I had no idea...that I would ever become afraid of food.
I had no idea...that I would ever be hospitalized because of extreme weight loss and nutritional deficiencies from celiac disease.
That last phrase is the theme for 2015's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I'll begin by first stating that, unlike the target audience of this campaign, I've never suffered from an eating disorder. Yet, that phrase describes a part of my journey with celiac disease and food perfectly.
Eating disorders can come in many shapes and sizes. A person can eat too little (anorexia nervosa) or eat too much (binge eating). They can force themselves to throw up (bulimia) or over exercise to lose weight. A person doesn't have to be underweight or female - anyone can suffer from disordered eating. And their friends and family can have "no idea."
Although I never intentionally stopped eating to lose weight, I can relate to surviving on 600 calories or less a day. While playing soccer and going to school full time.
My stomach was so ravaged by celiac disease that food literally scared me - and although I ate what I thought was plenty (and still suffered from awful acid reflux and nausea), now I look at pictures of my breakfast of one rice cake with peanut butter and can't believe I wasn't still hungry.
Now, I think back to my near-obsession with "eating healthy" and shake my head. After losing so much energy, strength and life to celiac disease, I was desperate to heal myself. So gluten free cake, french fries, anything not packed with healthy nutrients was also a no-go.
Sometimes I wonder about a possible correlation between celiac disease and eating disorders. Does medically restricting gluten make those with celiac more prone to restricting other food as well? Does our desperate desire to "feel better" leave us vulnerable for disordered thoughts on eating to sneak in? And what about those who claim "gluten intolerance" or "celiac" during or when recovering from an eating disorder?
Truthfully, I have no idea. But I do know that National Eating Disorder Awareness Organization reports that 35% of people on diets become pathological dieters, and a quarter of them fully develop disordered eating. I do know friends who have struggled (and are still fighting!) eating disorders. And I do know that there are thousands more whose loved ones still have "no idea" of the internal battle that occurs every meal.
If celiac disease and my journey with food has taught me anything, it's that food is meant to be enjoyed and respected. Eating a whole pizza because it was your first edible gluten free pie in months doesn't make you a "binge-eater." You aren't being really "bad" if you eat dessert (even several times!) a day. And, despite what commercials and ads imply, you don't have to be skinny to be happy. Or happy to be skinny. (I'm proof of that!)
This week, I'm going to love my food even more. Because it nourishes me - body and soul. It brings me pleasure. It creates memories. And it's a sign of how far I have come with food. It's a sign of how far anyone with disordered eating can go with the support of their family, friends and movements like National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Spread the word all this week by following the tips given here. And if you think someone is struggling with disordered eating, try to give them the support and information they need. A little love goes a long way!
*Thanks to Amber for inspiring this post and for the pictures and statistics from the National Eating Disorder Awareness Organization*
Have you ever suffered from disordered eating or known someone who has? Have you noticed a correlation between "gluten free" and disordered eating? Comment below!