It’s an odd reality, raising awareness about something I wish didn’t exist.

And yet, I vividly remember watching a movie in ninth-grade health class that dramatized a girl’s battle with an eating disorder. It was a semi-new concept to me, and I remember thinking: “why would anyone do that!?”

About a year later, I was hospitalized due to severe bradycardia and cardiac arrhythmia. I had developed an eating disorder of my very own. I am passionate about spreading awareness about eating disorders and the hope of healing from them. That’s why I’m sharing five essential facts about eating disorders that I wish people knew. Let’s get going…

  1. Fact #1: Eating disorders are not a choice
  2. Fact #2: Eating disorders impact the whole family
  3. Fact #3: Recovery is a long journey
  4. Fact #4: Eating disorders are very misunderstood
  5. Summing it all up

Fact #1: Eating disorders are not a choice

I don’t blame my health teacher for my experience (I don’t recommend the film, though. I was able to find the name of it online in 3 minutes due to a specific scene that I can’t forget. I’m not sharing the name of it for fear that readers might watch this damaging movie).

One of the things I’ve learned through my recovery journey is that no one chooses an eating disorder. It is a biopsychosocial disease and we will talk about that later on. For now, just know that eating disorders are multifaceted. I didn’t wake up one day with a plan to decimate my body, withdraw from life, and cause financial and relational distress within my family.

There was never a plan. There was merely a desire to make a choice that was clouded by too much noise in my head and in my house. So I started making rules. The rules morphed into a prison for me, and while everyone has a different story, many eating disorder warriors resonate with the prison mentality that they endure. In fact, some of the most courageous and resilient individuals I have ever met are those who I met in treatment. Every one of them has a unique and valid struggle. None of them chose it.

But they have chosen to fight.

Fact #2: Eating disorders impact the whole family

For years, nothing was amiss in my life, externally that is. Sure, a few people knew my parents had divorced, but on the outside: I’d rebounded swimmingly. I was a nine-time varsity athlete in HS, an all-state runner numerous times, a straight-A student, a Bible study leader, and a writer. I feel like Paul must have felt when he wrote, “I was the Hebrew of Hebrews. (Phil. 3:5)” With the exception of my sophomore year (when I was hospitalized), I’m sure I appeared to have the comeback story of all comeback stories. I was never a popular kid, but people knew me as the star runner, and I leaned into that identity heavily.

But life was not normal. Few knew that when I went home to my family, pain radiated through most interactions. My parents, grandma, and brothers endured hellish dinners and outings for the majority of my high school years.

In fact, one of my biggest sorrows in life is how my battle with an eating disorder loomed over much of my younger brother’s childhood. If I needed therapy or was having a meltdown, my little brother was often shuffled to the bottom of the deck—his practices, concerts, meets, and time with our parents—everything was subject to how Hannah was doing that day. While my parents did their absolute best to spread the time and love, I know that both of my brothers often got the shaft because my life was in such tatters.

I’m still getting to a place where I forgive myself for how my struggle has hurt those I love. As I do, I can also see how this family journey has further united us and brought relational depth. positives. We’ve trashed many of the closet skeletons and I’m firmly believe God orchestrated substantial healing as a result of what we have and are walking through together.

My point is this: eating disorders don’t attack individuals. They attack family units—siblings, parents, cousins, spouses, and friends. I lament that, and I encourage us all to consider how we are supporting families while their loved one is battling for their life.

Fact #3: Recovery is a long journey

When my beloved Uncle Greg died, the shock was hard to absorb. Yet, most people dropped off the obligatory meal and then dropped out of the support network.

I get it. I really do. When faced with uncertainty, our human hearts are quick to give healing an ultimatum—a deadline. Perhaps we hope that if there’s a timeline for healing, we’ll be more capable of enduring the process.

But healing from an eating disorder, much like healing from grief, takes time. There is no arrival point. Rather, there are countless checkpoints (visible and invisible) along the way—countless hours of therapy, crying, eating, rewiring neuropathways, and enduring “uncomfy thoughts,” as a good friend of mine puts it.

“When faced with uncertainty, our human hearts are quick to give healing an ultimatum—a deadline. “

You need to know that weight is not the sole indicator of someone’s mental wellness. While weight can indicate a lapse or relapse, there are other signs to watch for. You need to know that recovery doesn’t really get easier and that the best support is ongoing.

