Why Eating Disorder Before And After Pictures Are A Problem

This NEDA Week, Let's Keep Before-And-After Pictures Out Of Advocacy And Spread Light In Inclusive Ways

Before-and-after pictures are triggering and can undermine everything that an eating disorder is.

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It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I am so here for the posts I've been seeing from friends and peers about their journeys in recovery, especially as it portrays the strength they've gained and the happiness they've felt. I'm so thankful for their recovery and their advocacy. While I'm grateful for those who share their stories and I don't want to police the ways in which anyone does so, I do believe we have to be responsible in the ways we share — and that, in my opinion, means not including before-and-after pictures.

Before-and-after pictures related to eating disorder recovery usually are utilized to portray how an individual's weight gain is a symbol of their recovery — that the picture of their smaller self, usually on the left, is taken during their times of sickness, and that the picture of their larger self, usually on the right, is one that was taken recently or after a period of recovery.

Gaining weight is a part of recovery for some and accepting that can be a big milestone for some individuals in recovery. It's OK to be proud of the progress you've made mentally and physically. However, we have to keep in mind some important aspects.

First, not all people struggling with eating disorders are thin or underweight. People struggling with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED, previously diagnosed as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS) may be a "normal" weight or even "overweight." I put these words in quotations because what really is a "normal" weight and what is "over" that? So many factors play a role in someone's weight and such variation exists.

But by posting before pictures of ourselves in our smaller body, we further invalidate individuals who didn't look that way when they were sick, causing them to spiral further or feel undeserving of help. We further spread the idea to our friends and followers on social media that people who are struggling are thin, and that those who aren't thin aren't struggling. This is an extremely prevalent and dangerous stigma held by many individuals today that we have to fight towards fixing.

Second, by posting those before-and-after pictures, we present an idea that someone who has gained weight is in recovery and doing well on some level. This negates those whose anorexia may have turned into binge eating disorder or those who have physically recovered but feel far from mentally recovered. There are five stages of eating disordered recovery — as you can learn about in Embody Carolina trainings at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — and people go through these stages at different times. Sometimes, those who have gained weight are assumed to be well and are there not checked up on, validated, or supported like they've needed to be for their health and well-being. That's a problem.

Third, by posting those pictures, we are in a sense saying that eating disorders are about food and weight and body image. While those are certainly parts of it, many, many other factors exist that we have to continue to discuss. Underlying issues are often causing the eating disorder, and they can include trauma, the need for control, divorce, questions of sexuality, depression, anxiety, and a host of other factors, which are also discussed in Embody Carolina trainings, in which you can learn how to be a compassionate and effective ally to those struggling with eating disorders.

I know that no one posting these before-and-afters has bad intentions and I understand that people have a lot of reasons for posting what they post and that they have a right to do that. However, in order to share responsibly, these need to be completely left out of our eating disorder awareness — not written with excuses or pretending that they're different than what they are.

Some important questions to ask yourself before posting your story include: Who will benefit from these pictures? Could someone be triggered? What are my intentions? How could I better present the beauty of eating disorder recovery?

According to the National Eating Disorder Association's guidelines, we want to be careful to avoid numbers as well — such as weights, calories eaten, miles run, et cetera — because they can also be triggering "numbers games" that don't help anyone and can actually be very harmful by causing other individuals who are struggling to compare themselves and feel the need to restrict more, weigh less, run longer, and so on.

I believe eating disorder survivors have a more powerful story to share. Personally, I would love to hear someone's favorite recovery quote, or how they fought really hard to not engage in a disordered behavior and won, or about their first time climbing again, or how they've finally found joy in moving their body, or their favorite food that they can now eat without their eating disorder's voice, or about their recovery of the underlying cause of their eating disorder, or how they've rebuilt relationships broken by their disorder, or anything along those lines. Those are the happy stories that people need to hear and will be encouraged by.

You don't need to "prove" you were sick. Your story is so much more than that, and I want to hear it.

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If you believe that you or a friend is struggling, you are not alone. The National Eating Disorders Association has plenty of resources here and Embody Carolina at UNC-Chapel Hill hosts training for allies, for which you can sign up here.

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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won't see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won't laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won't go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They'll miss you. They'll cry.

You won't fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won't get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won't be there to wipe away your mother's tears when she finds out that you're gone.

You won't be able to hug the ones that love you while they're waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won't be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won't find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won't celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won't turn another year older.

You will never see the places you've always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You'll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it's not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don't let today be the end.

You don't have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It's not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I'm sure you're no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won't do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you'll be fine." Because when they aren't, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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I'm Ready To Shed My Seasonal Depression And Wrap Myself In Happiness

My mood is lifting and I'm feeling great, I've been waiting for this for what feels like forever.

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Seasonal depression is a real thing. Another term for it is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Depression is when your mood is affected by the changes of the seasons, the most common trigger being winter time. There isn't even really a known cause of this. Sure there are some factors such as a change in your serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin is the brain chemical that affects your mood and melatonin is what controls your sleep patterns and some of your mood.

Winter time is the most common season that people experience seasonal depression. There's not as much sunlight and if you aren't someone who does a lot of things in the winter your stuck indoors a lot. People tend to oversleep, gain weight, lose a lot of their energy and overall just feel really down.

I know that at least for me, I'm not exactly a delight to be around during the winter. I'm a much happier and lively person comes spring and summer time. The sun is back out, the days are longer and the fresh air just makes you feel so good. As we begin to enter spring now, I can feel my mood shift. I can feel this weight slowly lifting from my shoulders. I'm ready to spring clean, ready to see friends and ready for adventure again.

I'm ready to be happy again.

As someone who also struggles with bipolar disorder, I get a bit more of the intense sides of the seasonal mood changes. My depression is stronger in the winter. I start to feel hopeless on some days, I'm tired all the time and I feel low. It's not your normal depression that comes with the season for some people, it's stronger. Then spring and summer come and my manic side peaks. I'm happy, but quite intense as my mania phase also means I'm a bit more sensitive and aggressive. Bipolar is a disorder you deal with all the time, the seasons just can amplify some of the symptoms.

WIth seasonal depression, it's predictable. You know it's coming, you know when it happens and you're able to try and take preventive measures. You can look for activities to keep yourself busy, you can try to plan a vacation to someplace sunny, you have options. You can fight the mood change.

I'm just thankful that the time has come to shed the seasonal depression and start living a bit better. My mood is rising and I'm feeling really good. There is so much to look forward to and so much that I'm ready to do.

I'm ready for the sun, I'm ready for the joy and I'm ready to breathe again.

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