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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Cuilla: Eating disorders misunderstood

Megan Cuilla

“Thirty-year-olds aren’t supposed to have eating disorders,” I said to my husband.

“But what happens when they do?” he asked.

“I’m scared for you,” my best friend told me as she handed me brochures outlining treatment options.

“I’m afraid your heart is going to stop,” my doctor said.

These are some of the conversations that pushed me to seek treatment for an eating disorder, ultimately saving my life.

The upcoming week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life.

Many people think eating disorders are diseases of vanity that only affect teenage girls, but the reality is much more complicated.

I certainly don’t fit the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder. I’m not a teenager. I don’t care all that much about looks. In fact, at the time of my diagnosis of anorexia nervosa in 2012, I was 30 years old with a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies. I had studied weight bias and body shaming. I knew all about the media’s representations and society’s expectations of women. How could this be happening to me? I told myself I knew better, having bought into the idea that this was somehow my fault.

Fighting to survive an illness that many perceive to be a choice is no easy feat. I’ve dealt with providers in both the medical and therapeutic communities who simply aren’t knowledgeable about eating disorders or how to properly treat them. Telling someone with an eating disorder to “just eat” is as effective a treatment plan as telling someone with cancer to “stop growing tumors.”

I didn’t choose this. No one chooses this. I didn’t choose the complications that come along with an eating disorder, like cardiac scares, countless IVs and low bone density. I didn’t choose the anxiety and fear. What I did choose, though, is recovery.

In the choice of entering treatment, I’ve found hope. Much of the last three and a half years has been an uphill battle, but I haven’t stopped fighting. When I decided to be public about my journey, I was nervous about the reactions I’d receive, but, as it turns out, there was nothing to fear. I have received nothing but support from my friends, family, and community. My relationships have grown in ways I never would have expected. People who haven’t told anyone about their struggles have opened up to me about their eating disorders, or have asked me how they can support a family member or friend who is suffering.

My advice is always the same: Reach out. Have the hard conversations. If you’re worried about a friend or family member, talk to them about it. Encourage them to seek help. Remind your loved ones that they are important and they are worthy. You may not know it now, but your words could help save a life.

Megan Cuilla is a writer and advocate living in Spokane.

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