This post is something that I have wanted to write for a really long time, but I really needed time to do some research and even sit with my own opinions on the issue. I also needed to let go of my previous very stubborn beliefs and admit to myself that I had been wrong and well that is never easy to do.
Eating disorders are not choices, they are illnesses. That statement is easy enough to type and I have spewed it out on my blog before and other places, but I never really thought about what I was saying and definitely didn’t believe it. Before seeking treatment and early in my recovery, I thought that I was CHOOSING to just make really horrible decisions. I figured that since I was the one actively not eating, exercising too much and not taking care of myself, that I was the problem, or more so that my choices were the problem. After all, I had all of the power in the world to just do things differently.
And this is true in a sense; we are all in charge of our own actions and behaviors. But my “choices” were really symptoms of the eating disorder. I sat down over and over again with food in front of me and internally yelled at myself to “just eat the damn food” or “are you fucking kidding me? Just make the right choice”. And time after time I failed and left even more discouraged and upset. I had a very strong fear of going grocery shopping. It may sound irrational, but I would get so anxious and shaky that I couldn’t set foot in a grocery store without crying or having a full blown panic attack.
Do you think I chose that? Do you really think at 24 years old I wanted to be as scared of something as simple as going into the grocery store?
Like I said above, eating disorders are not choices, they are illnesses. Would you tell someone with cancer to stop choosing to be sick? Or how about tell the tumors to stop growing or cancer cells to stop multiplying? Or even better, would you yell at them for throwing up after the first round of chemotherapy?
God I hope not.
We, as those suffering from eating disorders and those that aren’t, including the medical community, need to really learn a lesson from this. As well meaning as the intentions may be, yelling at someone or becoming frustrated because they are “choosing” not to eat or engage in other eating disorder behaviors isn’t going to fix the problem. In fact, if they are anything like me, it is going to make it worse. For the longest time I felt like a complete idiot for the times that I restricted again or for how “pathetic” it was that I couldn’t even buy food for myself. I would spend countless hours every night before bed berating and yelling at myself to “just do it”. And the cycle just continued.
So how can you help?
If you suffer from an eating disorder, stop believing that you are inherently flawed and are just really bad at making choices. Step up to the plate and seek help and support, but from the right kind of people. If you are a family member or a friend of someone with an eating disorder, stop the shaming and blaming, we as sufferers do it to ourselves enough on our own. Help support your loved ones by being there to listen to them, make them laugh through a meal and remind them that they are not alone in this. As far as the medical community goes, do your research. Stop treating those with eating disorders like misbehaved kids, but instead with the kindness and compassion that you would treat patients with other illnesses. Take the time to listen to WHY someone is struggling with the destructive behaviors and learn how to help them get passed it, without making them feel bad. Shaming, evoking fear and blaming don’t work. Nor do punishments or rewards.
Something that I would like to make clear is that having an eating disorder doesn’t make me powerless, or does having cancer. Every day I CHOOSE to stay in recovery, just like I choose to take my meds and go to the doctor regularly to have blood work/scans done. I choose to continue seeing a therapist, working with a nutritionist and doing my damned best to follow the advice they are giving me. Every morning I make a decision whether I want to actively fight against the illnesses that I have or not, but the element of choice stops there.
I did not choose to have an eating disorder or cancer. And neither did you. Choose to get better, by following whatever the best protocol for your illness is. But don’t continue to subscribe to the idea that illnesses are choices, especially eating disorders.
Here is a video that I watched a few weeks ago that I think goes perfectly with this post:
I know this post is a very sensitive topic. If you don’t agree, then that is ok. But please be respectful of the fact that this is my blog and this is about my journey. I have spent most of my life believing that eating disorders are choices and unfortunately old beliefs die hard. But through research and my personal experience I have seen otherwise. For me recovery has largely been about letting go of old beliefs and patterns of thoughts that have kept me trapped for years and that are just wrong, and I really think that this is one of them.