Leadership has many faces and forms. One can think about all of the leaders that he or she has encountered: strong, silent, aggressive, dominant, wishy-washy, agreeable, collaborative...you get the picture. However, I believe that there are many different hidden leaders in our midst…those with issues of acting out behaviors, particularly those with eating disorders.
Eating disorders…you say? Yes. They have the courage to do something different when their world may not be so healthy. But aren’t they really sick? Yes, they are. They are typically in situations, or have been in situations, that have been difficult to tolerate, and are struggling with how to process and “deal” with them effectively. Oftentimes, they don’t know what to say, or have the ability to communicate what they need, or aren’t being heard by others. Instead, they act out their internal struggles in unhealthy ways, and force those around them to eventually “hear” what they have been trying to say.
Many people with eating disorders have some form of leadership development in their families of origin. They are not necessarily the oldest, but they are usually the child that is the most focused on at some point in their youth. They learn that they have some form of power (although they feel incredibly powerless) and control by shifting their food intake, whether by restricting, bingeing, or purging, or a combination thereof. They use their behavior to “voice” their feelings so that others see their pain.
What I have come to understand about those with eating disorders is that they have many skills and talents that are amazing. They are smart. They are funny (most extremely sarcastic and clever). They are forces often not to be reckoned with. They have learned that in order to be heard, they must DO. Isn’t this what leadership is about? Putting thoughts, emotion, and passion into action? And, when they are allowed the chance to do what is deep inside of them, they are no less than amazing.
I have been blessed to watch so many young ladies and men who have struggled with eating disorders in their early years to grow up and become amazing women and men, amazing teachers, and amazing leaders. They learn that they are strong, they are creative, they are on fire for what they believe is right. There is something about the process of recovery that empowers them to say what they think, do what they believe in, and have such amazing courage to take charge of not only their lives, but impact others in the most inspiring ways.
Those with eating disorders are leaders. Just watch them go.