Eating disorders are not a choice; they are not rooted in vanity, they do not discriminate. Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that affects 20 million women, and 10 million men at some point in their lives, and are often fought in silence and shrouded in myths.
What should we know?
- Eating disorders are a not a choice. They are a complex, life-threatening psychiatric illness.
- Eating disorders are more than appearance. Many people with an eating disorder are consumed with obsessive, negative thoughts, regardless of their appearance.
- Eating disorders can affect anyone. They affect a population of women and men with diverse backgrounds and age ranges.
- Eating disorders thrive on isolation. Those struggling with an eating disorder will often hide their emotions and thoughts. They need support, even when they don’t ask for it.
At Selah House, we wanted to explore this question further from the perspective of our clients. During National Eating Disorder Awareness week, Jessica Ward, Director of Therapeutic Services at Selah House, asked clients to create an art project that tells or shows what they want others to know about eating disorders. The group had a choice to do it as a large group project or individual projects and voted to do it individually.
Artistic expression can be powerful in communicating a message and can sometimes help those clients who struggle to find the “right words” to share their thoughts and feelings. To Jessica’s surprise, in this group of clients, more of them chose to write something than draw or paint or other forms of art. Whatever their chosen art, it was powerful.
Art therapy allows clients to use a different part of the brain to explore their thoughts and feelings that have led to their eating disordered behavior. This exercise allowed them to explore a different level of creativity without boundaries, sharing their thoughts and feelings about eating disorders with others.
Their artwork shared messages that eating disorders do not discriminate, that you can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by the way they look. Many of the women shared the pain they feel about their struggle with an eating disorder. They also shared messages of hope, healing, and freedom in the midst of their struggles and the daily battle for recovery.
It was amazing to see the willingness the clients had to share their messages and projects with others so they could understand their struggle. One client shared a passage from Black Beauty and said it described her eating disorder well. It told about how hungry and tired and weak Black Beauty felt and he was still being pushed to pull a wagon uphill. Finally, he felt exhausted and expected death. Just as she too had felt before. It was poignant.
She continued her thoughts and shared her two-word prayer, “God, help,” that she repeated over and over. And then she shared, “He did. He brought me to Selah House.”
“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31