It gets better girl, just you wait

“I restricted today. First time in 55 days. I’m so disappointed,” a friend, Lindsey, texted me several days ago.

“I did it again today. I cut and haven’t eaten all day except a salad that I threw up.” This is a text from another friend of mine named Allisa. Texts like these two are not even a fraction of what I have received from friends of mine over the past couple of years.

They aren’t the only ones I know who struggle with an eating disorder. I do too. When I was 15, we celebrated “Pi Day” in class. I had recently seen a photo of myself and hated how fat I looked. So after eating the pieces of pie in class, I went to force myself to puke it up. That’s when it started. But an eating disorder is way more than a conscious decision or act. It is a mental illness too.

In the United States alone, 20 million females and 10 million males struggle with some type of eating disorder, as of 2011; four out of ten people have personally struggled with an eating disorder or know someone who has.

“Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health,” said the National Eating Disorder Association.

There are various types of eating disorders that society does not seem to know the difference. Each can have lasting and deadly consequences on one’s body.

My two friends mentioned above and I fall under the category of anorexia. Anorexia nervosa involves inadequate food intake that leads to the person losing a significant amount of weight. He or she has a severe fear of weight gain. He or she also is obsessed with weight and the idea of gaining weight. gives statistics for anorexia. They report that 0.9% of women will suffer from anorexia nervosa in her lifetime, and 0.3% of men will suffer from it. Anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.

“I was hospitalized for four months and hooked up to a feeding tube for bulimia,” a friend confessed to me during a heart to heart as we sat in my car one night. 1.5% of women will suffer from bulimia in her lifetime. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the person consumes large amounts of food followed by behavior to prevent wright gain, like forced vomiting. The person feels out of control during these “binge eating” episodes.

While those are two of the most common and more known eating disorders, NEDA also offers information about other types on their website. These disorders include binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified.

For years, I refused to talk about my struggles. These girls quoted also chose the same. Society doesn’t understand the severity of an eating disorder. It is not something you “try out” like a pair of jeans. It is a serious mental illness that kills.

The nonprofit organization To Write Love On Her Arms is trying to change that stigma. Jamie Tworkowski founded TWLOHA in 2006. They try to show those struggling and the people around them that hope is real. One interactive feature of their website is the blog. A multitude of people who have worked with TWLOHA, among those who have been affected by similar struggles, contribute to the blog.

“I am Nichole. I am not my eating disorder. I am important, and I have a story worth living and sharing.” Nichole Engel wrote for TWLOHA’s blog during National Eating Disorder Awareness week in 2012. She is one of many young people who have been touched by an eating disorder.

For those of you who decide to seek help and live in Alabama, there are treatment centers available. Magnolia Creek Treatment Center for Women is located in Columbiana, Alabama. They treat females ages 18 and older with mood disorders and eating disorders.

I would advise you to seek help in the greater Birmingham area if you are from Florence. They have other treatment centers besides Magnolia Creek. You may choose to visit Castlewood of the Highlands.

Demi Lovato, singer and actress, has also chosen to speak out about mental illness. Lovato was admitted into rehab for bipolar disorder and an eating disorder during 2010. She now speaks out about her recovery.

“There needs to be more variety on television so young girls growing up don’t feel pressure to look one specific way. Tall, thin, curvy, short, whatever you are, you are beautiful,” Lovato said.

In a more recent conversation with Lindsey, she spoke to me about her eating disorder and recovery. What she said is what I want all of you readers to get out of this.

“Having an ED is like living in panic 24/7 because you’re afraid of what food will do to you […] Recovery makes me proud of myself…Eating has allowed me to focus on self-love and help other people who struggle with ED’s or other mental illnesses.” Recovery is possible but it is a process.

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