According to the statistics listed on the ANAD website, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I was lucky. The number of people who die from complications related to anorexia is staggering. 20% of those with the illness will not make it to the other side of wellness. Those who struggle with any eating disorder often think death would be a welcome relief. It has been a long time since I have been the the throes of the illness. I remember vividly the sense of despair, desperation, fear and hopelessness. My life was truly a nightmare.
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. So often, I forget that aspect of my life, despite the minor little struggles I see both in myself and it those around me. Once removed from the worst of the disorder, it's hard to get anywhere even remotely close to it in any way. I find it difficult to be around people caught up in training too much, eating too little, talking about body hate and falling into the false idea that we have to be beautiful and thin in order to be happy and successful. It pains me to see those deep in the grip of their addiction. On the other hand, when I come back to those who, like me, lived to see better days, I feel incredibly empowered, grateful and inspired. I talk often about Diane Israel. We had similar stories, and both of us are dedicated to spreading the word that recovery from an eating disorder is possible. I want to share a wonderful interview that was done by August Mclaughlin. In it, she discusses with Diane what it takes to be free.
Filmmaker Diane Israel on Beauty, Healing & Feeling to Be Free
What I love most about Diane's approach is that she addresses what Doug Bunnell, Ph.D. calls the Western standards of beauty that, for some reason, everyone is trying to achieve. It has quite a bit to do with the beauty industry, a multi-billion dollar industry, thriving on us not feeling good enough. Of course there are many reasons why an eating disorder gets set in motion, but the pressure from society to be a certain way doesn't help. Diane is right that the key to overcoming these harsh standards and the illness is to start with the self. After this, finding a way to serve others is the next step, and she often reminds us that you don't need to be fully recovered in order to start this process. It can be one step among many in the right direction.
In a small segment on the local news last night, awareness about men struggling with eating disorders was raised, though the outdated statistic of 10-15% of those with an eating disorder are men was used, which we now know is probably not accurate. Men are both under-diagnosed and not as willing to seek treatment, so the statistics are a bit skewed. Unfortunately, it has been discovered that more men are suffering from eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
Because it is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I do want to stress that there is a way out of the illness. There is a nicely done video on the NEDA website that offers a positive message. When I started writing my manuscript, I wanted to convey this idea about healing in a "dis-ordered" world. I wasn't quite in a place where I felt fully recovered, but I knew a better life was possible. My healing continued long after I stopped writing. In the chains of the illness, it can often feel like a different life is out of reach. I think both Diane and I have wanted to send everyone the message that despite the pressures society and the media place on us, recovery is an option.
Please check out Boulder Youth Body Alliance, a great group that provides support and information about self-acceptance.