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Our Community Educator Shares her Experience with Our Work, and Why Your Support Matters.
Why I Care
Advocating for mental health and promoting positive body image has always been important to me. Before I even considered starting my year of service with the Foundation, I researched unrealistic beauty standards and their influences on how we see people, including ourselves. At work I talk about harmful expectations of our bodies nearly every day, and my growing understanding of the mind-body connection is that it’s interrelated. One affects the other for better or worse. I’ve known this fact for a long time, and now I’m educating others about eating disorders, a mental illness that directly impacts both.
Having learned so much as a Community Educator for the Foundation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how people around me talk about their bodies. I find it empowering when friends open up to me about their own experiences; one because they trust me, and two because sharing stories related to mental illness helps reduce stigma. Hearing stories from strangers elicits further recognition that as a society we have an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies. One of these conversations particularly stands out:
While at a community event, a group of adolescents came up to talk with me. The oldest explained the difficulty of accepting her body’s shape. She told me she would skip meals and constantly exercise. She said her siblings teased her because she wasn’t as thin as them. She couldn’t have been older than 14.
Listening to her struggles evoked two emotions: sadness for what this smart, lovely young girl of color was going through, and gratitude that she chose to share that with me.
Now be honest, were you initially picturing a white girl? She was also wearing a hijab. Does that change your perception of eating disorders? I ask because oftentimes we overlook the fact that eating disorders affect anyone of any age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, and religion.
Eating disorders are prevalent, and they affect two things we live with every day: our minds and our bodies. Caring about mental health means encouraging self-care in others and supporting organizations such as The Emily Program Foundation that enable individuals to do so.
Why Your Support Matters
Half of all people know someone with an eating disorder.
-National Eating Disorder Association
The story I shared above is not an isolated experience. Reports from the National Eating Disorder Association show eating disorders affect at least 70 million individuals worldwide. Almost half of those people are American, including 200,000 Minnesotans. In a MN student survey, we learned that at least 11% of MN high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 52% of adolescent girls along with 23% of adolescent boys experience disordered eating in Minnesota. And eating disorders don’t just affect our children. The fastest growing segment of the population being diagnosed with eating disorders is middle-aged women, and 30% of men in the U.S. have an eating disorder. I could go on about the statistics of individuals being directly impacted by eating disorders, but above all, what summons your support is the fact that half of all people know someone experiencing disordered eating. It’s also important to remember that people suffering from eating disorders oftentimes cannot get better without the support of others. In other words, we are all in this together.
Written by Liz Parroquin
By Katy M.
Why do we ask ourselves so many questions on what we should weigh and what size we should be?
So many people step on the scale daily to see if they’ve lost or gained any weight, asking questions like: What does the scale say? Am I the right weight for my height?
If you think about it logically, the scale doesn’t tell us anything of real value.
It's a number.
A figure that means nothing when it comes to our own worth.
My favourite quote is:
The number on this scale will not tell you what a great person you are, how much your friends and family love you, that you are kind, smart, funny and amazing in ways numbers cannot define. That you have the power to choose your happiness, your own self-worth.
This quote is more accurate than any scale you’ll step on. When I believed in the dreaded scale, I was still unhappy at my lowest number. I was hungry and miserable. Eventually I understood that if you are happy and comfortable in your skin, you do not need to be a certain size because there is NO such thing as “the correct size”.
If you read celebrity magazines, you’ll see they are constantly criticising someone’s figure. This is not how life should be. Life is so much more than what you weigh; it is you as a person!
We are all beautiful with or without that number on a scale. It’s time we all start believing it.
*Trigger Warning: Some of the content shares graphic depictions of experiences regarding Anorexia, using size and body specific language. Please read at the discretion of your own mental health and emotional wellness.*
By Emily P.
For seven years, my ribs were a badge of honor. When they peeked through, I was powerful. As though the wars I fought with my body were worth the pain.
I earned that badge by skipping meals, throwing up, and hiding my food. My stomach flattened and my ribs rose. Sometimes, I imagined them bursting past my skin, and that felt strangely comforting.
I didn’t care that I froze when the air conditioning switched on. I ignored the bulging wads of hair that fell from my scalp. I disregarded my stinking breath and the blurred vision when I stood up. As long as I saw those ribs, I was superb.
But during my second year of college, I slowly morphed out of counting calories and obsessing over portion-sizes. I grew tired of my brain’s daily acrobatics with food, and I changed my focus.
I focused on friendships, creative projects, school, hard work: anything that pushed the eating disorder out of my skull, little by little.
Today, I don’t obsess over that badge anymore. I eat until I’m full, and I’ve learned to mostly love my ever-changing body. But there’s always a meek question that protrudes through my thoughts: Will I ever relapse?
It’s frightening to think about.
I cried the first time my double zero jeans felt tight. My brain set off an internal hurricane when I couldn’t pull them past my thighs. Learning to love my health and myself, that was a strenuous fight. And I don’t want to fall back into my former mindset, to fall back into Anorexia.
But there are moments. Moments when I see a bit of my rib in the mirror and a glimmer of pride emerges.
That’s when awareness snaps over me and I push that pride aside, concentrating on self-love.
I used to view Anorexia as a lightswitch that you could click off. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
But there are moments. And maybe there will always be moments. Moments signaling that the fight’s not over. Moments that morph my ribs back into a badge of honor.
It helps to acknowledge moments like these. Understanding these mental changes and actively thinking about my health, that’s how I cope.
And while people deal with Anorexia in different ways, I wonder if the feeling of uncertainty is universal. As I fight and look past my former badge of honor, I accept that my mentality isn’t black and white. That while I am better, I’ll strive to work through the gray.
To look back on the badge as a distant memory. To develop a new badge of honor: my health.
By Caroline Kinskey
I traveled alone for the first time to attend EDC Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. I was nervous to be flying and traveling alone, but also excited and incredibly grateful that The Emily Program Foundation provided me with this opportunity to advocate for those suffering with eating disorders.
After breakfast and chatting with other advocates on Capitol Hill, Amy Klobuchar gave the opening address. She was inspiring, and I am proud to live in a state that has a senator who passionately advocates for the eating disorders community. Message training followed, which informed the advocates of the goals for the day, approach strategies in telling our personal stories, and knowing what we need of the people of Congress. Specifically, we need Congress to recognize National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and urge the CDC to re-include eating disorder surveillance questions in national surveillance surveys. The team from Minnesota met with five congressional staffers. The staffers were very receptive, and it was evident that our meetings and personal stories made a difference. EDC Advocacy Days have made a marked impact in the past, and they continue to influence policy on Capitol Hill regarding eating disorders. Although there has been change, our work is not done.
Through this experience, I realized how fortunate I am to live in a country where your voice matters and is influential.
When enough people speak up, change can happen at a federal level.
It was inspiring to hear people who have recovered from their eating disorders tell their personal stories and pay it forward by advocating for others still struggling. As a graduate student in clinical psychology who wants to work with individuals with eating disorders, contribute to the research, and continue to be an advocate, this experience was invaluable.