What is an eating disorder? Historically, the media has portrayed eating disorders as an obsession to be thin and an unwillingness to eat by those who are seemingly underweight. This stereotype has unfortunately “shamed” many women (and men) with eating disorders because they don’t fit this mold; they are told they don’t “look” like they have an eating disorder. Can you imagine finally seeking out help for something that has kept you safe for many years and being told, “Nah… you don’t really need help”?
I started working with women with eating disorders about seven years ago and am now humbled by that
experience. Women with eating disorders not only come in all shapes and sizes, they are intelligent,
perseverant and have so much compassion for one another.
Okay, so back to the question, “what is an eating disorder?” An eating disorder is simply a way of coping; it is a way to distract oneself from inner pain. Sufferers use their eating disorder to feel better and cope with anxiety, depression, trauma, and unhealthy relationships, for example. They may also cope by inflicting self-injury or using alcohol and drugs.
There are a several types of eating disorders that are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (commonly referred to as the DSM-5): Anorexia, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and Binge-Eating Disorder (BED).
Anorexics typically restrict their caloric intake and have lost weight. They are below a certain percentage when it comes to the ratio of their height to weight, and experience fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. Anorexics can also purge (through exercise, laxatives, vomiting) which adds another medical complication.
Bulimia is defined as one who consumes more food than average and often feels “out of control” when doing so. These episodes are followed by purging behaviors and sometimes another cycle of eating and purging. Just like Anorexics, they usually have a fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. BED can be thought of as Bulimia but without the purging behaviors.
Over 50% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have EDNOS. These are individuals that use a variety of “symptoms.” Symptoms are the specific behaviors that individuals use in their eating disorders. Symptoms from the above-listed disorders can include calorie restriction/counting, purging through self-induced vomiting, over-exercise, use of diet-pills or diuretics, and chewing-spitting of food. As mentioned already, EDNOS includes a variety of the above-mentioned behaviors but maybe not to the specificity as defined in the DSM-5.
No matter what the diagnoses, many of these women (and men) do not fit the image of eating disorders that society and the media seem to portray, and many judge those who struggle with eating disorders. Many of the individuals I have worked with have said that people have commented, “but you don’t LOOK like you have an eating disorder” – heart breaking. These comments just fuel the eating disorder more!! I will say that it has been refreshing that more and more celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Ke$ha have come out sharing that they have had or still do have an eating disorder. It allows those women amongst us to feel like they are not alone in the struggle.
So what should you do if you meet or know someone that has or has struggled with an eating disorder? My advice to you is to ask questions and not make statements. Show empathy, have patience, and most of all, do not judge.
Stay tuned for my next blog: “Okay, so I have sought support for my eating disorder, now what?”
For more information or if you or someone else may be struggling with an eating disorder,
please contact us today for a free phone consultation.