For the last five years I have participated on the planning committee for the San Diego NEDA Walk. Year after year, I have been elated to see so many different faces that come out for the walk. This year’s NEDAwareness theme was “It’s time to talk about it” and it is definitely time to talk about it. The reality is that the longer we stay silent, the longer eating disorders have the power and stigma and shame win out. Therefore, in honor of this year’s theme, I wanted to talk about why participating in the NEDA Walks has become such a passion project for me.

The reality is I walk for a number of reasons, most of which are grandiose ideas. I don’t really care if they are too grandiose to accomplish because just the ability to dream of a time when we can overcome these things, is a helpful step in the right direction. If we can begin to dream something, then we open up the possibility of it coming true. If I can play even a small part in society beginning to talk about our bodies, food and eating disorders differently, than it is all worth it to me.

I walk for three main reasons:

1. Standing up for Body Positivity

When I started out in the field, I became extremely attached to helping challenge the way that people thought about their bodies and their need to “control” their body and diet. I became very invested in this as a feminist issue but gradually, this has become just a people issue. It is important to me to separate out that no, I do not think dieting and eating disorders are the same thing, but I do feel both create shame and an unhealthy relationship with food and body. I walk to help spread the message that we should not spend day in and day out trying to manage our bodies and the food we eat. Our bodies are uniquely beautiful and beautifully our own. They are physically all we have in this world. Let us embrace our individuality. Let us treat our bodies with grace and respect. I know, it’s a big idea… but it has to start somewhere and why not start with us. The statistics on dieting and body dissatisfaction in our society is devastating and the impact begins at appallingly young ages. [Visit NEDA’s webpage for more details about these stats – nationaleatingdisorders.org]

Our children see us. They hear us. We need to begin to change the conversation. The NEDA Walks are a platform to stand up and say that this body deprecation is not acceptable. It does not help individuals feel better about their bodies, it does not aid in providing for a healthier lifestyle… body shaming only leads to erosion of one’s self-esteem.

Stand up for body positivity. Stand up by taking the morality out of food. Help participate by speaking more positively about bodies (yours, others, all bodies) and avoiding “diet talk”. Help spread that word that body shape/size and what you eat is not connected to your value as a person. All foods fit and all bodies are beautiful.

3. Building Community to create a Bridge out of Isolation

Eating Disorders are a disease of isolation. When an individual is suffering they are held captive by their eating disorder both emotionally and physically. Building community helps build a bridge out of that isolation. Sufferers need to know that they have a community of other individuals that are struggling or have struggled. We need to work on building a community in our field that begins to challenge the shame created in the isolation of those suffering. In our field, we spend far too little time allowing people to acknowledge their struggles in an open affirming way. The NEDA Walks allow us to get out in the public and let sufferers see that they are not alone. There are peers and professionals alike that have love, compassion and acceptance for you wherever you are on your journey. You don’t have to wait until you are “cured” to begin to feel supported. It can start right now, today. Isolating and believing that you need to go at this alone is a place that typically only keeps people ill.

Connecting with others can help grow your ability to see life another way. Connection can help challenge shame messages and help to build the belief that you are worthy of recovery. Sharing your experience can help you feel heard, understood, supported and enable you to work towards a different experience. When you are alone it is difficult to see a way out but when others see you it is like lifeline has been thrown to you to aid your way out of the darkness. There are resources, there is help and you are worthy.

3. Celebrating that Recovery is Possible

Working in this field can be difficult at times. Often times we see people when they are at their worst. We see people when they believe they cannot get better and when they believe they cannot go on anymore. As professionals, our hearts go out to these individuals and in turn, we pour our souls into helping in those moments but most of the time we do not get to see the outcome. Typically, we do not get to see when people come out the other side and what their lives look like after they have recovered. The NEDA Walks are an inspiring time, when as a professional, I get to see people that have gone through our treatment programs or that I have spoken to during their admission and hear their stories of recovery. This reminds me of what working in this field is all about. This is why we are so determined to help those suffering to see there is a light at the end of this tunnel. This is why we take phone calls in the middle of the night. This is why we have the same conversation over and over again to comfort someone’s anxiety. This is why we set boundaries when it is hard and feels scary. This is why we do all the difficult work… because A Full Recovery is Possible.

Whether you are admitting for the first time that you have an eating disorder or you have been in treatment numerous times, Recovery is possible. It will be filled with ups and downs, moments of feeling empowered and moments of feeling stuck and afraid. It is an arduous road but the road to recovery is there and it will lead you to freedom. Recovery is possible for everyone and at the NEDA Walks, you get to see so many different faces of what recovery looks like. We must take time out to celebrate the victories. We must take time to honor our individual stories and what recovery means to so many people.

So once again this year, I woke up early, packed up the car with my family, including my new little NEDA walker (well, crawler) and headed down to put on another San Diego NEDA Walk and once again, I was inspired.

This is why we do this work.

It is amazing to see the faces of colleagues that have sacrificed so much to support sufferers, the alumni who feel free and those that are still suffering showing up knowing they have a safe place to ask for help. It is refreshing to speak to so many people looking for resources, asking questions, and sharing stories. You are not alone. On this day, you are surrounded by others that know what it is like to be in your shoes. There is support whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey.