Eating disorders impact over 30 million people in the United States alone, with an even greater number of individuals who struggle with negative body image and poor relationships with food. Here are the lessons that one survivor hopes will teach her own daughters to love themselves unconditionally.
Eating disorders are often wrongly stigmatized by the mainstream media as diseases of “vanity”, as if a person willingly “chooses” it in order to fit a certain jean size.
The reality tells a far different story.
Anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder are severe psychiatric illnesses with strong biological underpinnings. Anorexia has proven to be the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses, claiming too many lives from the critical consequences of a vicious self-starvation cycle. The mortality rate associated with anorexia alone is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death. Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer with eating disorders are unable to connect to the help they need for recovery and healing.
As a survivor of anorexia, I can attest firsthand to the grievous, unforgiving nature of this disease, as well as the hope that is found on the other side of recovery. Throughout my recovery, I have learned invaluable lessons about myself, ultimately being able to renegotiate a relationship with food and body that was once characterized by chaos, disdain and commotion.
Now, as a mother of four young children, three of which are girls, I want to pass on these lessons in hopes to positively cultivate their young hearts and minds:
YOU DESERVE TO BE NOURISHED
Our society has sadly distorted what it means to feed and nourish your body, and many individuals find themselves in endless dieting cycles. There is a misbelief that food must somehow be earned, either through punishing exercises or prolonged deprivation. For some, this may be the trigger that perpetuates an eating disorder.
Food is something our bodies inherently need, and feeding ourselves is as necessary as breathing. Trying to “control” hunger, following rigid rules, or maintaining any diet only leads to chaos, frustration, and feelings of hopelessness. Embracing how food nourishes our bodies to help us thrive is fundamental to finding peace with food and our bodies. Building a healthy lifestyle is not created alone by the types of foods we eat. Rather, it is built upon the foundation of a harmonious relationship with food.
BE KIND TO YOUR BODY
Poor body image is something that many people face, with or without an eating disorder. For years while in my disorder, I adamantly battled with my body, feeling hatred toward the vessel that has carried me this far in life. Thankfully, my healing journey has allowed me to reshape my own relationship with my body, embrace my imperfections, and live in gratitude for what my body has miraculously endured. More than anything, I learned that my body deserves appreciation, along with gentle and intuitive exercise and nutrition.
I’ve come to understand that loving your body is similar to being in a relationship. There are days where you may not necessarily “feel” like loving your body, but actions do not need to be based on feelings. Feelings will constantly ebb and flow in our lives, but there is an unchanging need for our bodies to receive respect, care, and nourishment. Learning to love and respect your body, in spite of what you may be feeling, is a daily choice and commitment.
ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
Eating disorders are isolating diseases by nature, and countless individuals struggle in shame and silence. Reaching out for help and to loved ones is vital for hope and healing. Whatever your own personal body struggle may be, there is no need to internalize the pain you are feeling.
Don’t allow yourself to suffer in silence or assume you are beyond help. Confide in someone you trust is a first important step towards healing. Your life is invaluable and irreplaceable, and asking for help is reflective of courage and strength to carry on.
CHERISH YOUR UNIQUENESS
When I look at each of my children, I appreciate the qualities that are unique to them. At their young, innocent ages, they feel a sense of invincibility towards life – like there is nothing they cannot do, explore, or conquer.
We all start out in life this way, only to fall prey to a society that molds us to believe we must meet unrealistic qualifications of standardization and acceptability.
With resounding hope, I pray my children will always find the courage to embrace their own uniqueness in a world that fervently challenges our differences. I have found that the essence of loving yourself begins with accepting the unique fabric of your life. From the wellspring of self-love, can you truly love others.
I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to find healing from a disease that took so much from me: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. What I have learned in my journey is that, above all, there is always hope; hope for recovery, rebuilding, and healing.
In every trial and tribulation, the obstacles and challenges we face are stepping stones toward a more beautiful version of ourselves.
One that is fortified to live a life well loved.
If you or someone you care for is struggling with an eating disorder, please consider reaching out for professional help and treatment. Many resources are available that can connect you to the help you need to begin your recovery journey, such as the National Eating Disorder Association.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.