Eating disorder recovery takes help, strength

By Blake Glosson

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week might seem obscure and unnecessary to many students. But for me, this week has special significance.

Not many years ago, I met every DSM-5 mental disorder criterion for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. I had reoccurring episodes — sometimes daily — in which I would consume massive amounts of food in a short period.

During these incidents, I had seemingly no self-control. What followed were feelings of shame, disgust and self-pity — emotions that usually led me to exercise excessively as a compensatory response.

I can’t pinpoint when it started. But, by my sophomore year in high school, I knew there was a problem. Even still, I was too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone.

There were multiple factors that led to this secret practice of mine. An all-or-nothing mindset with food, unwarranted loneliness and what most would call “traumatic experiences” as a child all conceivably had some correlation to my disordered eating habits. I was also very self-absorbed with my appearance.

Regardless, I realized the root of the issue was discontentment. Everything in my life was not enough to make me truly happy; thus, I turned to food as an emotional escape.

Ironically, yet not surprisingly, these actions only dipped me deeper into discontentment.

While everyone has a different story, it took an act of God to change me. In my junior year of high school, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. This commitment changed my mindset about my body, it changed my motivation in life and it gave me self-control I had never had.

I also asked my family and Bible study group for their prayers and support. This verbal confession in itself was very powerful.

Recovery wasn’t immediate, but from that time forward I saw growth. Episodes became less frequent and I became less and less dependent on food for my happiness.

Five years later, I can say — thankfully — that I am fully recovered. I hope that for many students at NIU, this week will be the first step in their own recovery processes.

If you have an eating disorder, it is important to realize asking for help — difficult as it may be — is essential.

“The greatest barrier to growing is not speaking,” said Amy Ozier, facilitator of the graduate eating disorders and obesity certificate program. “For anybody who thinks they’re struggling with an eating disorder, their eating disorder is not them. It is not their identity and it’s not who they are, and they can get help and they can get into recovery.”

NIU is hosting events each day this week for students with eating disorders and people who know someone with a disorder. Some of these resources are informational; others are interactive and fun.

One event you won’t want to miss is the panel discussion I Had No Idea 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Faraday Hall, Room 143.

This seminar will give students the opportunity to learn what it means to have an eating disorder and how people can recover.

Even beyond this week, there are professionals on campus committed and eager to help students with eating disorders.

Help should be sought initially in the Counseling and Student Development Center in the Campus Life Building, Room 200. Counselors will offer encouragement as well as guidance.

To determine nutritional and medical needs, eating disorder specialists in Health Services are another great resource.

Thinking you can handle an eating disorder on your own or downplaying the seriousness of one can be more harmful than you think.

“Of all the mental health problems that we are aware of, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate; so potentially it’s the most dangerous,” said Kara Britzman, Psy.D, coordinator of eating disorder services at the Counseling and Student Development Center. “At the same time … there’s a very high recovery rate; there’s a very good prognosis for people who get help, and the sooner in the process of a disorder that you connect with somebody and start to get help, the better that final outcome is likely to be.”

For those who don’t have an eating disorder but know someone who might have one, it’s important to act immediately. Personal support to the individual is valuable, but in many cases professional guidance is necessary.

Whether or not you have an eating disorder, make this week life changing.