Many people with an eating disorder suffer alone, sometimes until it’s too late to survive, let alone thrive. Therapist Jacki LaRusso explains why we can’t afford to wait in recognizing symptom diversity.
Young, thin, white, female, and afraid to gain weight. I fitted this image of eating disorders portrayed in the media. Luckily I was offered help that saved my life. The sad truth is that eating disorders are the highest cause of death from related mental illnesses (ANAD, 2019), and my suffering is only a tiny piece of a large puzzle that comprises people who suffer from an eating disorder worldwide, including those I now help treat.
When I was 13 years old, I was going through a hard time. I had just moved in with my dad and step-mom, as my mother was in treatment for a serious mental illness and could no longer care for me. My step-mom didn’t love the idea of sharing my dad or her home with another female. I was in a new town, school and household, and had little space to feel accepted during a time when I really needed nurturing.
Simultaneously, I entered that awkward-teenage puberty stage of life, and naturally my body also began to change. It was one more way that made me I feel like my world was out of my control. Unable to fully understand how the current life circumstances had likely led me to feel insecure, I blindly blamed my unhappiness on being too fat to be loved and accepted by others and myself. Once this false notion sunk into my mind, I began to focus on losing weight.
Unaware of what was really happening, that an illness was taking hold, I believed that losing weight was the key to making me happy again. Within a year my mission for achieving for happiness had developed into severe anorexia.
The day came when parents of friends convinced my school teachers to sit me down with my dad and step-mom and arrange an intervention. I thought they were overreacting but I didn’t want to disappoint them so I agreed to go to the treatment they recommended. At my first treatment session, I consented to follow the plan to eat more and exercise less to start to heal my body. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me so I thought this would all be easy. The week following that initial treatment session was, for lack of better words, hell.
Trust led to breaking through denial
I tried hard to eat and reduce my movement but for some reason felt powerless to do so and was confused as to why. In my next treatment session, I explained this to my dietician, Donna, and she listened calmly until I finished. Donna was gentle and loving in explaining that I was struggling with a severe eating disorder. Her genuine care, education, and compassion helped me trust her and break through my denial. With years of therapy (and yes, I still go to therapy now as part of my wellness), a lot of tears, hard work, and support from my team and community I was able to enter into full recovery.
Because the eating disorder showed up in a societally recognizable way, my community intervened early, which research shows significantly increases likelihood of full recovery (Rowe, 2017). The power of healing services in my own recovery fueled my passion to become a therapist myself, and I have been treating eating disorders for almost a decade now.
Denial of diversity means some populations are overlooked
Learning is ongoing. My patients teach me that there is a dearth of understanding in the world on how to recognize and treat eating disorders.
For recovery to occur, it is essential to replace those interactions that lead people with eating disorders to suffer in silence with interactions based on education and awareness so that these people can be guided in accessing the help they deserve.
Appearance is not an eating disorder indicator
Eating disorders impact all genders, ages, sexual orientations, cultures, races, body types and socioeconomic statuses. You cannot tell someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at their appearance. Some people eat too much, too little, get rid of their food in unhealthy ways, or have so much rigidity around how they eat and exercise they can barely function.
Unfortunately many people do not know this diverse picture of eating disorders. Masses of people who suffer go unnoticed, are plagued with their own denial, and sink deeper into their illness alone, sometimes until it’s too late to survive, let alone thrive.
The blindfold of denial is a dangerous phenomenon. So how do we help and accurately detect an eating disorder in those we care about? Check out the wonderful resources below. We can work together to get people the life-saving treatment they deserve. They can’t afford to wait.
Further information on true indicators
Link on signs and symptoms of eating disorders:
Link on research about importance of early detection (Rowe, 2017):
Link on research about mortality rate (ANAD, 2019):
This year grassroots activists, volunteers, and over 250 organizations in 40+ countries are calling for caregivers to receive support, health care workers to be properly trained, and access to immediate, evidence-based treatment.
Why We Can’t Afford to Wait
How to support World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2, 2019
As a Participating Organisation supporting 2019 World Eating Disorder Action Day, The Diary Healerhas released a new ebook, . Stories from around the world illustrate that recovery from an eating disorder IS possible, at every age. The first step, is to seek help. to purchase a copy for $9.97 (AUD) – all profits support eating disorder services.