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June 6, 2017

The Weakest Link

The Weakest Link

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

 by Melinda Parrish, plus-size model and body positivity advocate in recovery from Binge Eating Disorder. She lives in Washington, D.C. Follow her at

To some degree, it’s fair to say that the military “trained” me for Binge Eating Disorder.

To be clear, I’m a huge supporter of the military and am incredibly honored to have served. I have a deep reverence for the military and everyone serving. But the reality is that 34% of women in the military suffer from eating disorders, much more than the percentage of women in the general population.

The realities of life in the military, such as scarcity of food during training, an emphasis on extremes, and the expectation that we should all be doing everything we can to push our bodies to be lean and high-performing, are all perfectly noble concepts unto themselves. But in combination with who I am and the experiences I had prior to entering the military, these realities all contributed to the development of an eating disorder—Binge Eating Disorder (BED)—in my particular case.

My disorder followed me into my life as a civilian, after being (honorably) medically discharged due to multiple back surgeries. Thanks to the work I’ve done in recovery, I now understand the linkage between my eating disorder and my injury. My eating disorder is essentially what caused my injury, and ended my Naval career prematurely.

Thankfully, my story has a happy ending! After I was medically discharged, I had the opportunity to pursue my lifelong “treadmill fantasy” of becoming a plus-size model. I’ve shared my story with millions, and have the opportunity to inspire and empower women on a global scale. I’m in recovery, I’m happily married, I’m successful in my career, and I’m feeling more in love with my body today than ever before!

But it hasn’t been an easy road. And I know I’m not alone in that! Many women in the military are still suffering from eating disorders, and are silently fighting this battle, as we speak.

The saddest part about this is that we as a country miss out when women end their term of service prematurely or aren’t able to serve at their full capacity, due to eating disorders. These women can’t be at their best, and that’s a real travesty not just for them, but for everyone.

One of the “Laws of the Navy” says: “On the strength of one link in the cable, / Dependeth the might of the chain.” This means we as a collective are only as strong as our weakest link. If 34% of the women in the military today are being weakened by eating disorders, that means that our collective “chain” is being severely weakened.

It’s not just for the benefit of those afflicted that we need to provide more education, support, and treatment for women (and men!) in the military suffering from eating disorders. It’s for the benefit of everyone serving, and everyone depending on the Navy to preserve our safety and freedom.

Because even one weak link can weaken the whole chain. So we band together!

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