On a leisurely stroll with my dog through our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I noticed lots of cars parked in front of the houses and people gathered together in celebration for Easter Sunday. We had already been to church, eaten our Easter ham, and done an egg hunt in the yard. It was a relaxing and joyous day. While I was walking past the houses of other families doing the same, I found myself wondering how much joy was being robbed from people across the world by eating disorders?
Eating disorders occur in more people than does breast cancer. But you never hear about that. And you certainly don't see football players wearing special socks to raise awareness for eating disorders, like the NFL does with their pink socks for breast cancer. I'm not knocking breast cancer, in fact, that's the arena where I started my career and I lost my grandmother to it. It is a very important issue that also deserves attention. But eating disorders do too. They are a huge crisis impacting people of all ages, genders, body types, and income and education levels across the globe.
So, on this Easter Sunday, it's safe to say that a lot of people were impacted. And not just the people with the illness, but their friends and family too. For people with eating disorders, holidays and social gatherings are quite stressful. They often worry about what they will and won't eat for days or weeks ahead of time. They might vow to only eat certain foods or certain amounts. Or they might force themselves to exercise before or after the even to "earn" their food. They might allow themselves "just one piece" of Easter chocolate – only to lose control and binge on an entire bag.
It's nearly impossible to be fully present in the moment when so distracted by the stress of the food. Conversation with family members is challenging, although the person is likely to put on a good front. In fact, you may not have even noticed that they seemed bothered. Or the opposite can be true – the person with the ED is really withdrawn and shut down. They may have even refused to come.
Family members who have been walking on egg shells and held hostage by the ED often times accommodate the disorder in these situations. They might let their loved one excessively exercise prior to leaving the house, even if it makes the entire family late for the gathering. Or they might only prepare certain "safe" dishes so she doesn't freak out, or prepare "special" dishes that the person "loves" (and binges on). They might stick their heads in the sand when their loved one leaves the table after dinner to go purge.
You see, holidays are rarely a joyful celebration for a person with an eating disorder, or their family. They are filled with worry, stress, shame, anxiety and resentment. Rather than celebrating the rising of Jesus from the dead, it becomes about calculating the number of calories in a Cadbury egg.
Recovery is about recovering your joy, and also your sorrow. It is about being fully present for both the special and mundane moments in life without retreating into the ED. How much joy did you miss out on this past weekend (or at any other holiday for that matter)? What are you willing to do to change that for next time?