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Living With An Eating Disorder and 3 Things I Wish People Knew

Eating disorders – like binge eating, bulimia and anorexia – impact millions of Americans and are widely misunderstood. All the prevailing myths and social stigmas prevent many people from speaking out or even seeking help.

With that in mind, let’s look at three things people wish you knew about eating disorders…but would likely never tell you.

It’s Not a Choice

Skinny leg of an eating disorder girlThere’s a common misconception that eating disorders are somehow “trendy” or that the people struggling with them could just stop at any time. But eating disorders are actually a form of mental illness, with complex social and psychological causes. It’s a nightmare that no one would ever wish upon themselves.

“In high school, I used to think eating disorders were ‘cool,’” says Angela, 31, a recovering bulimic and anorexic. “Then I spent years in and out of hospitals and treatment programs trying to get better. Nothing ‘cool’ about that.”

Just like you can’t recover from depression by deciding to “cheer up,” you can’t just decide to stop having an eating disorder. You can however decide to get help. Recovery is often a long and slow process, but it’s possible and absolutely worth the work.

It’s Not a Diet

Eating disorders might lead to weight loss, but they’re far from “healthy” forms of dieting. And it’s the mental component that truly separates an eating disorder from a diet. Many people with eating disorders are consumed with obsessive, self-hating thoughts and suffer from body dysmorphia – no matter what they look like.

“I’ve had friends joke to me, saying things like ‘I wish I had an eating disorder! I’d be so skinny!’ and I’m like ‘you have no idea what you’re talking about,’” says Angela. “It’s not a health regime. Even now that I’m doing better, I will sometimes binge and then go to the gym for hours to work off the calories.”

Recovery Can Take a Long Time

There isn’t a “quick fix” for any eating disorder. It requires a real dedication to treatment and recovery can take years. Sadly, some people never fully recover and relapses are common. If someone you know is recovering from an eating disorder, show them love and support every step of the way – and don’t expect them to get better overnight.

“I have been in recovery for four years and I still struggle to have a healthy relationship with food and my body,” says Jaime, 25, a recovering anorexic. “I don’t know if I’ll never be a ‘normal’ eater. But at least I’m a lot better than I was. It takes time.”

If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, get help. And remember: You don’t have to go through this alone.