Maybe I will be enough if I could just lose weight.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so we have all often been told. Vitamin C boosts the immune system, phenols reduce cholesterol. Twenty-two grams of complex carbohydrates. No fat, sodium, or tooth decay. Most importantly, an apple a day is the perfect way to lose weight.
Baby weight, chocolate weight. Lonely midnight tear-drenched, therapeutic ice cream weight. Anxiety weight, stress weight. I-did-not-sign-up-for-this-life weight. Fill-the-void-in-my-gut, my time, my heart weight. Maybe-I-will-be-enough-if-I-could-just-lose-this weight.
The facts: By the ages of nine and ten, almost half of all children state that they would like to be thinner. By then, as well, almost half of all girls are already on a diet. By college, that statistic rises to 91 percent.
Of those, a quarter will develop some sort of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, among others. These diseases do and will affect millions of boys and girls around the world.* Some will get help, some will struggle with food forever, some will die — all because they took the term “an apple a day” literally.
An apple a day is a misleading term some victims will take literally.
Swapping lunch dates for coffee dates, dinner dates for drinks. Ignoring hunger pangs, heart pangs, living on coffee and pills. Running on treadmills in a race to their death while the media and society cheer on. Starving, smoking, binging, purging.
Then it becomes an eating disorder.
“We may someday raise children to be happy, not perfect.”
An eating disorder is a term used to describe someone with distorted attitudes and behaviors related to eating, weight, and body image. It is a mental illness with severe mental and physical complications, that can affect people of all age, race, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
And it exists in Lebanon.
A person who has anorexia nervosa does not eat enough. On the other end of the spectrum is binge eating, where a person eats too much. A person with bulimia purges after eating; someone with othorexia only eats healthily. Eating disorders manifest in various ways.
Whatever it looks like, an eating disorder is an eating disorder. It is a disease, not a bad habit, or a lack or excess of self-control. It is not about being thin, or about food, and it is not a choice; no person chooses it, just like no person chooses diabetes or cancer.
I have known girls and boys, wonderful humans struggling with eating disorders. They are painful and lethal. Those who have them are, literally, fighting their brains for their lives. Treatment and medication help, but not enough — not yet at least. That is why awareness is so crucial. No one should have to fight alone.
For those suffering and those who love them, I wrote a novel called The Girls at 17 Swann Street.
It is the story of a young girl’s descent into anorexia and her fight for recovery and her life. Her name is Anna. She dances. She is married to her best friend.
But anorexia sneakily takes it all away over time:
Her fat, her hair, her body heat, her ability to concentrate, her period, her personality, her relationships, her dreams, the features of her face. It almost costs her her life, until she finds herself in a treatment center with other girls at 17 Swann Street.
The story is fictional, but the suffering and courage in it are real. I wrote it with the hope that it might give even at least one person insight or comfort. So if it sounds familiar, to you or someone you know, please, please say something.
Contact a therapist or doctor. Call an eating disorder hotline. Help is available online and via text as well if you prefer. Talk to that someone you love. Talk to that someone who loves you. It will be difficult, but it just might save a life.
The dream is that with time, it might change the way our whole society thinks. That eating disorders may no longer be misunderstood and taboo. That we may someday raise children to be happy, not perfect. To be able to eat an apple a day, but also, from time to time, a slice of cake.
*Source: The National Eating Disorder Association of America.