The author discusses her personal struggles with eating disorders and her goal to raise awareness.
When I was kid, I realized I had an issue with food, as I was an extremely picky eater. At the age of fourteen, my parents took me to a doctor because they were concerned. From there, he told me that if I walked into his office a month late, I would have been dead. I was young, death was a terrifying concept, and it still is.
The doctor told me he was no expert but he could tell I was at the early stages of anorexia, and I was angry. I have never heard of anyone in our area with anorexia, so why me?
That question stayed at the back of my mind, and I did not find an answer for it. At the age of fifteen, I attempted to fix my eating habits. So, I told myself, “look, you’ve got five years and you will be alright. The moment you’re twenty, all your anger at food will all go away. Five more years, you have got five more years!” And I kept reminding myself of just that.
Things did not get any better for me, so, at seventeen, I went to an eating disorders specialist. I told him my story, and he ran some tests of his own. He later said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, but you are no longer anorexic, you suffer from starving and binge eating”.
I would have days where I had nothing but water. I spent weeks on little to no food. On the other hand, I had days where I ate like crazy. It was a case of two extremes; a normal body cannot function on that.
I started panicking, but then I comforted myself by stating that my five years did not expire yet. I have got three more years, and I will be okay when the time comes.
Now, at nineteen, this is my sixth year battling eating disorder. Throughout the course of those six years, I was constantly relapsing because I was lying to myself. I did not want to eat. I wanted to stay hungry. It was an act I was putting on to make my parents feel like I was okay, in order to lessen the burden I put on them.
My parents did not know what to make of my problems with food. They did not understand why this was happening to me, but they understood one thing. They wanted to support their daughter in order for her to get better; they did not care what people had to say about my issues. This is something I am very grateful for. I was blessed to have parents with such a mentality, but not everyone has that privilege.
We have this culture in the Arab region where people do not believe in eating disorders. I had situations where people would come up to me and say, “Don’t you think you are being a bit too dramatic? Just eat!” It outraged me. It was like asking someone with two broken legs to get up and walk – things don’t work out like that.
I did not understand this harsh attitude towards my condition, but now I do. People tend to not believe what they cannot see. Eating disorders are mental disorders, meaning, they are chemical imbalances in the brain. So, people cannot see what’s going on in my brain, therefore, they would just assume that nothing is wrong with me.
However, people seem to be underestimating the issue. As the matter in the UAE is kept so secretive in order to avoid the stigma associated with it, there does not seem to be enough research done in the country. Thus, I will be discussing the United States figures. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), a leading non-profit organization regarding eating disorders in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders in the states. Moreover, eating disorders carry grave health consequences. For instance, eating disorders can cause abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, reduction of bone density and muscle loss and weakness among many other problems. The issue is bigger than many make it seem, therefore, it needs to get tackled before it reaches such a frightening rate.
So here I am, two months away from having my five years expire. I believe that I got my disorders in order to help people around me. I am on a mission to educate people about eating disorders. I also want to help those who suffer, and those who do not understand or cannot recognize what is wrong with them.
I will be launching my own campaign called Five More Years. I am on a mission to impact the Emirati society through proactively educating about eating disorders and raising awareness about the stigma surrounding such personal challenges. I have a goal to have the Emirati society address eating disorders and give them the attention they demand.
Alia is an AUS student double majoring in International Studies and English literature. She is also the author of Alatash fictional novel. Her main goal is to make a change and empower the youth. Her column is meant to help the younger generations deal with tough situations. It was given that title as hidden promises is what us teenagers often believe; false promises.
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