In April 2011, I was given the honor of presenting at the Eating Disorders Coalition’s Congressional Briefing. I can’t believe it’s already been two years – this was before I had even started this blog! Until recently, this video (along with the other speakers) had been sitting on a hard drive somewhere, but it’s finally made it online. Below are some excepts, or just scroll to the end for the full video.
I am proof that eating disorders DO NOT discriminate. It is not a disease of vanity. It is not a “woman’s disease.” It is not a “phase.” It is a life-threatening mental illness epidemic. Despite the data we have that demonstrate that millions of Americans – men and women alike – currently suffer from eating disorders, the shoulder-shrug excuses that are used to trivialize and dismiss eating disorders persist. Despite the fact that upwards of 20% of all anorexics will die as a direct result of their eating disorder, there is a lack of awareness in virtually every level of support that should be there to help someone. From the social level with friends and family, to health care providers, emergency room doctors, and of course, insurance companies.
When I should have been making friends, focusing on school work, and growing into the person I was going to become, I instead lost two years of my life to anorexia, two years of my life that I can’t ever get back. My senior year in high school, I had a falling out with some close friends, and fell into a deep depression. I lost my appetite, and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know what was happening – everything occurred so quickly. Though I had visibly lost weight, it was a few months after my problems began that I ever bothered weighing myself. Co-workers who didn’t know me well would compliment me on the weight I’d lost. My friends could tell something was wrong, they just didn’t know how to approach it. Not knowing what was wrong myself, when they’d ask if I was OK I would insist that I was fine (a word that a good friend of mine refers to as ‘the real F-word’). Eventually, someone at work asked me how much weight I had lost. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, and out of sheer curiosity I went home and weighed myself, and my bitter relationship with numbers began.
In those early months I never had ‘goal weights’ or anything else – it was all curiosity. The more I lost, though, and the more my body reflected it, the more I started to wonder how low I could actually get. It’s important to note that, at the time, you could say I was on auto-pilot. I was aware of what I was doing but I was never really in control. Our bodies depend on the intake of food and on regular sleep to function properly, and when deprived of those things your judgment and emotions can get quite disrupted, among other things. I didn’t just wakes up one morning and decide that I was going to be anorexic, any more than one might decide to become a drug addict or to have cancer.
My family and friends could tell something was wrong, but they didn’t know the right questions to ask. I skipped enough classes that my teachers started to worry, too, and even the guidance counselor checked in with me. They could all see I was losing weight very quickly, but they danced around it, wondering if I was depressed or if things were “OK at home”. Maybe they just weren’t used to screening eighteen year-old males for eating disorders. Either way it’s not as if I blame them, I was as clueless as they were. I went through my own denial, listing off all the reasons that I couldn’t be anorexic. “That only happens to models.” “You’ve just been depressed and haven’t felt like eating.” “It’s not that serious, things’ will be OK.”
… My story is not a unique one, and until we have the FREED Act, millions of others will continue to struggle. Children are being exposed to an endless stream of messages and advertising that tells them they should dislike their bodies, and dieting is becoming common among elementary school girls who haven’t even started puberty. This is a problem which is only going to get worse until there is a real intervention on the federal level.
By passing the FREED Act, Congress has the power to give health professionals the tools they need to identify, treat and prevent eating disorders effectively. They have the power to make sure no one has to go through what I went through ever again.
Congress has the power to make sure no one else has to become a statistic. I have friends who are struggling with eating disorders who I’ve encouraged to come to Capitol Hill with me for EDC National Lobby Day. Every day and every month that they don’t get the help they need to recover, I wonder if they’ll be able to make the trip to Capitol Hill with me, or if I’m going to have to bring their picture and memory instead.
And so I’m asking. I’m pleading. Pass the FREED Act. Thank you.
You can access the full speech transcript here.