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The Reality of Struggling with Binge Eating Disorder in the Military

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Melinda Parrish 1

Melinda Parrish

When I was still living with the shame, secrecy, and fear surrounding my history with binge eating disorder (BED), I never could have imagined sitting across from anyone—let alone my Congressman—to share my story.

But at #EDCHillDay, that’s exactly what happened. My teammates for the day, Beth and Jocelyn, are also constituents of Congressman Don Beyer, VA (D). You can see a photo on his Twitter account! 

I was so inspired by how courageous these ladies were in sharing their stories. They spoke openly, honestly, and with incredible strength about the effect of eating disorders on themselves and their loved ones.

It inspired me to do the same. While I’ve shared my history with BED online several times, sharing it face-to-face with other people, especially ones who hold elected office, was a whole different ball game.

I expected to hate it, but it felt incredibly empowering to claim my story. I never could have done it without the support of my teammates!

We asked Congressman Beyer, along with all the other members of Congress we met with that day, to increase funding for eating disorders research. We also asked them to sign a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Price to prioritize improved eating disorders coverage as outlined in the 21st Century Cures Act.

I learned a very interesting fact from the literature we reviewed during message training at the beginning of the day. Approximately 34% of women in the military suffer from eating disorders! This really changed how I view, and feel about, my own experience as a woman in the military who was battling an eating disorder while in uniform.

Since being medically (honorably) discharged from the Navy and beginning the process of recovery from BED, I’ve been able to process what I experienced while in the military.

To some degree, it’s fair to say that the realities of life in the military—scarcity of food during training, an emphasis on extremes/all or nothing, and the expectation that we should all be doing everything we can to push our bodies to be as lean and high-performance as possible— contributed to the development of my eating disorder.

To be clear, I’m a huge supporter of the military and am incredibly honored to have served. I have deep reverence for the military and everyone serving. But the reality is that many women have suffered and continue to suffer, as I did. 34% is a huge number! Especially when compared to the numbers for the general population, it’s clear there is an epidemic of eating disorders within the military.

The saddest part about this is that we as a country miss out when women end their term of service prematurely (like I did), or aren’t able to serve at their full capacity, because they are battling an eating disorder.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to the military by any stretch, but it is more acute in the military than in other facets of society. But now that we know this, we can begin to address it. And that starts with raising our voices to our elected officials!

Raising your voice, no matter how you do it, is an empowering thing. When you share the truth of your experience openly and honestly with other people, incredible things can happen. I believe this with every fiber of my being, and that’s why each week I strive to create a space for us to do just that together on Body Love TV

Passionate and dedicated volunteers bring about change. Your voice and actions can make a difference in the fight against eating disorders. Interested in becoming a volunteer in NEDA’s legislative advocacy efforts? Apply now!

Melinda Parrish is a plus size model who wants you to love your body harder than ever before! This is the idea behind her hashtag, #healthyatanysize. Melinda has laid it all out there for other women by sharing her history with binge eating, and moments from her past struggles with body confidence. To learn more about Melinda, find her on Instagram @melparrishplus or visit her website, melparrish.com!