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I was struggling with a combination of binge eating disorder and bulimia while I attended the Naval Academy from 2003 - 2007. My experience as a woman in uniform, and an NCAA Division I athlete for the Naval Academy, were directly related to the development of my eating disorder.

Midshipman 1/C Melinda M. Parrish, USNA Class of 2007

Midshipman 1/C Melinda M. Parrish, USNA Class of 2007

As a disclaimer, I’m a huge supporter of the military and am incredibly honored to have served. I have deep reverence for the military and everyone serving. I’m not sharing my story to cast blame upon the military, or to paint this organization, which I hold in incredibly high esteem, in a negative light. But the reality is that many women have suffered and continue to suffer, as I did. 34% of women in the military suffer from eating disorders.

Ultimately, my eating disorder is what led to me being (honorably) medically discharged from military service in 2008. But you won’t see anything about an eating disorder anywhere in my medical or service records. It’s through my recovery, years later, that I’ve come to understand the connection between my disordered behavior and the injury which ended my naval career.

My experience is unique in its specifics, but not unique to women in the military. Our military is in crisis because such a high number of individuals serving are struggling with eating disorders. We as a country miss out when women end their term of service prematurely (like I did), or aren’t able to serve at their full capacity, because they are battling an eating disorder. Now that we know this, we can begin to address it! And that starts with increasing funding for treatment, research, prevention, and awareness of eating disorders for those in uniform.

The entire military suffers when as many as 34% of its service women are at a limited capacity due to illness. That’s why I’m testifying before members of congress on September 28, 2017 alongside a panel of experts, so I can use my experiences to better life for so many women still serving.

This isn’t just me telling my story. It’s a call to action! Shame feeds on silence, and shame keeps us trapped when it comes to issues like eating disorders. I want you to join me in speaking out about the things you’re struggling with when it comes to your weight, your body, and food. Let’s banish shame and create a new way forward for ourselves and other women!

Key takeaways:

  • Brené Brown’s formula for shame

  • Why I’m speaking out and sharing my story so publicly

  • The ways the food and eating were stigmatized for me during my time in the military

  • Why I turned to eating large amounts of food in secret to cope with my environment

  • The first time I binged and purged

  • Ways that I pushed my body to extremes to counteract my binge eating

  • The single event that changed the course of my entire life

  • Why this problem, which impacts 34% of women in the service, is truly a problem for 100% of the military

  • The ways that NEDA and the EDC are working to address these issues, and what you can do to help!

Mentioned in this episode:

National Eating Disorders Association

Eating Disorders Council

Speaker, Author and Researcher Brené Brown

Healthy at Any Size podcast, Episode 3

The Reality of Struggling with Binge Eating Disorder in the Military

The “Weakest Link”

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