Eating Disorders – Recovery is possible
In Western society, we have relative freedom of choice when it comes to thoughts and action. Yet the prevalence of eating disorders continues to climb, and the number of people partaking in destructive behaviors is reaching disturbing proportions.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. In addition, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents and about 50 percent of people who have had anorexia develop bulimia or bulimic patterns.
Justine, an ex-bulimia sufferer, says “on my 18th birthday, my heart stopped beating. It was a few days before I was to be admitted to the hospital, and my last chance at freedom. So I went out with friends, drank too much and collapsed. I was rushed to hospital.”
An estimated 2 to 5 percent of Americans experience binge eating disorder in a 6-month period.
Unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not purge, starve themselves or engage in strenuous activity after a binge, and are on average overweight, which makes it harder to identify there is a serious problem.
And eating disorders are not limited to females. An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male and males are less likely to seek treatment because of the perception that they are “woman’s diseases”.
A fact that 17-year-old Mitchell knows only too well. “In primary school the ‘cool kids’ ruthlessly bullied me. I changed schools but I didn’t fit in. Then my parents separated, one of my brothers moved out and my other brother was barely home. I felt that everyone around me had left me and this made me feel hopeless and abandoned.” Mitchell resorted to restricting his food intake to the point where his weight plummeted to a dangerous low, but then bulimia took hold. Fighting feelings of worthlessness, Mitchell struggled to accept that he was a male with an eating disorder. “This struggle was manifested by what society perceives as being ‘male’: masculine, courageous, unbreakable. These traits were hammered into me by images in my teenage world. At the time, I felt that coming out about having a mental illness which mainly targets girls would tarnish my image.”
Exhausted from the battle within, Mitchell made a conscious decision to recover. “To stop the desire to purge, I’d stare at myself in the mirror and yell ‘I am not doing this’”. With persistence, courage and belief in himself, Mitchell turned his life around. “I feel that people who bully others are insecure themselves. I don’t buy in to what others say about me anymore. I trust myself first and foremost.”
Justine’s turning point came when she realized she was the only one who could make the decision. “I felt I couldn’t talk to people about how I was feeling because it was wrong to inflict my negative feelings on others. This became a core belief so my secretive behavior stemmed from this. I now realize had I asked for help sooner, a lot of heartache could have been avoided. I recognized my illness had become a conscious choice – and I chose to fight it.”
Emily, on the other hand, endured over fifty admissions to hospital. “I fought so hard to hold onto my eating disorder, to the point of needing sedation. I was pulled out of school because I had no cognitive function – I couldn’t even put a sentence together. I lived by self imposed rules and rituals. I was in the most incredible pain but the only way I could communicate this was through self destruction.”
After breaking several bones due to severe malnourishment, including her feet, hips and ribs, Emily was told she had osteoporosis and her bone density was the same as someone aged 110. Terrified, she felt compelled to recover. Although her recovery has been littered with relapses, Emily has progressively improved. “There is no looking back for me now. I lost a big slice of my life to anorexia and I’m determined not to lose anymore.” Emily’s determination is paying off. “The medication for my osteoporosis has regenerated cells in my bones and as a result they have improved tremendously. I haven’t broken anything for ages. To be able to run, jump and play is such a gift.”
Having suffered anorexia myself as a teenager, I know the value of recovery. It takes commitment and courage, but it is possible. Part of my recovery from anorexia was learning to listen to my heart and pay attention to the life I wanted to create, in order to be true to myself. However life changes and evolves I am happiest when I do not compromise who I am.
In my book Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want, I’ve profiled seventeen people who have recovered, including how they used their strength and self awareness to go on and do amazing things. Living proof that it is possible not only to recover, but to create a wonderful life.
5 Recovery Tips
You have to want recovery for yourself, not for anyone else, and believe that you deserve it.
Trust yourself and the people who love you.
Focus on your reasons for wanting to recover and develop affirmations associated with these.
If you lapse, take the control back by giving yourself permission to start over and reminding yourself of your reasons for wanting to recover.
Channel your energy and imagination into the things that you are passionate about.
Avid Writer. Novice Trapeze Artist. In Love with Life
Melinda Hutchings is a writer, speaker and media commentator dedicated to helping young people overcome adversity. She is the author of four books including Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues (Allen & Unwin 2009) and It Will Get Better; Finding Your Way Through Teen Issues (Allen & Unwin 2010). www.melindahutchings.com & on Twitter at @M_Hutchings
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