National Eating Disorders Association
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The relationship between eating disorders and depression is a complex problem to understand, treat, and research. The parable of the three blind men who encounter an elephant illustrates the problem faced by patients and their providers. It is easy to misperceive that the elephant is only a long hose (trunk), a rope (tail), or the side of a building (body), depending upon which part of the elephant you encounter. People with eating disorders force us to face our collective confusion about the nature of treatment and intervention.  

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I remember the first time a dentist told me I might need dentures. I was barely 30 years old. I couldn’t believe it. I knew my teeth were bad. I knew that eating disorders were to blame. But dentures? Me? Seriously? 

I had always had great teeth growing up. I wore braces as a teenager and took good care of my teeth. My family and friends used to tell me all the time that I had a beautiful smile. 

But bulimia and anorexia took all that away. My beautiful smile was gone. Literally.  

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I used to become so depressed that I would hate myself for every little thing I perceived as a flaw. I'd spend hours daily making lists of the things I needed to work on and the things that just weren't right about me. This constant battle in my head left me never feeling good enough. I'd toss and turn in bed some nights wondering what I could do to just see myself as perfect. 

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Despite recent progress, many autistic people’s unique issues around mental health and eating disorders continue to be misunderstood or dismissed outright. As the number of people being identified and diagnosed with autism increases, it is vital that both professionals and recovery advocates include autistic voices in the conversation about body image and eating disorders. 

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I used to go to birthday parties just for the cake. No, really, I did. I always found the social aspects of birthday parties to be incredibly difficult. Too many people, who was I supposed to talk to, would the birthday girl or birthday boy like the gift, and the food. Oh, the food. What was I supposed to do? 

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In kindergarten, my mother helped me put together an elaborate project about butterflies. When my turn arrived to present to the class, I cowered behind my teacher, absolutely terrified of the dozens of pairs of eyes on me. This pattern continued throughout school—even during my college years. I was so afraid of my perceived flaws that I kept my ideas to myself and starved my body in the futile quest of achieving perfection. 

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Many Autistic people have openly shared their struggles with body image and eating disorders (take a look at our Autism Acceptance Month #NEDAchat recap for reference), but their unique issues around food still tend to be misunderstood or outright dismissed by professionals. 

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Sexual violence advocacy is a world of two-sided realities. Survivors often share that they have mixed feelings in the aftermath and healing process. Some examples of these binary realities include:

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As a teenager, I’d often be in a group with other girls when the subject of our bodies would come up. My friends traded anecdotes on which aspects of their body they loved least, and what was wrong with them. Because I didn’t chime in, most people assumed I had fantastic self-confidence.

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In the beginning of April, I participated in a NEDA chat about eating disorders, body image issues, and how they affect me as an autistic woman. After the chat, I had so many thoughts swirling around in my brain. The questions and answers brought forth memories long forgotten. 

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