Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEDA Awareness

Today's post will be adopted from post the Women's Health Foundation blog, written by one of our own interns, Nancy Hall.

I’m often confused by “awareness” campaigns. Many of the causes that have awareness weeks or months are already on our collective radar. How far does “awareness” go in actually addressing the needs of those who suffer from the particular illness or condition?

This is National Eating Disorders Awareness week, but let’s face it—most of us have heard of eating disorders. We know about women who starve themselves because they’re terrified of gaining weight; we hear tales of bingeing and purging cycles so severe that the person’s teeth rot. But how often have we heard the words “anorexic” or “bulimic” used as an accusation or insult? Do we laugh at jokes about someone’s binge eating? We’re certainly aware of these conditions—but where is the compassion?

According to NEDA, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder. Desperate loved ones often feel helpless. The husband of a woman with anorexia tells her “just eat!” Parents of the young man with binge-eating disorder tell him “just eat smaller portions!” That word “just” crops up a lot and makes something so complicated seem so simple. There is nothing simple about recovering from an eating disorder. But it is possible and starts with compassion and understanding.

I am currently interning at The Awakening Center [[note--include hyperlink]], a private psychotherapy practice that specializes in treating eating disorders, anxiety, trauma, depression, and other life challenges. Each of my clients and members of our ED support groups work hard to recover. They describe pain, shame, fear, and anger. They search for peace that at times seems unattainable. Triggers are everywhere, and they fear slipping back into old patterns. And they struggle to overcome the shame and stigma attached to their eating disorder.

The theme of this year’s NEDAwareness [[note—this spelling is correct; include hyperlink]] week is “I had no idea.” Those simple words strung together pack a powerful punch. They prompt us to go beyond simple awareness. “I had no idea” compels us to face the myths and biases that we have about people with eating disorders.

Amy Grabowski, LCPC ATR, founder of The Awakening Center, often quotes Milton Erikson: “What is now a problem was once a solution.” Restricting food, bingeing and purging, or bingeing all were once solutions to deal with anxiety, depression, trauma, and so forth. But these coping mechanisms become entrenched and have little to do with food, exercise, or weight. So treatment needs to go beyond calorie intake. Recovery comes from healing old wounds and learning to accept the body, mind, and spirit. New solutions to anxiety are discovered and toolboxes are filled with new skills.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s OK to admit what you don’t know. Start with the words “I had no idea” and see where that leads. Think about your assumptions and you might realize “I had no idea someone could be at a normal weight and still have a binge-eating disorder.” Educate yourself about the consequences of anorexia and you might say “I had no idea so many die from this illness.” Find the compassion within yourself to get help and you might hear yourself say “I had no idea I could find peace.”

Nancy Hall
Candidate for master’s degree in clinical mental health

Graduate intern at The Awakening Center

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