For women and men who struggle with an eating disorder, fighting to stay healthy (physically, emotionally, and mentally) can be a day to day battle.
“It was never about the food,” said Malley Morales who struggled for years to break free from anorexia. “It was about control, and something… somewhere inside… I just didn’t feel good enough,” she said.
The 19-year-old started counting calories and dieting in middle school.
“It got to the point where I was only eating maybe 100 to 200 calories a day. I would leave home before eating breakfast, I would avoid lunch, and for dinner maybe I would have a few cranberries. Eating disorders are really secretive,” said Morales.
Her eating habits were governed by her emotions.
Gatherings or events that involved food, would cause her anxiety to rise.
“It was just obsessive. If I was eating with my family I would hide food up my sleeve or spit it out in my cup. I would also weigh myself maybe five or fix times a day. If the number low enough, I would think ‘OK, you’re good, you’re fine,’ but if the number goes up, you say ‘well, I’ve failed and I can’t eat today,’ you have no control,” she said.
In the eighth grade, she was admitted to Children’s Health Eating Disorder Inpatient Treatment Program.
Children’s Health is the only hospital and treatment facility that accepts both male and female patients, and the only facility in Texas that accepts children younger than 10-years-old.
“We accept children as young as 5-years-old,” said Dr. Sonia Schwalen who is a Psychologist in the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children’s Health.
Schwalen treated Morales when she was in the hospital.
“Eating disorders typically have taken months or years in the making, so it takes a very long time to undo that," Schwalen said. "By the time families have reached us, the eating disorder has truly taken over. It has become very toxic. Sometimes they don’t recognize that they have a problem, and others can come to us drowning in shame.”
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life.
Anorexia, one of the most common types of eating disorders, has the highest death rate out of all mental disorders.
Recovery can be a tedious process, because the addiction (or “drug” of choice) is something necessary to live.
Alcoholics can find ways to avoid the liquor store. Those who struggle with substance abuse can choose not to consume their drug of choice, but if the addiction is connected to food, the recovery process can be hard.
“Every time you’re hungry, that’s a trigger. When you’re at a family gathering or someplace where there is a lot of food, that’s a trigger. It stresses me out sometimes. But, I’m not going to let it control me. The eating disorder is not my identity, and I no longer believe what it was telling me about my body,” Morales said.
It took Morales years before she was able to look in the mirror and see her true reflection.
“There is a thing called body dysmorphia where you look in the mirror and you don’t see what other people see. Now when I look in the mirror I don’t judge my body. I really see someone who is talented and has a really bright future in a really cool field,” she said.
Morales used music to help her through recovery.
When she was hospitalized she wrote music and song lyrics to help her address her pain.
“The eating disorder, the addiction to food or being perfect is only the symptom. My family and my doctors helped me get to the root of the problem,” Morales said.
There are other triggers than food.
The images on social media, magazines and movie screens can become an hindrance, as well.
“It's so intertwined with everything that a child can see. Our society has a "‘thin ideal beauty myth," and it’s important for parents to talk to their children about body image. It's also important for parents to watch what they say about their own bodies, and negative comments about food,” said Schwallen.
Morales has taken her recovery to another level. She believes there is power in telling one's story.
“I’ve been talking to other young girls and just telling them, ‘there’s hope,’ I want them to know that,” she said.
Types of Eating Disorders:
- Binge Eating Disorder
Signs and Symptoms:
- Weight fluctuation
- Depression or constantly tired
- Fixation on weight
- Fluctuations in mood
- Switching from overeating to fasting
- Obsessive and compulsive eating patterns
For more information on Children’s Health and their inpatient and outpatient treatment center for eating disorders, click here.