Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2023
Updated: Feb 6
Eating Disorder Warrior. This term resonates with what I have witnessed in many people’s journey with their eating disorder, especially my mom. Recovery is not linear and often requires several battles. With healing, the battles become less intense and the person recovering is armed with many strategies in their arsenal so that they can continue to fight as needed… and eventually win!
(From my perspective as a therapist, I would like to highlight at this point that part of the ‘battle’ is making peace with and compassionately exploring and understanding why your eating disorder developed, what it has done for you, and replacing any function it serves with healthier coping skills.)
My mom’s eating disorder symptoms presented as early as the age of five (possibly earlier) and although she received treatment in adulthood, the initial attempts were more medically focused and did not address the function of the eating disorder itself. By the time she was in her 30’s, she received specialized treatment through the Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA), and this helped with her understanding of her ED and in healing from the experiences that contributed to its development. Now in her later life (I won’t reveal her age as she is wonderfully young at heart!), she continues to struggle with periods of ED behaviors, and she continues to fight it and seek support.
What have I learned from having a parent with an eating disorder?
1. Early intervention makes a world of difference. Research indicates that 95% of eating disorders develop before the age of 25.[i] I urge caregivers, parents, teachers, coaches, and health professionals to be mindful of symptoms and have young folks seek treatment immediately.
2. Eating disorders affect people of all ages. Research indicates that the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders is high, insofar as 1 in 7 men and 1 in 5 women are still battling their eating disorder in their 40’s.[ii] Again, be aware of the symptoms and recognize that eating disorders re-occur and can develop later in life.
3. Recognize your loved one is so much more than their eating disorder. With many clients I’ve worked with over the years, they’ve shared how family life, and in particular mealtimes, become so focused on their ED. An eating disorder is part of an experience that needs to be talked about, but not the only thing of focus. Let me tell you more about my mom: she loves cats and her grandchildren. She also loves board games and video games. She is a a talented artist and loves to use her colouring book app as a grounding technique. My mom is loving, thoughtful, creative, quirky and very strong!
4. The importance of raising awareness of eating disorders. Talking about it, sharing experiences during Eating Disorder Awareness Week #EDAW2023-- it increases connection, understanding, and hopefully reduces stigma because treatment helps, therapy helps, and having supportive friends and family helps. The sooner you access help the better.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. As a therapist, I have had the privilege of witnessing many people heal and recover from their eating disorders. Even if you’re not ready to let go of the ED, that’s okay, therapy and treatment will still help and get you to the place where you don’t need it to survive anymore. If you have a family member or friend with an eating disorder, care for them and make sure you take care of yourself too.
*Adapted from a presentation I gave at the Faces of Recovery Event in 2022 for the Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorder Coalition.
If you need support for your eating disorder, visit the resources section of the Waterloo Wellington Eating Disorder Coalition or phone National Eating Disorder Information Centre Helpline. Help is available!
[i] Ward, Z.J., Rodriguez, P., Wright, D.R. (2019). Estimation of Eating Disorders Prevalence by Age and Associations with Mortality in a Simulated Nationally Representative US Cohort. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752577 [ii] Ward, Z.J., Rodriguez, P., Wright, D.R. (2019). Estimation of Eating Disorders Prevalence by Age and Associations with Mortality in a Simulated Nationally Representative US Cohort. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752577