These Eating Disorder Activists Shared Incredible Advice About Recovery

20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. Our culture has come a long way in terms of demanding that the public pay attention to this widespread issue, but much of this awareness is focused on the experience of having an eating disorder itself. Comparatively little attention has been devoted to the difficult work of moving beyond an eating disorder, of what it's really like to recover.

On Monday night, however, a number of inspiring activists — including Melissa Fabello, Raquel Reichard, Ashley M. Williams and Lynn Chenn — joined forces on Twitter to discuss their recovery activism under the hashtag #NEDAwareness. Here are a few crucial pieces of advice these wise women offered.

Recovery extends to all areas of one's life.

Eating disorders are "a real issue" that "goes deeper than food," Ashley M. Williams reminded. "It's about self-love & healing from pain."

The experience of having an eating disorder, as well as recovering from one, can impact even the most intimate and perhaps unexpected aspects of women's lives — like their sexuality and sexual behavior, for example.

"Eating disorders can completely alter our relationship to sexuality," Melissa Fabello tweeted. "And we're not addressing that in activism and treatment." In fact, anorexic women said they engage in sex solely for their partners' benefit and 32% of women report being unable to orgasm due to preoccupation with their appearance, according to Fabello.

In addition to being expansive, recovery is also unique, Lynn Chenn added, tweeting that "recovery is not the same for everyone. You have to find your own path."

Don't let persistent stereotypes about eating disorders effect your own journey.

Despite the strides activists have made to debunk stereotypes about eating disorders, plenty persist. As Raquel Reichard noted, the notions that eating disorders only impact middle-class white girls, that eating disorders are diets, and that there's only one way to recover are patently false, but still relatively common.

A crucial part of recovering involves recognizing that these myths are just that, no matter the broader cultural messaging surrounding them. Additionally, recovery activism requires persistently pushing back on such stereotypes. As Fabello tweeted, despite declining media coverage of eating disorders, "the original narrative offered (EDs affect thin, white women) hasn't been dismantled. Just because the coverage on eating disorders has gone out of fashion doesn't mean that EDs have gone away."

Recovery should be approached from an intersectional perspective.

An important part of debunking stereotypes about eating disorders is actively constructing communities surrounding and narratives about recovery that are as inclusive and reflective as possible.

"If the people whose work you engage with are people who hold identities similar to yours, you need to diversify," Fabello tweeted. "Learn about how eating disorders affect various communities -- and try to center those experiences in your own work."

In fact, studies show that eating disorders are similarly prevalent across racial backgrounds. But individuals of certain identities do experience disorders disproportionately: One study found that 70% of transgender participants experienced disordered eating, Fabello noted.

"Inclusive ED awareness can be life-saving for youth of color in 'hoods & barrios across the US," Reichard concluded. "It's what I needed."

You don't have to go it alone.

Support in the forms of both social-media based communities as well as in-person interactions are crucial to recovery.

"It's so important to surround yourself with people who get it & can support you through it," Fabello tweeted. "Find them. Even if they're online!"

"Establish a support group," Reichard echoed. "This work isn't easy. It's triggering, regardless of where you are in your recovery. It's emotional, scary & can make you feel like a fraud when you know are still working through your own stuff. Talk about that. It's important. You're important."

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Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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