It’s universal. It doesn’t discriminate because of a person’s race, age, religion, gender, or wealth. Just like any other addiction, no one is immune. Eating disorders are not just a problem that rich, young, white teens face, and that misconception is part of the growing problem with the way we approach eating disorders.
Last week we focused our podcast and blog on all things body image related. We talked about our own personal stories with body image issues, where body shaming stems from, and how destructive unhealthy body standards can be on someone beyond just the physical problems that can develop. This week it seems only right that we talk about eating disorders and how they not only play a part in the way we approach body image but also how they are equally as destructive and unhealthy for both our physical and mental being.
When we were first planning out the schedule for topics for the first year of Illuminated By U we wanted to start with body image and eating disorders as our second and third week’s topics because so many people put pressure on themselves this time of year by setting new years resolutions around their weight. And to be frank, these two topics were two of very few during the divide and conquer session that neither one of us were too thrilled to have to choose who would write about which, because neither one of us really wanted to write about either, yet, here we are.
So what are some of the common misconceptions/myths about eating disorders?
- They only effect women
- They only effect the very young/adolescents
- They only effect the rich
- Eating disorders are only for people who are very thin, or who want to be very thin
- Eating disorders are only: A. Never Eating or B. Eating and then throwing it all back up
- Eating disorders are not serious mental health concerns and are just about vanity or someone’s choice of lifestyle
- Eating disorders are simply a cry for attention
- Eating disorders are simply a “phase” some people go through
Disproving these common misconceptions/myths:
- While a staggering 80% of children are afraid of being seen as “fat”, transitional periods in our lives put us at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder: school, pregnancy, job change, menopause. People who suffer from additional mental illnesses like depression and anxiety or other serious medical conditions like diabetes are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders.
- It is estimated that 10 million males in the U.S. alone will suffer from an eating disorder that can be considered clinically significant at some point in their life, making up 25% of those suffering from eating disorders. There is also no significant difference in the number of those with eating disorders under the age of 18 between male and female genders.
- Men are much less likely to seek help than women are when it comes to eating disorders, and most other mental illnesses, so statistics available aren’t as accurate for men as they are for women.
- Eating disorders reach beyond mental illnesses and the physical symptoms can have a devastating impact on a person’s quality of life. Physical symptoms can lead to medical complications like: osteoporosis, tooth loss, and even cardiac issues. The video below gives you a look into the sluggishness and exhaustion the body goes through physically when battling an eating disorder.
So what causes eating disorders in such a wide variety of different people from different cultures and beliefs? And what are the differences between eating disorder types? If you were with us last week for our week on body image, a lot of this may sound a bit familiar.
- Unattainable body image standards perpetuated by the media
- Peer/cultural pressure to be a certain body type/look a certain way
- Bullying. Sticks and stones may break your bones and words CAN also hurt you.
- Stressful periods in your life: college, transitioning into parenthood, a major work change
- Other mental illnesses like depression and anxiety that cause people to feel they lack control or worth
- Suffering from poor self-esteem
- Participating in aesthetically oriented sports: ballet, gymnastics, long distance running, sports where an emphasis is put on maintaining a lean body.
3 Major/More “well-known” Types of Eating Disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa- inadequate food intake in hopes of leading to a lower weight. Also the intense fear of weight gain/obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent gaining weight.
- Binge Eating Disorder- Frequent episodes of consuming large amounts of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting. Feelings of a lack of control, shame, or guilt are often associated with binge eating.
- Bulimia Nervosa- Like binge eating, bulimia consists of frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food, but followed by behaviors to prevent weight game like self-induced vomiting.
Other “less known” eating disorders include:
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
- Ruminant Disorder
- Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder
- Night Eating Syndrome
I personally, have dealt with binge eating disorder episodes in my own past, and much like any who suffer with eating disorders, I was unaware (or possibly in denial about what I was doing) that I was hurting myself or that what I was doing could even be considered an eating disorder. Within those who do seek help for eating disorders, an average of 4 years passes between the onset of the disorder and the time that they seek help. So how do we help those suffering from eating disorders? And how can we create a support system for those we know enduring these so often silent disorders?
For those suffering:
As with any other mental illness, this journey is yours and yours alone. It isn’t a race or a competition, it is something you take one day at a time, starting first with seeking help and being honest with your goals. It is also important to create a relapse prevention plan as well as steps to take in case a relapse does occur, and understand that relapses in behavior during recovery are normal, and while discouraging, in no way mean failure or that you “can’t”. Support groups are another great tool to utilize on your road to recovery as well as surrounding yourself with a great support system.
Supporting and creating a support system for someone with an eating disorder:
Be nonjudgmental in your support. Offer them an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, an don’t push. Don’t judge their feelings or how they came to develop an eating disorder, or if you yourself have had/currently suffer from an eating disorder, don’t compare their experience(s) with those of your own. Educating yourself and having even a basic understanding of eating disorders can also be helpful in creating safe support system for your loved one(s).
When talking to a friend or loved one about an eating disorder, it’s important to communicate whatever concerns you may have in a loving way that in non-confrontational. Try to remain positive, calm, and respectful while both talking and listening. Focus on your feelings and your relationship, do no comment on their appearance, and avoid placing shame, blame, guilt or power struggles over eating habits as well as simple solutions like: “if you would stop x, then everything would be ok.”
Resources for Eating Disorders