National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Warning: This post may act as a trigger to those suffering/recovering from an ED.

This week, February 24th – March 2nd, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’ve known for a while I wanted to write a post on it, but it’s been very hard for me to figure out the jumble of thoughts in my head about something I feel so strongly about and whether to write on such a personal topic.

Somebody

The theme of this year’s NEDA Week is “Everybody Knows Somebody”. With 7 million women and 1 million men suffering from Anorexia or Bulimia (that means 1 in every 200 with anorexia and 1 in every 100 with bulimia) that is almost certainly the case.

One of the most important things I feel the need to stress is that an eating disorder is not a choice. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and “Eating Disorder not Otherwise Specified” are classified mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). In fact, these three classifications of mental illnesses have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. 5-10% of women with Anorexia die within 10 years of developing the disease, while 8-20% percent die within 20 years. The mortality rate of people with anorexia is twelve times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death in women 12-24.

These are very serious diseases.

Yet society today still does not remove the stigma placed on people suffering from these diseases or offer the research and care necessary for prevention. A study conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2011 showed that the average amount of money spent on research per person living with Schizophrenia was $81, for Autism – $44 and for Alzheimer’s – $88.  The same study showed that the average amount of money spent on research per person suffering form an Eating Disorder was $0.93. This is a mental illness that needs to stop being ignored.

Many people can’t comprehend why people suffering from an eating disorder “can’t just eat” or why they don’t see the sickly state their body is in. To understand that, one needs to realize that the mindset of someone suffering from an eating disorder is not one of someone just trying to look good. That may be how they describe their desired body. It may be how their disorder started, counting calories and restricting food to try to loose weight and slowly spiraling out of control. But a person suffering from an eating disorder truly feels powerless to the control the disorder has on their mind. It is the feeling of worthlessness and disgust that come from putting food in their mouth due to the thought that they should have had the self control and strength to resist the temptation. Not because they fear getting fat, but because at that point it is strictly a mind game equating self control with self worth, thinness with value.  The shame and solitude that comes from binging and purging, whether through vomiting or use of laxatives, because they know that what they are doing is wrong, but cannot help the suffocating anxiety and self loathing that fills them until they force it out.

To anyone currently suffering from an Eating Disorder, I urge you to seek help either through someone you know or by contacting someone here . It can be difficult to seek help, because you know that treatment will mean forcing yourself, or even being forced, to break from the obsessive rituals that currently define your life. There is the fear of loosing that control, that small bit of reassurance and happiness that you currently have. It seems impossible to have a positive relationship with food and yourself and that may cause you to resist entering treatment.

That is not the case. There are millions of people, myself included, who have proven that wrong. Getting past that initial hurdle is the hardest step, but the most important one on the way to recovery and happiness.

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Phoenix Rising

On March 23, 2012 I broke my ankle. Breaking a bone seems like a pretty standard event, a couple months of inconvenience and then you’re back in the game. But, in my case, the experience changed my life. Not the way it happened (it involved some high heels and too much alcohol…) but the series of events after that lead to surgery, paralysis and finally recovery.

I had been in Los Angeles visiting a friend for her birthday. The morning after I broke it, I located some crutches and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park for a camping trip.  I didn’t bother wrapping my ankle, I didn’t elevate it, I didn’t even ice it.  I just thought it was a bad sprain and didn’t want to ruin the fun trip I had planned by causing a scene.

Image(Crutches on sand is not so fun)

When I finally went to the doctor almost a week later it turned out I had broken my ankle in two places. I had two options: I could cross my fingers and hope it healed, with a possibility of it healing improperly and a risk of developing arthritis early, or I could have surgery to install a plate and screws.

Prior to the break, I’d been training for my “summer of halfs”. I had registered for five half marathons, with the goal of finally breaking a 1:45 time. I wanted to get back to running and training as soon as possible, so without doing any research or asking for a second opinion I opted for the surgery.

Image(Post-surgery X-ray)

The surgery was relatively easy. To the disappointment of my friends, I came out of anesthesia without any “David After Dentist” type moments.  I had no doubt in my mind I was on the fast track to recovery.

Then, two weeks later I woke up to the scariest moment of my life.

I couldn’t wiggle my toes.

I couldn’t feel myself touching my toes. Or my foot. Or my calf.  The next week was a blur of trips to my surgeon and two neurologist, all of whom told me the same thing.

Somehow, I had nerve damage and had been left paralyzed from the knee down.  No one could give me answers as to how it had happened. No one could tell me if I would ever regain feeling or movement again.  Without the ability to flex your foot or lift it up so that your toes clear the ground, it is impossible to walk unassisted.

So began the hardest four months of my life. I’m currently a law school student, and I found out about the paralysis about  three weeks before my final exams. Somehow I managed to make it through them, smile on my face, while secretly lying awake at night thinking of all the things I might not ever be able to do again. Run. Hike.  Dance. Climb. Walk.

I went to physical therapy four times a week to receive electroshock therapy. My therapist would send shocks through my leg, watching my toes curl and foot twitch before my eyes as I felt nothing.  I remember sitting in the physical therapy room, tears streaming down my face as I watched a girl running on the treadmill in the gym just outside the office.

Image(The Neuromuscular Stimulator)

My surgeon recommended I get fit for a special brace that fits under your foot and runs up the back of your calf. It was smaller than the boot that I had been wearing, and would allow me to walk. If my nerves never came back, I would have to wear it everyday for the rest of my life. The man who took the mold for my leg and foot told me that he had never seen someone come back nerve damage after this long.  He told me it was a lost cause.

Image(Muscle loss after only 6 weeks)

The day after I got fitted for that brace, I was at physical therapy doing an exercise that involved watching myself in the mirror as I wiggled the toes on my good foot, then tried to wiggle them on the paralyzed foot. The level of frustration was high as time and time again I tried to lift my big toe and nothing happened.

Then, finally. It did.  My toe twitched.

My therapist screamed in excitement and I just stood, staring at my toe lifting about two centimeters off the ground.  With new motivation, I started practicing my PT exercises at home constantly. Within two weeks, I could wiggle all my toes and I could feel my finger touching the top of my foot, even though it was a bit tingley. Within three weeks, I had about 40% of the flexibility in my ankle back.  Within a month I went on my first run.

Five months after the initial break, I stepped on the treadmill hoping to make it a quarter mile. I made it three.  I barely made it out the door of the gym before I burst into tears. I went home and lay on my floor, sobbing with relief, and joy. I hadn’t realized just how terrified I had been at the possibility of paralysis.

photo-3

(First run in 5 months post paralysis)

The weeks and months immediately following were life changing.  I had always considered myself an athlete and a go-getter. I had moved from Los Angeles to Colorado a year earlier with hopes of living the true “Colorado Active Lifestyle”, and escaping the cliché LA life I had been involved in. I had wanted to go hiking, learn to snowboard, run marathons, triathlons, try CrossFit. But I hadn’t. I was still drinking too much, eating a diet of “low-fat-highly-processed” foods that didn’t nourish my body and  I wasn’t pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t committing myself fully to physical things I wanted to achieve. And I had almost lost the chance to ever achieve them.

So I decided to change.

With the help of Chef Katelyn (chefkatelyn.com), I became inspired to try the Paleo Diet. I cut out all processed foods, and began learning what to feed myself to reach my full potential.  I got an amazing trainer and started training harder than ever before, incorporating lost of weigh lifting, HIIT exercises and long distance cardio.  I learned to climb. And snowboard.  I stopped talking about it, and finally decided to BE ABOUT IT.  And now, I couldn’t be happier.