Guest Column: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week unrecognized in the Rock River Valley

By Kara Verbsky

The last week in February of this year was dedicated to National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The theme this year was “It’s Time to Talk About It.” I feel as a community, we failed to talk about it.

There are roughly 10 million people in the U.S. alone who suffer from some type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, Diabulimia, Orthorexia, take your pick. It’s not like there isn’t anything to talk about. Unfortunately, eating disorders are often covered up, as if the disease is shameful.

There is nothing to be ashamed of. No one chooses this disease. There are no concrete answers as to why people develop eating disorders. What I can tell you is that eating disorders are not really about food.

Eating disorders are about control, low self-esteem, little self-worth and no self-confidence. It’s about self-condemnation. Hating every part of you just for existing. Many people with EDs also suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It doesn’t matter how skinny we get; we look in the mirror and see nothing but fat. We can say something negative about every part of our body.

This disease is so misunderstood. It’s not as easy to just eat some food to gain weight, and then all will be better. To us, food is the enemy. We use it for control. We use it as a substitute for feelings. Using self-destructive behaviors instead of confronting the feelings that we don’t want to feel.

Eating disorders are also a very isolating disease. You don’t recognize it at first, but soon you are turning down requests from friends, staying home more, not going out as much. Sometimes you don’t want to see people, or rather, you don’t want people to see you.

We as a society are bombarded by the media that we have to be thin to be accepted. Television ads show delicious-looking food commercials followed by Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig commercials. Sure, eat all the delectable food. But you’re gonna get fat and need to lose the weight somehow.

There is also a lot of talk of childhood obesity, or obesity in general. I agree that childhood obesity is at the highest it’s ever been. Encouraging children to get exercise, get up and get moving is a wonderful idea. However, we need to teach them the difference between healthy behaviors and self-destructive ones.

Currently, we have no real education or prevention taught in our schools about eating disorders. Yet, I know that there are girls in our schools who have eating disorders. I know there are young women in our colleges who are struggling with eating disorders. And they won’t talk about it because they are ashamed and feel alone.

I will not lie. Recovery from an eating disorder is not easy. But having one is worse. Everything I learned about eating disorders I learned from reading books or articles, and I went through the Rockford school system.

We, as a community, had a great opportunity to educate the Rock River Valley not only about eating disorders, but about healthy eating, positive body image and teaching our children that true beauty really does come from within. Our children need to know they need to love the body they have and to take care of it. The only way to do that is to teach them.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t educate our community. We still have people in the community who struggle with this disease, and no one knows. I refuse to hide. I want to help. It’s time to talk about it.

Kara Verbsky is a resident of Rockford who is recovering from an eating disorder.

From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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