With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I have gratitude on my mind. I am keenly aware that gratitude has played a significant role in my personal eating disorder recovery journey, and I have many things for which to be thankful.
I’m grateful to be alive. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illnesses. Research has found that crude mortality rates were 4 percent for anorexia nervosa, 3.9 percent for bulimia nervosa and 5.2 percent for eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).* I struggled with my eating disorder for over a decade before finding lasting recovery in my early twenties. In hindsight, the severity of my restricting, bingeing and purging behaviors could very well have killed me had I not sought effective, multidisciplinary treatment.
I’m grateful for my family. I come from a wonderful family—in the South, we love as hard as we bicker. We aren’t without our issues—all families have them in varying degrees—but they have been a source of so much love, support and strength throughout my three decade recovery journey. There is a common misconception that dysfunctional families cause eating disorders, and this notion just isn’t true. Families don’t cause eating disorders—in fact, many people struggling with these illnesses come from loving and supportive families like mine. This myth alienates family members, and disempowers them to effectively support their loved ones as they address these complex illnesses. Regardless of the factors contributing to the development of an eating disorder, families play an important role in the recovery journey through education and family therapy.
In addition to my gratitude for the family from which I came, I’m also thankful for the family that I have created. It has been a year of change for me and my wonderful, beautiful daughter, who will turn thirteen next week. My new husband and 16-year-old stepdaughter have been a genuine blessing in our lives—not to say that blending families is not without its challenges! My husband has reminded me of the power of unconditional love in supporting body acceptance and self-esteem, and my girls are a constant reminder of how important it is for parents and guardians to help shape healthy attitudes and behaviors toward food, eating and body image.
I’m grateful for the eating disorder treatment community. Each day, professionals specializing in the treatment of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder save lives. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, dietitians, internal medicine physicians, pediatricians and nurses deliver life-restoring care to women, men and children in many different treatment settings with varying levels of containment and support. I am so happy and gratified to see this community of specialists is growing—eating disorders are challenging illnesses to treat, but this work is incredibly rewarding. For over 11 years, I served as the Certification Director for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp), and was lucky to help create the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) certification—the only professional certification for eating disorder specialists—and mentor many professionals as they pursued this internationally recognized designation. The more options patients and families have for expert eating disorder treatment, the higher the likelihood they will achieve and sustain recovery.
I’m grateful for eating disorder resources. Educational resources drive growing awareness, and growing awareness means that more patients and families receive timely and accurate diagnoses and get the treatment they need to overcome these illnesses. The availability of eating disorder-related educational resources expanded significantly this year with the launch of the Eating Disorders Information Gateway, a free searchable database that organizes all eating disorder content by keyword. This database is always cataloguing additional resources, including articles, books, videos—if you know of a helpful eating disorder resource that is not included, Millie Plotkin, founder of the Eating Disorders Information Gateway and Eating Recovery Center Informationist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that by sharing how gratitude has played a meaningful role in my eating disorder recovery that perhaps readers of this blog will reflect on gratitude in their lives as well. After all, ‘tis the season for giving thanks. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving surrounded by family, friends and loved ones for whom you are grateful.
What are you grateful for? Share your insights in the comments section below.
* Crow, S.J., Peterson, C.B., Swanson, S.A., Raymond, N.C., Specker, S., Eckert, E.D., Mitchell, J.E. (2009) Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166, 1342-1346.