Going to treatment is freaking tough! Returning to the real world, though? That’s a whole different beast. I still miss the nest of safety I had in treatment. Very much so. It was a warm and compassionate little space where I felt deeply cared for. It was painful to leave that, as necessary as it was to my growth. Yes, we are meant to fly the nest, but make no mistake, friends: the pre-flight flailing is not enjoyable.

I relish those who know that things are still hard and reach out to support me. I also strive to provide that ongoing support to others, regardless of their physical or mental struggle. We need community.

Fact #4: Eating disorders are very misunderstood

It’s a shame that Hollywood got ahold of the eating disorder narrative in the 1990s. What followed was a massive misrepresentation of what fighting an eating disorder is like. While we can’t encapsulate the struggle in one plot line (everyone’s battle is vastly different), we can better validate the struggle by not glorifying eating disorders or trivializing those who are fighting them.

So, let me correct some misconceptions to clear the air:

  1. Eating disorders aren’t a weight loss trend
  2. Eating disorders aren’t a vain focus on appearance
  3. It is not a sin to battle an eating disorder (I’ve chosen my words carefully here, as there’s so much more to say on this topic)
  4. You can tell someone has an eating disorder because they will be severely underweight or overweight
  5. Eating disorders are not a lifelong sentence

We don’t have time to unpack all that in one blog post, so I have linked helpful resources. Ultimately, I encourage you to invest in deep relationships and care for the ones you love so that you are better equipped to (1) express your struggles and (2) notice and support when you see others struggling. RELATED: Signs of Exercise Addiction.

Infographic credit

Remember that medical jargon I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? When I say that eating disorders are biopsychosocial, I’m really saying that there are many factors that cause an individual to develop an eating disorder:

  • Biological: An individual is at greater risk for developing an eating disorder depending on his/her stress response, genetic variability, physical health, body development in puberty, and if he/she has another (called “comorbid”) illness like depression, addiction, diabetes, celiac disease, etc.
  • Psychological: If an individual is more perfectionistic, they are much more likely to struggle with anorexia nervosa1. Other psychological factors that put an individual at risk include specific personality traits, lack of self-esteem, a lack of coping skills, the presence of shame, and attitudes/beliefs.
  • Social: We have ample evidence of social factors that cause bad body image. We’re targetted by a $3.8 billion weight loss industry. We also face relational conflict, media, and pressures to fit in socially.

If all this is true, that means eating disorders aren’t a dated diet method for high school cheerleaders. They are vicious and complex. I’ve met men and women of all ages and I am honored to fight alongside each of them.

Summing it all up

I thank God for the women He has placed in my life whose stories of healing embolden my own journey. In a future article, I can discuss the concept on “recovery,” as some people do not think full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. I do, and as long as I’m living, I’m fighting for it.

Ultimately though, the first four things you need to know about eating disorders aren’t as crucial as number five: eating disorders. The fifth thing you need to know about eating disorders is that they’re dependent upon secrecy and isolation. So, the best thing you and I can do is spread awareness about eating disorders and the healing that is available for those who fight against them. There is nothing freakish or shameful about struggling with an eating disorder. It is that very belief that perpetuates the silent suffering of many.

What can you do to help now that you know the five crucial facts about eating disorders? Here are a few places to start:

  1. Get help! If you wonder if you have an eating disorder or are in need of help, please contact your doctor or a trusted confidant. Finding Balance also provides a database of faith-based resources.
  2. Get educated! Learn more on my blog, like how to spot signs of exercise addiction and what eating disorders have to do with perfectionism. You can also utilize helpful resources from NEDA
  3. Support! I consider it an honor to partner with organizations like Bring Your Brokenness by donating time and resources to help women fight eating disorders. You can be a part of the mission as well!
  4. Practice Self-Care! No one is immune to body image struggles and anxiety. One of the best ways we can promote wellness is by modeling it ourselves. We can practice self-compassion and be cognizant of setting boundaries for our well-being. We can also nix diet talk when we hear it.

Which of these action steps is the most appealing or doable for you? Let me know because I’d love to encourage you. Whether you are fighting an eating disorder, supporting a loved one who is fighting an ED, or seeking to improve overall wellness; you matter and this article is for you.




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