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Here’s part two of my interview with Sam, who writes the blog Quantum Vegan. Below, Sam talks more about eating disorders and recovery.

Specifically, she discusses how families can help a loved one who’s struggling with an eating disorder, recommends several ED resources and explains what recovery means to her.

You can read part one of our interview here, where she recounts how her eating disorder started and what helped her recover.

By the way, if you’d like to share your story of recovering from an eating disorder, ditching dieting or overcoming body image issues, don’t hesitate to email me! You can reach me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com.

Q: What insights have you taken away from your struggles and recovery?

A: It’s sort of weird to think that ED can teach you things, but it’s true.  I find myself being much more patient with other people who struggle with diseases and disorders, having learned to separate who they are as people from behaviors caused by other factors.

I’m also now able to look at body shapes in terms of health rather than envying people who are ultra-thin.  My own outlook has changed from a frantic pursuit of weight loss to a desire for overall health.

Q:  What can family members do to help a loved one with an eating disorder?

A: First and foremost, family needs to be willing to listen.  It’s hard to understand ED if you haven’t suffered from it, and it’s okay to admit when you don’t understand—just don’t be afraid to do so.  Don’t pretend you understand something that you don’t.  That’s just doing a disservice to the ED sufferer.

Being observant is an absolute must.  Secrecy and shame are big parts of ED; sufferers need to know that someone cares enough to notice what’s going on.  If you see something that seems off, don’t worry about calling the person out on it.  You could be doing them the biggest favor of their lives.

Most of all, family should be supportive.  The worst thing is when the people closest to someone who’s suffering have the attitude of, “I don’t get what’s so hard about just eating.”  Even if you don’t get it, you can offer a willing ear and whatever support the ED sufferer needs to get through their tough time.

Q: What resources (books, websites) do you recommend for individuals struggling with an eating disorder?

A: Wasted by Marya Hornbacher for its raw portrayal of what it’s like to be caught up in the heart of an eating disorder.

Life Inside the Thin Cage by Constance Rhodes deals with EDNOS and can help those who may be on the cusp of a more dangerous problem.

SomethingFishy.org is full of useful resources for ED sufferers and those who care about them.

And the Choosing Raw blog has been running a wonderful, honest series called Green Recovery, featuring people who have found a vegan lifestyle to be helpful to their recovery.

Q: What does recovery mean to you?

A: An important part of recovery for me is “conquering” foods and food-related situations that scare me.  During the worst of my ED, I wouldn’t even taste things I was cooking to see if they were properly seasoned because I was terrified of consuming extra calories.

Now, I happily eat foods I wouldn’t touch then, like cake (vegan, of course).  I’m also now able to go to restaurants with friends and family without freaking out over caloric intake, and recently attended a party with a full vegan buffet-style spread, which I enjoyed a great deal.

Each time I eat a food or go through a social situation involving food without getting nervous or upset with myself, I feel that I’ve taken another important step towards total recovery.  Being able to cook and eat for the fun of it is a much  more enjoyable way to live!

Q: What are some misconceptions about eating disorders?

A: I hate the idea that ED is a choice.  I’m not sure where that came from, but it puts ED sufferers in such a terrible light, like we somehow woke up one day and said, “I think I’ll become anorexic.”  The idea that people with ED can easily choose to “just eat” is detrimental to recovery and only serves to make sufferers withdraw more.

People also seem to think that ED only affects one gender, age group, or socioeconomic subset.  ED doesn’t discriminate, nor is it only present in the very thin.  Not everyone who has ED “looks sick.”  Binge eating disorder seems to be the most misunderstood, since society paints people who overeat as being somehow weak or lacking willpower.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about eating disorders or your story?

A: I think everyone needs to know that ED is a real, frightening disorder that can be life-threatening.  So many messages exist in our society about food, body shape, dieting, and weight loss that disordered behaviors can seem normal, but they’re not.

Perpetuating these images only makes things worse and isn’t going to help with identifying ED or getting sufferers the help they need.

I’m grateful to Sam for sharing her story! You can check out other stories here.