Eating Disorder Awareness Week

February 1-7 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week in Canada.

While I’ve shared my story in the past, there’s aspects and anecdotes I’ve shied away from talking about because they’re not necessarily the “inspiring” pieces of recovery. But, this week, I’ve partnered with Here for Her to uncover some of those taboos, in hopes that anybody going through similar experiences might feel a little less alone.

On Denial:

One of the best quotes that sums up my experience with an eating disorder, is this:

“Having an eating disorder is like fighting a war, in which the opponent’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t happening.”

I heard that for the first time in group counselling, while sitting in a room with 5 other women who were struggling with disordered eating. At the time, I felt like I didn’t need to be there. Like I wasn’t “sick enough” to need help, let alone a support group. It wasn’t until I heard that phrase, that it clicked for me.

The nature of eating disorders (and most mental illness) is that the inner narrative tries to convince you that you’re not worthy of getting better. Growing up, most of my education around mental illness came from the media. From shows like Skins, where Cassie proclaimed that she hadn’t eaten in three days.

Well, I ate every day. I didn’t relish in counting calories, or openly obsess over eating like TV characters did… Surely, I couldn’t have an eating disorder, right?

These extreme versions of anorexia exist, but there are so many other narratives that go left untold. Because my story never “fit” that image in my head of what an eating disorder was supposed to look like, I was very much in denial that I was struggling at all.

Unfortunately, this is the case for too many people. That’s why I love that this year’s EDAW campaign focuses on more inclusive messaging, that “one size DOESN’T fit all” and that eating disorders can affect anyone.

On Hair Loss:

The kicker with eating disorders, is that they’re not just a mental illness. I mean, maybe that’s obvious. But aside from weight loss (which, isn’t necessarily a part of everyone’s experience AKA, you can’t tell a person’s illness by their weight or size), there are other physical symptoms that aren’t usually shown on TV. Probably, because they don’t play into the romanticized version of eating disorders.

I never expected my hair to become brittle. Or to fall out. Or to develop trichotillomania as a result of coping with my eating disorder.  Much like my eating disorder, I didn’t even know what trichotillomania was (or that it was something I was experiencing) until I was already experiencing it.

I was on Youtube watching recovery testimonial videos (because I guess that’s what you do when you’re searching for inspiration in recovery) and came across a “Related Video” about a girl who started pulling her hair in recovery, as an anxious coping mechanism. While watching the video, I was playing with and pulling on my own hair. I thought “Oh my God, that’s me.”

When you don’t nourish your body (not only with food, but GOOD food, and lots of water), your body shows it. My hair became straw-like, and I HATED the texture so much, that I would pull out strands. I subconsciously started doing this, and still play with my hair anxiously – even though, now, it’s finally in a healthy state.  

(PS. It took almost THREE years to get my hair back to it’s normal, soft texture. I hear so often from girls in recovery that they hate their hair, and they don’t know if it will ever come back to normal. It takes time, but if you nourish and hydrate your body, you’ll get your hair back <3)

On Periods:

 Sweater from  Here for Her

Sweater from Here for Her

Hey, what’s up, hello. Why are periods so awkward to talk about? Combine the taboo around periods, with the taboo around mental health, and we’re in for a good time.

The truth is, I’ve had an irregular period for as long as I can remember. I never had a set monthly schedule or date. It would kinda just come whenever it wanted, which is basically the worst for living your life in constant fear that you just might get your period no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

When I developed my eating disorder, my period disappeared altogether. For most women, this is a tell-tale sign that something is up with your body. But, because my period has always been irregular, I didn’t think much of it. Even when I went a couple months without my period, I didn’t panic because it didn’t seem SO out of the ordinary.

Looking back, I wish these irregularities – and what to do when you notice something is “off” – were talked about more openly. Our body uses these symptoms and signs to flag to us that something might be going on inside, and instead of paying attention to that, I swept it under the rug in my recurring denial that anything was wrong.

Almost as soon as I started nourishing my body to a healthy state, my period reappeared.

You know, most women hate that time of the month. And God, if cramps aren’t the worse thing ever, I don’t know what is. *But* I do slightly cherish my body a little more, for reminding me each month that I’m in a healthy place.

 Sweater from Here for Her

Sweater from Here for Her

On Getting Help:

This was maybe the worst part of it all.

I’m not being dramatic when I say that taking the first step and just reaching out for help, was at the time, 1000x worse than just living my life with an eating disorder.

Why is it so damn hard to talk about these struggles when we’re in the middle of it?

I don’t know. It’s maybe a combination of stigma, and self-stigma. Of not wanting to be ashamed or seen as weak, but also not wanting to even acknowledge the problem at all. Thankfully, I was at a university that had plentiful accessible resources, available for free, because I was a student. For people who aren’t as privileged, my heart hurts a little, knowing that getting help means facing MORE barriers after the already excruciating process of just *reaching out*.

I also know, that no amount of resources will help you, unless you’re ready to help yourself.

It sounds harsh, but I rejected help for so long, rejected working on recovery because I didn’t want to admit I was struggling. The only time I actually got better, was when I decided that I wanted to work at it.

So if you’re reading this, you’re struggling, and you’re ready – I’m including some resources here that will hopefully start you in the right direction towards recovery:

Organizations:
NEDIC – National Eating Disorders Informatino Centre (Canada)
NEDA – National Eating Disorders Association (USA)
Better Help – affordable, online counselling  
TalkSpace – accessible, online therapy
Kids Help Phone – FREE online & telephone counselling (Canada)
Crisis Text Link – FREE 24/7 texting support (USA)

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Here for Her is dedicated to ending the awkwardness around women’s health (from periods to body image issues). They have super cute products, like the PERIOD PERIOD PERIOD sweater in my pics (I'm wearing a medium because I like an oversized fit), and a percentage of profits support women’s health initiatives. Here for Her is a Canadian brand run by my friend, Rachel Ettinger. You can follow Here for Her on Instagram here.

Kayley ReedComment