suffering, from both my own past experiences and what I’ve learned from others’ experiences. But that’s not the point I am trying to make.
I want to explain the importance of raising awareness, and specifically by not being scared or ashamed to say, “I’ve had an eating disorder”. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done, and some don’t feel comfortable with this—and that’s okay. Part of recovering from an ED is learning how to respect yourself, and to respect your personal boundaries and comfort zones.
For many though, speaking out is something that many consider once they’ve recovered. How much I would’ve given to meet someone who’d recovered when I was sick, or to have known someone back when I was starting to engage in disordered behaviours who could’ve said, “Ashley, how have you been doing lately?”
That’s the purpose of awareness, isn’t it? Perhaps I would’ve gotten help sooner had someone in my circle been knowledgeable about eating disorders. Perhaps the recovery process would’ve been easier had I not been so entrenched in the depths of my ED.
Awareness saves lives.
Research shows that the earlier a diagnosis, the better the prognosis.
Of course, looking back, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my journey—I am so thrilled with how it’s turned out. Having experienced an ED and then recovering has changed how I see myself and my life. Regardless, the question remains: how are you going to raise awareness? Will it be through talking about your past experience with an ED? Will it be through acting as a role model for positive body image? Will it be through teaching your nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, etc., the importance of loving oneself? Will it be through supporting someone you suspect may have an eating disorder? How will YOU raise awareness? Will it be through simply educating others about what an eating disorder truly is?
You don’t need to have personally experienced an eating disorder to raise awareness about them!
I truly believe that the more we are open with speaking out about eating disorders, the less people need to hide behind their disorder, because they are scared of what others will think. This only fuels the isolation and secrecy that the eating disorders thrive on.
So, if you’re not convinced already, think of it this way; by speaking out about EDs, we go against what the ED represents—deprivation, isolation and suffering behind closed doors. By simply speaking out, we are taking action against eating disorders simply by talking about them, because the simple act of acknowledging the problem goes against everything the disorder signifies.