I have a few tattoos that symbolize the path I walked to heal from an eating disorder (ED). Some are more recognizable than others, but all of them are meaningful to me. However, with that being said, I've recently started to think twice before I discuss these ED recovery tattoos with acquaintances—or even friends—who ask about them.
Disclosing Eating Disorders
Disclosing an eating disorder can be uncomfortable—even downright scary. In fact, research shows the prevalence of those who suffer from eating disorders is vastly underrepresented. A 2019 estimate from the Global Burden of Diseases reveals that as many as 41.9 million eating disorder cases were unreported over the course of just one year.
I am an identical twin. For most of my childhood, I was viewed as one-half of a package deal. In fact, my sister and I resemble each other so strongly that, as small children, my mom painted our toenails two contrasting colors just to tell us apart. We were known as The Twins, a source of fascination to those around us. I rarely encountered other sets of identical twins in those formative years—until my first experience at a residential eating disorder treatment facility. Twins were not uncommon there, which has me wondering: Is there a connection between eating disorders and twin dynamics?
Is there a right time to share your eating disorder story? And if so, when do you know the time is right? I have been thinking about these questions lately with regard to my own eating disorder story. A few months ago, I heard vulnerability researcher Brené Brown state in a podcast interview, "If there is a part of my story that I feel compelled to seek external validation for, then I am not ready to talk about it publicly."
When I reflect on some of the bravest people I know, those who are in eating disorder recovery often come to mind. That's because the pursuit of eating disorder recovery is courageous. It can be scary to take the steps into a new way of life apart from this illness, but the decision to move toward healing is also incredibly brave.
The suicidal thoughts that plagued my mind in the throes of my eating disorder recovery were expected. I hated my body. I hated myself. I hated my life and the society in which I lived that kept telling me I was not enough. One thing I did not expect was to still feel suicidal thoughts during my eating disorder recovery. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Before offering my advice, most loved of those in eating disorder recovery want to know how they can help, but understandably, people aren't always sure where to go for it. In this video, I talk about the one thing that well-meaning, but misguided, loved ones would do that has undercut my confidence in recovery.
I understand it's a privilege to have a solid and committed eating disorder support network. I know that some people must fight the treacherous current of their eating disorders alone. But I am fortunate to pursue recovery with the relentless encouragement of so many loved ones around me, and I just feel compelled right now to share an open letter to those in my eating disorder support network who stuck with me throughout this entire ordeal.
Secrecy and bulimia (and all eating disorders) often go hand in hand. But this is especially true for bulimia, where people struggling with the illness may not appear to be unwell. There are so many unspoken layers of complexity to the disease that a person can suffer for years without getting the help that they need. But breaking the secrecy around bulimia is one of the best antidotes to isolation and stigma. By opening up and sharing their difficulties around food with others – even anonymously – people can stop the illness from worsening over time. Talking about it out loud is often the first step towards healing. So, how do people go from years of silence and secrecy about bulimia to admitting that they have a problem?
Eating disorders have been trivialized for decades. However, people struggling with these illnesses have an elevated risk of death by suicide compared to other psychiatric disorders, with bulimia having the highest attempted suicide rates. High comorbidity associated with bulimia – and the dearth of research – makes it difficult to tease apart what contributes to suicide risk. But it’s important for people to know that both bulimia, and the suicidality that accompanies it, can be treated and overcome. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)