National Eating Disorders Association
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I remember the magic of my first cross-country season back in 7th grade. I remember how running felt more like playing. How I literally laughed as I ran, because I was having so much fun. How races were adventures between me and my teammates. 

I remember so clearly, because this free-spirited joy in running now feels elusive. In high school, the pressure to perform in order to get recognized by college coaches is high. Once in college, the competition is fierce, sometimes even amongst teammates. Perhaps most insidious is the underlying belief that thin = fast.

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Perfectionism is often a trait of many folks who are in recovery from eating disorders, including me. My childhood traumas left me feeling flawed, inherently bad, and not good enough for anyone. I believed that if I was a “good girl” and excelled at all things, my life would be better. 

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There have been many moments in my life when I have questioned if I am lovable. My belief about what being lovable looked like began when I was a toddler and realized I'd much rather play with the boys than be around the girls. As we aged together I began to feel rejected as some of the boys uttered, “You can’t play with us. You’re a girl!” The words, “You’re a girl” would be repeated by many others as I grew into my young adult years. Each time was another blow to my gut, knocking the wind out of my body and leaving me feeling lost, broken, and unaccepted.

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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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