Wednesday, February 24, 2016

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

February 21-27, 2016 is National Eating Disorder Awareness week in both the US and the UK. We have called attention to it at the school where I teach to "become more aware of talking about body image in a way that confirms societal standards or undermines self-esteem." Because of NEDA, I found myself thinking about the gift of food, the power of words around the issue and the challenge they bring to both people and society in new ways.  

On Monday morning, I opened my e-mail to read:
This week we will have some information presented on the topic through S.I. TV, and we also intend to provide students an opportunity to show their support for people who struggle with eating disorders by allowing students the chance to watch a video that has information about this problem, and then students can answer some simple quiz questions following the video, and if they pass the quiz, they will receive a sticker of support that will allow them free dress on Friday. 
On one level, I am aware of  just how many high school students struggle with this issue. I've heard about it while on retreat and read about it in personal essays. And on another level, I don't. It is too often shrouded in secrecy and shame. It is a private battle. I see its power and its scars. For too many, the war looms long. 

I have coached two sports—rowing and cross country running—that attract the type of person who often struggles with an eating disorder: high achieving, perfectionistic, and self-demanding. While these personal attributes may lead to a certain degree of success in these sports, the harm they inflict on the body and the mind is more than taxing. It is cruel. It's not an easy escape. Lightweight rowers must weigh in an "make weight." Distance runners can shed time by carrying fewer pounds. Indeed many sports incubate unhealthy relationships with food. Too often food is not fuel; it's the enemy. 

Twenty minutes after reading the efforts of the student body for NEDA via e-mail, I heard my favorite sports talk radio show speak of eating disorders in a different way while driving to school.
Former San Francisco Giant third baseman Pablo Sandoval showed up for Spring Training with the Boston Red Sox with more weight on him than ever. A source of continual frustration for Giants personnel, Mike Krukow—Giants radio announcer—said "clearly, he has an eating disorder."

His words gave me pause. When I think of an eating disorder, I think of anorexia or bulimia and I think of women and girls. My vision is limited. The NEDA website offers great insight into the profile of those who struggle. You can find that link here, under Diversity Issues.

I hadn't thought much about the other end of the spectrum with regard to eating disorders. The labels of "fat" and "gluttony" prevent us from seeing eating disorders for what they are.
Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.
Thinking of Sandoval's struggle with his weight in the way defined by the NEDA puts the issue in a new light. 

Most people saw that the hot corner lacked discipline. The Giants organization made demands upon Panda to shed pounds so he could be faster and increase his stamina. His flexibility and mobility was compromised by the extra 50 lbs he carried. 

A colleague heard the same conversation on KNBR earlier that day and was bothered by it. He wanted to know Why Sandoval's weight was an on-air issue. And why are we still talking about it? Why do we care? I thought: Is it fair to describe someone who overeats as a person with an eating disorder.

The easy answer is that nothing is simple, is it? I do believe a community is necessary to hold people accountable and help them help themselves. I also think every one of us has to evaluate our relationship with food. It's sustenance. It's life and delight. It's a gift,. It's fuel and it's fundamental. Too many people in the world go without it. And...not but....athletes must be particularly mindful of food. The same goes for sleep. It's worth thinking, reading and discussing more about.

And there's one more place to bring this issue: To prayer. 

But another twenty minutes after my commute, a colleague came into my classroom to share with my students a spiritual discipline that he employs. His is "The Examen." As written on "Ignatian
The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience. I find beauty in the fact that it is an accessible prayer. I can readily pray the examen in three minutes or give it fifteen. It’s steps, listed below can be found in the Spiritual Exercises. 

Try them
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

The hook for me however was Step #2. He said he likes to think of a something he ate that he really enjoyed that day, as his starting point for gratitude. I saw the smiles on the faces of my students. Every single one of us can relate. And what a beautiful truth: food is a gift with great power. It feeds us, body and soul. It is not to be taken for granted. We must help one another see it in this light and for those who struggle, we ought to bring them out of the darkness.

During NEDA, pray for those who struggle. Pray in gratitude for the resources, help and healing that many find.  Pray in thanksgiving for a healthy meal you had today and for those who go without.

Photo Credits
Heavy Panda


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