It’s Time for a New Conversation About Eating Disorders: Christie’s Story of Finding Freedom

Christie Dondero Bettwy

Christie Dondero Bettwy serves as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a nonprofit that helps people overcome disordered eating by combining clinical and community care. Having gone through recovery herself, she understands the depth of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual support needed to recover. She is passionate about spreading the message that complete freedom from disordered eating is possible. Christie is an active speaker and shares her story with organizations and media outlets across the country. Christie lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband Ryan. Learn more about Rock Recovery’s work at www.rockrecoveryed.org.

Twenty years ago, I went on a dangerous diet that fueled almost a decade of disordered eating. Everyone around me praised my weight loss. The health magazines I scoured monthly further affirmed my bias that the thinner you are, the healthier you are. It took me years to realize my seemingly small diet had grown into a major problem, let alone to seek treatment.

When thinness is the goal, health will not be the result. Health was never truly my goal; thinness was.

While my eating disorder may have started as a simple desire to lose weight, that wasn’t where it ended, and it isn’t where it ends for millions of Americans. 

Eating disorders are complex illnesses, and a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to their development. An estimated 28.8 million Americans will battle an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder) at some point in their lifetime,  and millions more will struggle with disordered eating, dieting, and an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Yet, as stigma and misunderstanding remain high, treatment coverage and affordable options remain low.

Until recently, eating disorders were the number one cause of death from mental illness (now surpassed by opioid use), yet too many people consider eating disorders to be a phase, a fad, a choice, or, worse yet, a vanity. 

Now more than a decade into recovery, I have the joy and privilege of serving as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a D.C.-based nonprofit that provides affordable and accessible clinical treatment, community support, and educational programs to bridge gaps that keep people from getting the help they need to recover. Countless clients we serve at Rock Recovery come to us feeling like they are failing, ashamed that they can’t seem to get better on their own. Their friends and family members are either at a loss of how to help them or don’t seem to understand why they can’t “get a handle” on their food issues. Can’t they just eat more or go on a diet? 

If only it were so simple. 

Our society continues to demonize fat, idolize thinness, and belittle the severity of eating disorders even though they are life-threatening illnesses. These harmful beliefs and values must change, and we as a society must realize that someone with anorexia can’t just “eat a hamburger” any more than someone with depression can just “snap out of it” on their own.

So, what are a few things that we can do right now to change the conversation around eating disorders and decrease stigma in our own homes and communities?

  • We need to check our bias and be willing to consider how harmful societal views about body image and dieting have shaped us, and where we need more education and correction.
  • We need to challenge the stereotypes of what we think people with eating disorders “should” look like and realize that all mental illnesses (including eating disorders) don’t discriminate and can affect people of all sizes, genders, races, ages, and backgrounds. 
  • We need to remember that we have no idea what someone else is going through based on appearances, and we should take mental health challenges seriously without making jokes or judgments.
  • We need to be willing to have hard conversations with the people that we love to get them the help they need to recover. 
  • Most importantly, we need to remember that while eating disorders are complex illnesses, with proper treatment and support, recovery is truly possible.

In celebration of the recovery we’ve seen in people and in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Rock Recovery will be hosting our annual benefit dinner, Building Bridges Breaking Bread, virtually. We invite you to join us this Friday, February 26th at 8 PM ET to share a special interactive meal experience, hear inspiring stories from people who have recovered from eating disorders, and consider how you can help change the conversation around eating disorders in your own homes and communities. Together, we can help more people access the care they need in order to return to their own tables so they can break bread with those they love.

Visit https://rockrecoveryed.org/event/building-bridges-breaking-bread-virtual-gala/ for details and to purchase your tickets today!

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