Eating Me Up

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I love food. I love cooking food, eating food, sampling food, thinking about food, creating recipes, testing recipes, pairing food with beverages. Food is a huge part of my life and our family’s life. Family and friends meals are central to our social calendars. Most (ok, really, ALL) of our gatherings are all about the food. Oh – and the friends and family, OF COURSE! But I haven’t always loved food. And food hasn’t always loved me.

I was young once (oh, it seems so long ago!) and I had dreams of becoming a dancer. I wanted to dance ballet. I wanted to live on the stage. I wanted the aches and pains of a dance-tired body, and beauty and music, the feeling of being able to say so much more with movement than I ever could with words. For many, many reasons that young dream didn’t quite manifest. But, for a while there, I had convinced myself that one of the ways to maximize my chances of success was to be skinnier. I’ve never been a tiny girl. I’ve always been larger, curvier, bigger than – well, bigger than what a ballet dancer (I really, really hate the word “ballerina” … it just sounds ridiculous) should be. So, I danced a lot, I was fit, flexible, strong. But I wasn’t skinny enough. And then I realized that there’s I could find another way to control my body; I could control how food worked in my world. And I could control what my body did with the food that I ate. Eating disorders entered into my world.

In my opinion, eating disorders studies are far too underfunded. The best stats out there indicate that at least 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from some form of a clinically significant eating disorder in their life (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011). What I find even more terrifying is that the number of young girls – I’m talking elementary-school-aged girls – are becoming more concerned and preoccupied with their weight and appearance. By some estimates, 40 − 60% of girls, aged 6 − 12, consider themselves fat or overweight. That’s stupid. But how can I be surprised? If you watch anything on TV, you will only see girls and women who need to buy clothes in the juniors section, sizes 0 − 4, in any trendy store. Here in Hawaii, a place where the beach life is part of our everyday, it’s the girls running around in teeny-tiny bikinis that are created out of less material that makes up a pillowcase that receive attention and lingering, longing looks. People often overlook the fact that boys and men also suffer from eating disorders. These guys are also weighed down by the societal (read: commercial) expectations of what is considered “good looking,” “sexy,” or “handsome.”

This week, 22 − 28 February, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Except for one, very close friend who has battled her own ED monsters, my social media feeds have been practically mute about raising awareness or bringing  attention to this issue. Fair enough; I have been mute about this issue as well. It’s scary. And personal. It’s hidden and taboo. It’s emotional and overwhelming. But we need to say the words. We need to tell our stories. Or at least acknowledge that we have stories. Please bring it up. Share it on social media. Tell one of your friends that this week exists. And ask your friend to tell at least one other friend. I guarantee you that in the chain of friends that you start up, this message will matter to at least one person. I promise you.

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