Dear Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Aunt, Uncle …
I ask for your listening ears.
I know eating disorders might sound like a strange, or maybe a made-up idea, but they are not. Eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses, and one individual – someone’s loved daughter, son, father, mother, etc. – dies of an eating disorder every 52 minutes.
Individuals don’t suffer from eating disorders because they are vain or weak; neither is it their choice. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that often involve a fixation on food, eating, fitness, weight, and/or body image. They affect people of all backgrounds, ages and body sizes, and they can be influenced by genetics, brain chemistry, environment, trauma, personality traits, and/or cultural influences.
There are many eating disorder behaviors, such as obsessively calculating calories or planning meals in advance, avoiding social events due to the food, or eating in secret. And many of us may not appear “sick,” but remember that eating disorders are mental illnesses (not physical), and those suffering frequently hide their disordered behavior.
Many of us grew up being told that looking a certain way meant we are more disciplined, hardworking, likable, attractive, and/or deserving of food. However, all bodies are different. Societal pressures that place one body type over another can contribute to an unhealthy body image, guilt and shame over food, low self-esteem, and an eating disorder.
For many of us suffering from an eating disorder, we desire recovery. We do our best to take initiative by seeking healing and recovery through therapy and developing healthier coping skills. We don’t enjoy having an eating disorder; it is painful and difficult. Many of us no longer want our eating disorders to take away the joy and freedom from our lives.
We want to recover, but it is mentally challenging and exhausting to do so. We need support; we need encouragement; and most of all, we need understanding and compassion. Please support us during our recovery process and encourage us to continue healing.
In addition, comments about my physical appearance often make me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. I hope you can love me for my personality and passions rather than my weight or external appearance. If I ever feel anxious because of food or comments I hear, I hope that you won’t jump to the conclusion that I’m oversensitive, weak, or desperate for approval. I’m working on having a better relationship with myself and becoming more self-compassionate and resilient. Please be patient with me. I am constantly fighting internal battles you may not be aware of.
I would truly love it if you could take the time to learn more about eating disorders and mental health, especially how you can help. When I or others voice our struggles, I ask that you believe us. Please listen to us, kindly challenge our negative thoughts, and encourage us during overwhelming times. A pair of listening ears and an understanding heart is sometimes what we need the most.
Thank you for listening. I would love to have more loving and patient conversations with you about mental health so that we can build a loving and understanding relationship with each other.
Your Daughter, Son, Sister, Brother, Niece, Nephew
This letter was written by Jessie Cheng and edited by members of EDify Talks, a nonprofit with a goal to spread awareness on eating disorders and related issues. The Letter Campaign was a project initiated by the public relations team at EDify Talks with the goal of creating shareable letters to educate the community on eating disorders.