National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
February 26- March 3
Clearly we all know that violence and abuse produces serious outcomes: bruises, cuts, broken bones, scars. We also know that the trauma of abuse can also leave mental scars: paranoia, anxiety, restlessness, sleep problems, flashbacks. In reading various articles, I learned about another serious outcome that domestic abuse can cause. It is one that I would have not thought would necessarily be connected with violence, but reading deeper, the connection becomes all too obvious: Abuse and eating disorders.
“We have known for some time that sexual abuse can lead to eating disorders.”
– A statement from the National Eating Disorders Association.
I met a girl in my freshman year of college who suffered from an eating disorder. It wasn’t apparent right away. She was petite and thin; she seemed to eat right and was active in dance. We hit it off right away joking to each other that people always think we have an eating disorder because we were both so small and skinny. Looking back, joking about a disorder that “eight million Americans (seven million women and one million men) have” is just plain ignorant. Those who suffer from eating disorders have no control. It is much more than harm on their bodies, but harm on their mental state, self- esteem and their future. http://www.mirasol.net/eating-disorders/information/eating-disorder-statistics.php )
To the outside world, an eating disorder can be seen as “vain”, simply prolonging the compulsive behavior to make themselves “look better” or “prettier” in the eyes of others. It is not just a “fad” or a “phase”. Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, generally the two most common, are much more than maintaining appearance or fitting into the crowd.
In knowing this girl, there was nothing you could say that would convince her that what she was doing to herself and her body was harmful. Nothing would change her mind. In her mind, she saw nothing wrong. They still saw a “fat girl” in the mirror when in reality her body appeared to be withering away. She looked unhealthy, and honestly, at times, it was quite painful to see how little she ate. When she did eat, waiting the few minutes outside the bathroom door while she rid her body from the nutrition it longed for was just painful and upsetting.
I often found myself wondering why people harm themselves in such a way. Eating disorders such as anorexia, can lead to heart failure, osteoporosis, muscle loss and weakness, and dehydration. Bulimia can lead to gastric rupture, tooth decay, rupture of the esophagus, irregular heartbeat, and peptic ulcers. Even though this girl knew the consequences of her behavior it didn’t seem to faze her. I though there had to be more behind her simply maintaining her image.
As I got to know her throughout college, I came to learn that she had been abused. She was physically and sexually abused as a child by a family friend. When she thought that was over, and attempted to move on with her life, she became involved with a young man who degraded and belittled her. It seemed that she just could not get away from the terror that haunted her in her childhood.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “Researchers found girls abused before the age of 16 were twice as likely to develop eating disorders later in life.” It seemed that this may have been a missing piece of the puzzle that triggered this girl’s eating disorder. The abuse this young woman endured for 8 years of her young life, led to the downfall of her self-esteem and confidence that she was not able to rebuild on her own. She needed help. “What is interesting about people who develop disorders after abuse is that it is a defense mechanism; they do it so they don’t draw attention to themselves.” That is exactly what she did. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4417938.stm)
Today, years after the abuse, she gained the strength from family and friends to seek treatment for her eating disorder and today is a vibrant, healthy, and strong young woman with a bright future ahead of her. Through seeing her during her up’s and down’s and how she is today, it is almost as if I am looking at a different person.
If abuse occurs, it may seem as if your life is falling apart and it is out of your control, but it is important to remember that there is always someone willing to help. Never be afraid to seek that help. Talk to someone and let them know what is going on. The abuser can hit you, push you, and put you down, but you are only abusing yourself mentally if you do not reach out for help. Be in control of your life and your future.
Brittney Nowak, Intern