Most Americans have at least heard of eating disorders. They hit the public’s radar with celebrity news of the 1980s and have faded in and out of media since. More and more people have shared their own stories online and off, and today, more than half of Americans personally know someone with the illness. A staggering 28.8 million people in our country will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
But awareness is more than knowing that Princess Diana or Taylor Swift or your cousin had an eating disorder. It’s using that information—or any other reason you were introduced to these illnesses—to understand what they mean. Awareness involves learning more about eating disorders so that we can better prevent, identify, and treat them.
Here are some facts we’d like everyone to know about eating disorders during eating disorders awareness week and beyond.
Stacey Brown, RN, joins us in this episode of Peace Meal to reflect on the role of nursing in eating disorder care. She begins by acknowledging the lack of eating disorder education and training in nursing programs; it wasn’t until she began interacting with patients that she fully understood the impact of these illnesses on every body system. Stacey’s experiences have set her on a mission to speak to nurses at all levels about best practices when caring for patients with eating disorders, including developing strong emotional intelligence. She highlights the importance of every care team member and multidisciplinary collaboration to meet a patient’s full range of needs. The episode concludes with Stacey’s words of wisdom for the next generation of eating disorder nurses.
Whether in-person or virtually, you’re invited to assess, assess, assess! In school, we clinicians are taught to ask questions—so many questions. We are taught to ask about our patients’ history, their current happenings, and their future hopes and dreams. We are taught to ask about easy things and hard things. We are taught to ask about things that aren’t socially appropriate and would be extremely uncomfortable outside of medical and mental health settings. We are trained to ask questions about substance use, depression, anxiety, suicide, sexual behaviors, and peculiarities of the human body and its functioning.
Yet, so often, we forget to ask questions about one of the things that sustains life: FOOD! We know that to survive, we need to eat. From conception to the moment of death, we are required to consume, in some way, calories that feed and nourish the systems within the body. Why, then, do we shy away from asking questions about this life-giving, life-sustaining human behavior?
Anecdotally, I hear medical and mental health providers say, “We have never had training,” “I don’t know what to ask,” and “I’m not sure what to do if it seems as though there might be a problem.” However, in the same way that we all learned how to ask, respond to, or intervene following questions about suicidal ideation or even substance use, we can all learn to become more comfortable integrating questions about eating disorders into our patient assessments.
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Megan Bazzini is a writer—an aspiring YA novelist, cringe-worthy poet, and mental health essayist. She’s also a business school grad who has lived in LA, Hong Kong, and Milan. Now she’s returned home to New York, where she is a proud chihuahua rescue mom and works in technology strategy. Megan’s eating disorder recovery mantra is, “Keep going. Recovery is worth it.” You can follow her on Twitter (@BazziniBooks) or visit her portfolio.
Eating disorder recovery is about recognizing the eating disorder thoughts and ultimately separating from, standing up to, and ignoring them. I eventually felt my personal progress had stalled in recovery, which made me self-conscious. I feared that I failed, and increasingly I withdrew socially.
I hadn’t known what being triggered meant or what it felt like before this difficult recovery hurdle. I became overly self-critical after hearing, “We’re so bad for eating X,” or “I didn’t eat today just to save room for Y.” It dredged up hot shame—my anorexia nervosa and its usual whispers. Recovery was antithetical to these common diet comments, but I knew I should be social and keep diet culture thoughts to myself.
We are currently bombarded with messages suggesting that we should change our bodies in this new year. It’s a particularly noisy time for diet culture, but there are plenty of 2023 intentions that have absolutely nothing to do with a new diet fad or trendy exercise routine. These recovery-aligned goals can protect both your physical and mental well-being, as well as improve your relationship with food, your body, and yourself.
You may want to start meditating, treat yourself with more compassion, or find movement practices that bring you joy. On our podcast Peace Meal, host Dr. Jillian Lampert speaks with experts in the eating disorder field and people in recovery on a range of topics, including practical tips to support these types of recovery-related goals. Read on for five episodes that can help you achieve the intentions you may be pursuing in 2023.
Making quality eating disorder care more accessible is core to The Emily Program’s mission. Given the diversity of individual and family needs, we recognize that no one delivery approach is optimal for all clients. Our virtual programming addresses geographical and psychosocial treatment barriers, allowing those with an eating disorder to engage in treatment where it works best for them. With our online eating disorder treatment capabilities, our standard evidence-based care is both convenient and effective.
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