The Hidden Cause of My Eating Disorder
When I talk with people about my experience with an eating disorder, they often automatically think of body image and weight loss. It’s true that this is a huge part of many eating disorders, but the focus on body image is, in my experience, a surface response to internal distress stemming from beliefs about ourselves we’ve picked up over the years. These beliefs are internalized and become the voices in our heads, torturing us day in and day out. Because many of these beliefs are complicated and daunting to face, we focus instead on the one thing we feel we can control—our bodies.
In treatment we called these beliefs negative core beliefs, because they often were at the very core of our eating disorders. For me, these beliefs completely drove my eating disorder and my life. The biggest belief I had to overcome was that “I am a failure.”
I grew up in a family that highly values academic success. I counted my intelligence, passion, and ability to be a leader as my best qualities, and I still do today. Even though I was nearly a straight A student and engaged in my community, I felt like none of the work I did was enough. Coupled with being bullied at school for my religious and political beliefs, and being told I was “not a real leader” by my best friends, this lead me to develop an eating disorder when I was 11 years old. This past year, however, I’ve been practicing giving myself the recognition I deserve for my accomplishments and not being so hard on myself. I’m living in recovery for the first time and I feel so confident, empowered, and happy.
We live in a world where women need to work twice as hard as men to hold the same positions and esteem; we are paid less for equal or superior work, and we're underrepresented in leadership positions, among other injustices. So, it's especially crucial that we give women the recognition they deserve. We cannot afford for women and girls in our society to feel like failures, like they’re not good enough, or like their contributions don't matter.
There are easy ways to give women more recognition every day. One of my favorites is to echo a female classmate’s thoughts during a class discussion or meeting. This could look something like, “Jane, thanks for bringing up the symbolism in this poem, that was a great observation. I agree and want to add my thoughts...”
If someone repeats a female classmate’s idea as their own during the discussion, I like to call it out and elaborate on my female classmate’s point. I might say, “That was Jane’s point earlier. I agreed with her characterization of this character.” If I can’t speak about an idea a classmate had during a discussion, I go up to her after class and let her know it really added something to the conversation for me.
A way I like to support younger girls in my life is by asking them about their favorite book or subject in school instead of focusing on what they’re wearing or how they look. I also let them lead the conversation with me and focus on and encourage the subjects they’re naturally interested in.
Body acceptance, although so important, probably would not have prevented my eating disorder. Affirmation of my intelligence, leadership skills, potential, and good work absolutely would have prevented my eating disorder, though. A little affirmation goes a long way.
By Juliana D'Eredita, 20