Friday, March 1, 2013

NEDA Awareness Week: I am a statistic

This week is NEDA's (the National Eating Disorder Association) Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme this year is "Everybody Knows Somebody." The goal is to spread awareness about eating disorders and body image issues -- to provide accurate information, and to educate about the realities of eating disorders.

You all probably know that my platform for Miss Virginia centers around disordered eating. Disordered eating, which is not a diagnosed eating disorder, boils down to an unhealthy relationship with food. It is categorized by behaviors and thoughts about food and eating that are abnormal.

Behaviors like: taking diet pills, eschewing entire food groups from your diet, exercising solely to burn calories, occasional binge eating.

I have a history with each of those behaviors. During my sophomore year of college, when my friends tried to intervene, I was taking diet pills, cutting out all carbs from my diet, and exercising obsessively. I mean, I literally would not eat potatoes (note: potatoes are now one of my favorite foods). Senior year, I would restrict myself from eating "bad foods" during the day only to binge eat an entire pizza alone at night.

I was - and probably still am - a disordered eater.

I am passionate about talking about disordered eating not only because for almost ten years of my life, my thoughts and actions were consumed by food, but also because I know that I am not alone. I competed for Miss Greater Springfield because the Miss America Organization gives me a platform to be able to share my story. Ultimately, I want to help other women understand that they're not alone, and that food can be an enjoyable (and awesome.) part of their life.

Some studies estimate that as many as 75% of women in America have suffered from disordered eating. I guess that makes me a statistic. It also makes me frustrated and sad, because when it's that widespread, the abnormal becomes the normal. Instead of enjoying food for what it should be -- culture, heritage, celebration -- food becomes all-consuming, unenjoyable, and something that really controls your everyday life.

For some reason, I was afraid to share my story or talk to other people about my issues with food because I didn't want to be judged or perceived as weak or crazy. The reality is, if three quarters of the population has dealt with or is dealing with disordered eating, none of us are weak or crazy, we just need to work together to get ourselves back to a point where food is fun again.

Over the last two years, I have learned what causes me to obsessive over food, and I avoid it. I avoid exercising on cardio machines as much as possible because I revert to focusing on the numbers instead of how exercising makes me feel. I don't count calories or diet because, for me, it leads to what I'm eating consuming my every thought.

Instead, I pick activities I love - Bikram yoga, boxing, running outside - and try to eat clean. I remind myself that no food is "bad" or "off limits," and talk to friends and family members.

So here I am, and I am a statistic. But I am also somebody who has developed confidence and character through figuring out how to beat that voice in my head that tells me to diet. Instead of making me weak, beating my disordered eating has made me strong -- the fact of the matter is, we all get dealt things in our lives to deal with, and mine just happens to be my relationship with food.

If you suspect your friend is a disordered eater, please talk to her or him about it. Disordered eating can evolve into something more serious, and if nothing else, it is most certainly preventing your loved one from living the happiest life they can.

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