National Eating Disorders Association

Stories of Hope

Unbinding Myself from Myself
By Ashley Michelle Williams

Secrets can truly bind us—and sadly even kill us--if we allow them too. I decided to let go of my secret, and I’ve realized that sharing it with the world could help others.

In this society, most people want to believe that African-Americans and minorities in general do not have eating disorders. From an early age, I knew that many women struggled with eating disorders. Yet as a young African-American woman, I never thought it would affect me. I was wrong. Not only did I suffer from one eating disorder, I suffered from two.

I started dieting when I was around 12-years-old, often starving myself just to fit in with my peers who were Caucasian and had a very different body type from me. I kept comparing myself with them, and although I had amazing, loving parents and family members who told me I was beautiful and encouraged me to love myself, that still didn’t stop me. I battled anorexia, then bulimia.

I think I tried to stop for a moment. I just wanted to be normal. I tried hard to do this on my own without seeking help. But still that feeling that I was too fat kept coming to me. I craved food, but I didn’t want to get fat. So instead I heard about bulimia and thought it would be better. I convinced myself that I was still technically ok, because I “was eating.” 
            The way I felt after purging would scare me. Sometimes my heart would have irregular beats, sometimes my esophagus would hurt very much, and sometimes I felt like the blood would rush to my head. The anxiety of hiding all of this was overwhelming and suffering through it knowing what I was doing to my body was terrifying.

I finally knew that I had to stop once my sister caught me. She ran to my parents and told them, and they were so scared and worried about me. They started to really console me and talk with me. I decided to seek help for my eating disorder from psychologist.

Although it was hard to stop, I was able to do so by looking deep within myself at the real reasons why I was doing this. Dealing with racism and depression from other issues in my childhood, I realized that those had prompted me to not love myself and who I was. I think that prejudice and racism can be huge triggers in sparking eating disorders and depression for many minorities, because we have often long to be very similar with groups of people who are not of our ethnicity. Many times we crave to fit into the mainstream.

I didn’t realize this at first, but looking back, I think this could have triggered my eating disorder. I often compared my body to theirs. Addressing these issues with my the people I loved and a psychologist helped me to heal and to really begin to love myself just the way I was. I realize that regardless of your ethnicity, we all have different body shapes and we all are beautiful just the way God made us. There is nothing wrong with being different. In fact, it is being different that people often want to be and make people become aware of new things. 

Writing this, and sharing my secret with the world is hard, but I truly believe that God did not allow me to go through these issues and to heal from them if I was not meant to use my experience to help make a difference in someone else’s life. I hope that each of you who are reading this now will have the strength be inspired to either seek help if needed or to encourage someone you know to seek help.

As a young journalist now, I am driven to share untold stories with the world on teen issues. The stories I have done that have granted me the opportunity to research eating disorders have awakened me to how stereotypes can kill, how we can kill each other, and how we need to help one another through these problems.

I believe that I went through this at such a young age to use my story to uplift others and to encourage others, especially African-American women, to never allow society’s perceptions of you to hold you back from getting help.

My advice to anyone who is suffering is to take that leap of faith. Gain the courage to reach out and talk to someone about what you are going through. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late. You don’t want to not live the life that you wished to one day have. Therefore, go to one of your school’s counselors and set up times to meet with them. This is what I did in my recovery. I started talking with a counselor at my high school.
In addition, if needed, go to a psychologist to seek help and treatment. You can also search online for different groups or organizations within your area. The National Eating Disorders Association has a toll-free helpline (800-931-2237) and referrals to local treatment options and support groups all across the U.S.
Yet, most of all, my last piece of advice is to be honest with your loved ones and your family. Being honest with the people around you will unlock your battles and help you to get the treatment that you need. It hurt me that my sister caught me throwing up, but in a way, I am glad. I am glad that my family was so willing to help me overcome these disorders and to finally just live my life without having a regretful feeling every time I wanted to eat food.

My message to the world—especially African-Americans—is to embrace and love yourself just as you are and to never be ashamed to seek help. This test…This battle that you are going through will one day help someone else as I hope my story will also encourage you.

Remember, we are all beautiful and we each have something powerful to offer to the world. You just have to believe it. God never makes mistakes and He loves you more than you will ever know. He wants to use you and your experiences to help others begin to help themselves. Never lose faith and always know that there is a rainbow through the rain…
About this blogger: Ashley Michelle Williams is an energetic, world-traveled broadcast and digital journalist. She currently works at NBC Network News. For her efforts in journalism, Ashley has received many honors, including the 2011 Student Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Black Journalists; the Pat Tobin Scholarship from the Black Journalists Association of Southern California, a Hearst Journalism Award Nomination; and more. Having overcome anorexia and bulimia, she hopes her involvement in NEDA and her support of those battling eating disorders will help many people, especially African-Americans, who are suffering from eating disorders. The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of NBC.

Also by Ashley Michelle Williams:
I’m Grateful My Mom Encouraged Healthy Body Image, Not Dieting

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