You know a disease is serious when you imagine the person’s funeral.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of diseases in the world, yet few hide in darkness slowly destroying a person the way an eating disorder does. Unlike most other diseases, it begs not to be discovered and exposed, and protectively hides despising the only cure: food. At one time, I knew nothing about eating disorders, except for what I ignorantly believed were extremely rare cases. I thought desiring to be thin was harmless. And I concluded all young girls have body image issues that result in occasionally skipping a meal or trying a fad diet – until I came to love, dearly, a person who has shown me the truth behind the disease of anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
There is a misconception about many diseases, particularly mental illnesses, that the one suffering can simply turn it off, like a switch. I have been guilty of those same assumptions. However, I have come to understand that the disease itself is the operator of the “switch” in an unhealthy mind, and the person feels helpless to overpower the operator (or disease). Secondly, I have found that those of us who love someone with a mental illness, sometimes believe we can be the operator of this switch. If we say or do just the right thing, or don’t do or say just the wrong thing, the switch will flip to normal-functioning-healthy. Unfortunately neither of these approaches work. This can be heartbreaking and frustrating to say the least, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this sweet friend of mine as she so courageously allows me to see a glimpse of her struggle.
For most who suffer with an eating disorder, there is a trigger of some kind, and the eating disorder becomes a controlled environment amidst chaos. I will not pretend to fully understand, nor be able to explain the reasons behind eating disorders, but this friend of mine has shown me that eating disorders are sneaky, quiet, and often equally as confusing to the person suffering – to the extent they might not know what the initial trigger was; the trauma may have been subtle in its delivery. Neither will I suggest that eating disorders are necessarily caused by bullies, or ignorant statements that cause a body image insecurity, although surely it is possible.
As the mother of two teenage girls, not to mention the dozens and dozens of other young girls that I have been exposed to, either at church as a youth leader, or at our dance studio as a dance mom, I am deeply saddened by the mean things that kids will say to each other. For some reason, it has become “funny” to refer to yourself or your peer as a “fatty”. But more alarming to me is the number of dumb things that come out of the mouths of adults. It is as though some parents, trying to live vicariously through their children, receive some sort of confidence through their fit child. Conversely, if a child isn’t perfect in the eyes of the parent guiding them, on a scale that could possibly change from day to day, the parent feels their own value has decreased. But I have concluded a more simple theory, some insecure adults look to gain confidence through their “perfect” children.
As a result of my friendship with this young girl who struggles to live in her own skin, for as long as my girls have been a part of dance, I have been hyper-alert to the realities and potential for eating disorders in a place where young impressionable girls wear nearly nothing and stare in a mirror for hours. Over the years, my eyes have seen the eyes of growing adolescent girls who stare in those mirrors and tear themselves apart on the inside, without anyone even knowing, and it breaks my heart. And then I do the only thing I can do, I pray against an eating disorder for that girl, for the next girl, for my girls, and for all of them, all because of the opportunity I’ve had to get to know one girl.
This is very emotional for me, to the point it’s even getting difficult to write as I wipe my tears on my t-shirt (recall the first sentence of this post). But something must be said, I must warn others when I can of their humor/ignorance/negligence in hopes of protecting even one from this disease named ED:
- Never make a big deal out of a person’s weight or size, whether they are big or small.
- Never make a joke about a person’s body. Everyone knows there is a little bit of truth in every joke.
- Never believe your child is immune to an eating disorder.
- Never allow a child to “diet” to be skinny or lose weight unless advised by a doctor. Teach that healthy lifestyles and eating habits trump what a scale says and what size a person wears.
- Never suggest to any growing, hormonal, delicate, insecure child or teenager that they could lose a few pounds or slim down.
- Look in the mirror. Most people critical of someone else are usually not happy with themselves.
- Always correct negative self-talk and attempt to get to the root of the negativity. It likely isn’t even related to appearance.
- Always compliment, encourage, and speak the truth in love. No root of evil grows faster than when watered with silence and lies.
- Always remind them that God knew what He was doing with every single piece of DNA that determined their size.
- Always pray for your child, as well as for others, that they would learn to love their bodies and would see themselves as God sees them. Fearfully and wonderfully made.
If you saw what I’ve seen, you’d toss your scale, forbid toxic social media and magazines that promote a one size/shape/appearance fits-all-kind-of-world and hug these sweet girls and tell them they’re beautiful, perfect and loved. And maybe we can reach the heart of one girl, so this is never the story of your girl.