Eating disorders are an indiscriminate assassin relentless in pursuit with an arsenal of tactics to get the job done. Furthermore, eating disorders do not discriminate between age, assigned gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or any other category society might divide people into.
For those who are aware of their trauma, it’s often the depths of shame that create a barrier in reaching out for help. And in extreme cases this delay in intervention might cause irreparable psychological or physical damage.
As early as age 11, Aasiyah Holmes, from northern Georgia, developed a hyper awareness of her own body as compared to those of her peers. With an innocent curiosity, Holmes came across an eating disorder forum. She used the warning signs of eating disorders as a blueprint for her own behaviors.
“It made an insecure, unstable girl feel strong and powerful. It gave me one thing to be happy with myself about,” Holmes said. “And that is what is most dangerous about it.”
What might have started out as an attempt to lose some weight spiraled into something far more dangerous. For the next several years she became trapped in a cycle of restriction, purging and binging.
Eating disorders are often oversimplified with suggestions of merely changing the sufferer’s eating habits. Unhelpful and hurtful advice to just eat more or eat less really just perpetuates the cycle of self abuse. The reality is it’s not truly about the food; the food is used as a means to control something far deeper going on. What makes eating disorders particularly difficult is that the very thing harming the sufferers is the same exact thing they need to survive.
Holmes delayed asking for help because she feared judgment. Another fear was those who would question the severity of her struggles. She tried to disengage with her eating disorder on her own, but that only resulted in multiple failed attempts at recovery. Even with the awareness of the harm she was causing herself, she felt overwhelmed by what it would take to break from those deeply ingrained habits.
There came a point where Holmes realized her strongest chance at recovery was to fully admit to herself she needed outside support. Mustering the courage to open up about her eating disorder with those closest to her was met with compassion and genuine care, two things she realized she had denied showing towards herself.
“Learning healthy ways to cope with my anxieties is what pushed me forward,” she said. Holmes created a network of support to propel her towards learning how to care and accept herself. She understood that, beyond her loved ones, it was crucial to get professional help as well.
An eating disorder is not necessarily a condition someone can fully recover from, but they can be in a healthy stage of ongoing recovery. Holmes still has to work at addressing all the years of disordered thinking. She discovered she had it within her to recognize and welcome the fighter within.
Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and social media blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. #LauraKaponeris1in5 (as 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness).