Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Quinn Nystrom, MS
Did you know that this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week?
This relevant and significant observation is an annual campaign to educate the public about the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope, support, and visibility to individuals and families affected by them.
NEDAwareness Week is a collective effort from individuals from every walk of life to share their stories of hope, struggle, victory, advocacy, and desire for societal changes so others can learn and, most importantly, never feel like they are alone.
As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder most of my life, I find myself in the privileged position of being a spokesperson and mentor for others navigating life with an eating disorder. I still get tremendous comfort in reading the stories of others who share this life experience.
My NEDAwareness story began around age ten when I set my young sights on being a championship figure skater. As my hunger for competing in figure skating grew, so did the hyperfocus of my body and what I perceived as flaws. As with many tweens, I was convinced that my weight directly impacted my ability to succeed in this highly demanding sport. I weighed myself daily, practiced restrictive portion control, and was hypervigilant about counting calories.
My parents noticed and tried to talk to me about my non-existent eating habits, but my mind was made up. My body needed to be “perfect” to feel like I mattered in all facets of life. Desperate, they took me to our family’s pediatrician, who immediately agreed to the diagnosis of anorexia. The only advice given during that meeting was that my parents should “make sure I eat meals with them.” Unfortunately, my newfound obsession and debilitating body image issues were not addressed with anyone, including my skating coach, and my unhealthy eating patterns continued.
Fast-forward a handful of years, and I found myself with a Type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis in the late 1990s. Once again, food was the focal point of my life. Technology and training back then were not as advanced as it is today, and the language used by healthcare professionals was not individualized or person-centered. Food and blood glucose were either “good or bad,” and the diabetes education I received to help me manage my new diagnosis was focused solely on numbers. This new angle only reignited my concern about my body image and weight. I now had two reasons to be obsessed (in most wrong ways) about everything that went into my mouth.
I used my T1D diagnosis as a green light to eat as many sweets as I wanted when my blood sugar was low. Afterward, the guilt was so overwhelming that I engaged in eating disorder behaviors. Before I knew it, my body image issues transformed into full-blown bulimia.
It was a debilitating cycle of shame, blame, and guilt.
But I was able to get help. A considerable part of this help (which continues in my life to this day) was thanks to the support and community surrounding The National Eating Disorders Association. So, during NEDAwareness Week, I invite you to #SeeTheChange by recognizing change within the ever-evolving eating disorders field and #BeTheChange through advocacy, awareness, and community building.
From February 21-27th, join me in breaking down the stigma of living with a mental illness by taking the first step in seeking help or helping someone you love to do the same.