- Women's Health
Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating & Other Eating Disorders
A Crash Course in Eating Disorders
What is an Eating Disorder?
Google defines "eating disorder" as: "any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits."
It is important to note that eating disorders have physical side effects and symptoms, but are psychological in nature. Treating the symptoms, without treating the psychological disorder causing the physical symptoms, will not lead to lasting or complete healing. It is important that you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in yourself and those you love, that you understand the severity of these disorders, and that you help those who are struggling with these disorders to seek prompt and appropriate help with their conditions.
Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorders Are Dangerous Before They Look Dangerous
How Do People Develop Eating Disorders?
Drugs and medications are prescribed by doctors to have specific effects on the patient's body. Failure to take the medication, taking too much medication or taking the wrong medication can have dastardly effects. Most people agree with this logic.
Food works in much the same way. Scientists, dietitians, and doctors have given us a general prescription for the kinds of nutrients and energy intake we need. Eating too much or too little can wreak havoc on one's body.
However, food is heavily influenced by social, cultural and familial norms. Although many people agree with the statement about using medications as directed, few people consider food the same way. In today's world, there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Many feel that guys are supposed to be lean, toned and muscular and girls are supposed to be scarily skinny. In addition, food effects every aspect of our lives. We eat at family gatherings, at religious functions, with our friends, and to celebrate national holidays. Unfortunately, using food to maximize your body’s efficiency and well-being tends to take a back seat to these social, societal, cultural, familial and media pressures. This inversion of priorities leads to eating disorders.
Clinical Eating Disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder
There are three main clinical eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa-Eating less than one’s body needs to be efficient accompanied by a fear of gaining weight and either being underweight or a recent, dramatic, unsafe reduction in weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa-binge eating followed by purging or other unsafe methods of preventing weight loss
- Binge Eating Disorder-eating large amounts of food while feeling powerless to stop and feeling distressed during or after the binge
All three of these eating disorders are specialized cases of food no longer being a tool used to optimize the health, fitness, well-being and efficiency of the body. In each case, either another food related priority has taken precedence over using food to optimize the body’s performance or power to control food consumption is missing or impaired.
Eating Disorders Aren't Just a Teenage Girl Thing
Do You Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?
If you’re wondering if you or someone you love is suffering from or at risk from an eating disorder, ask yourself this question, “Do(es) you(he/she) consciously use food to optimize their body’s performance?” If you can answer yes, then your relationship with food is healthy and secure and you can go about your business, for now. (Priorities, situations, and thought processes change with time. Evaluation should occur frequently enough to accurately reflect these changes in your situation.) However, very few Americans can actually honestly respond that we use food this way. Unfortunately, most of us have, or are at risk for, an eating disorder and/or unhealthy relationship with food.
Getting over an eating disorder begins by identifying how your priorities got out of wack, what influences lead to your eating disorder and striving to put your health and wellness back above how you look, your love for food, or whatever else became more important than your wellness.
Recovery from an eating disorder is nearly impossible alone. Ask your friends and family to check in on your progress. Ask them to ask you what you've eaten so far that day occasionally. If you're tempted to cheat, find ways that someone else will know whether or not you've eaten. For example, eat certain meals with certain people on a regular basis or take pictures of yourself eating to send to someone close to you.
Ban yourself from getting on the scale until your eating is under control again. If you own one, give it away, take it to a second had thrift store or throw it out. Many people with eating disorders become obsessive over what the scale reads and finding ways to make it go down. It's difficult to convince yourself to get rid of your scale, but once you get used to its absence, it's incredibly liberating.
While well-meaning friends and family can make great support teams, you may need to seek the professional help of a counselor and/or a dietitian depending on the severity of your disorder. They can help you regain healthy eating habits, a healthier body image, and safe thought processes. Unfortunately seeing a counselor has a negative connotation in our society. Don't let this incorrect stigma keep you from seeking the help you need. Seeing a counselor doesn't make someone weak, crazy or bad, it helps them get healthy.
Social Media and Eating Disorders
Have you or a loved one suffered from an eating disorder?
Education About Eating Disorders
While I was struggling with food I referred to calories as "little poisons." If you're anything like I was, you need to change your view of how you see food itself. Begin by spending some time on www.myplate.gov and www.sparkspeople.com learning about each of the food groups and what nutrients they give you. Learn which foods belong to what food groups and how much a serving is. Determine how much food and what types of food and nutritions you need each day.
Invest in a food scale and a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons. Use them to measure out your portions while you are healing. Unfortunately, it's really easy to both over and underestimate how much you are eating. By measuring out your portions for a few weeks, you'll become a better judge of how much you are eating as you slowly stop using the measuring tools.
In addition, consider using sparkpeople to track your food, sleep and exercise. Use the graphs to look for unhealthy trends. Share your progress with your dietitian and your counselor and seek their guidance on future changes you need to make.
Getting "Cured" From an Eating Disorder
While there is healing for people who have struggled with eating disorders, there isn't an easy cure. Even once you have recovered both your mental and physical health, you are at risk for relapsing in the future. Work to maintain your healthy outlook on food, life and your body. Have regular self-checkups and honestly evaluate your relationship with food so you can stop any new problems early before they develop and further take over your life.
Other Resources on Eating Disorders
For more information about eating disorders and how to help those you love who are suffering with an eating disorder see the National Eating Disorders Association's website.