Only six percent of those struggling from eating disorders are actually considered to be “underweight”. When I was researching eating disorder statistics, I wanted to find out more about other people’s perception of those struggling with an eating disorder. Some may think that having an eating disorder, the individual suffering must look malnourished, sickly looking, extremely underweight or overweight, and obviously struggling with odd disordered eating behaviors. This isn't the case!!! Anyone can struggle with an eating disorder no matter their size, height, weight, shape, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and ability. People we see at the grocery store, our workplace, school, social events, friends, and even family may be struggling with an eating disorder. We may expect those struggling, for the struggle to be obvious. Most importantly, we shouldn’t make assumptions about people's bodies and their size and weight. WEIGHT DOES NOT CORRELATE HEALTH. For goodness sake, please throw out the scale. We judge others and their size, weight, appearance because we have insecurities of our own. So, treat yourself kindly because you are beautiful and perfect as you are. Be kind to yourself and others. Stop with that negative self- talk. My pet peeve is when people say, “I was so bad for eating that sweet '', “gotta start the diet on Monday '', “I ate TOO much”. These are things that YOU are saying to yourself and it can hurt YOU because it is negative self-talk. You are bullying yourself and might be doing it without even noticing. Become aware of how you talk to yourself and change it up with positive and kind words, mantras, and encouragement.Your thighs and stomach are perfect for you at this moment in time so, stop regretting eating that dessert. YOU deserve to eat and rest, and to take care of yourself. The beauty of eating is to fuel the body and brain. So eat for your body's nourishment and benefit. We need the energy from food to power our brains and body. We need fat, carbs, and protein for our body’s energy and metabolism. That donut that you had is not the end of the world because the body will take in the information of the donut and break it down and simply provide the body with carbohydrates, which the BODY LOVES. Did you know that a balanced diet can include a daily intake of 70% carbs??? So stop hating on carbs, and get off the fad diet keto (not good for cardiovascular health, and should only be recommended for diabetes, endurance athletes, and those with epilepsy). I could rant about keto and other restrictive diets all day!!! Again, this is where diet culture is a problem and sneaking into people’s lives so easily!! The definition of diet culture is: a set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health & well-being. Diet culture produces these health fads like keto, Weight Watchers, Noom, and “fat-burning” foods and many other bulls**t products like SlimFast.
As people are all different and unique, eating disorders can be as well. Different types of eating disorders include: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Pica, Avoidant- Restrictive, Binge-Eating Disorder, and Rumination. Eating disorders are diagnosed following a certain criteria following the DSM-5. Depending on symptoms and behaviors, patients will then be diagnosed. However, some eating disorders are not specific in certain behaviors such as primarily restricting and purging. These patients are classified as having an Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED).
Eating disorders occur due to various factors such as genetics and environment. However, “twenty-eight to seventy-four percent of risk for eating disorders is through genetic heritability”. Due to genetics, some individuals are simply at a higher risk for eating disorders.
Experiencing trauma is another factor in developing an eating disorder. Trauma is an emotional response and eating disorders thrive on patterns of self destruction. That self destruction can include: restriction, purging, overexercising, self-harm, isolation, and or abusing drugs and alcohol. Due to experiencing trauma, this creates a higher likelihood for someone to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, compared to someone that has not experienced trauma. Especially when the individual has co-occurring disorders such as: anxiety disorders, and depression disorders. Controlling food intake, exercise, and being rigid throughout the day, allows eating disorder patients to feel in control of their lives.
I discovered my favorite article so far about diet culture called, “Fatphobia, a Persuasive and Socially Accepted Discrimination” and below is a section that I believe is powerful to think about….
“To achieve this goal of weight loss, we are, however, using dangerous and unhealthy methods. Stories of people who have lost weight are widely promoted, presenting weight loss as a solution that solves all problems and brings success and happiness. This perpetuates the idea that everyone should lose weight to be healthier and improve their lives. On the contrary, there is very little emphasis on stories of people who have gained weight, even though weight gain can have a highly beneficial meaning, such as recovery from an eating disorder or after taking antidepressants. Weight loss is automatically associated with an achievement, while weight gain is perceived as necessarily resulting from laziness or a lack of willpower; discourses marked by guilt, shame and disgust. If weight gains are mostly socially reprimanded regardless of their cause, weight losses are on the contrary almost systematically congratulated. However, congratulating a weight loss is sometimes congratulating (and therefore potentially reinforcing) an eating disorder. People with depression or cancer who have lost 10 kilos have also been complimented. Not all weight losses are good things, just as not all weight gains are necessarily bad things. One simple and effective solution is to stop commenting on other people’s weight and accept that weight gain is not the end of the world. Our bodies fluctuate throughout our lives, adapting and changing according to circumstances (old age, mental health, pregnancy, stress levels, pandemic, etc.). Link to "Fatphobia, a Persuasive and Socially Accepted Discrimination"
Many resources are available such as: ANAD (www.anad.org) which provides free support in the form of helplines, virtual support groups, and recovery mentors as well as resources to connect people to eating disorder-trained clinicians (therapists, dieticians,etc). Also, check out resources at National Eating Disorder Association (www.national eating disorders.org) and Project HEAL (www.theprojectheal.org).
Last week, I gave a presentation about eating disorders. One individual asked me, “How do you know you have an eating disorder and when to get help?” I loved this question because it can’t hurt to start talk therapy and ask for help as soon as there are ANY controlling or obsessive thoughts about: food, weight, calories, excessive exercise, and body image. In fact, eating disorders, second to opioid overdoses, are one of the deadliest mental illnesses, as one death every fifty-two minutes is due to an eating disorder. Twenty-six percent of those deaths are sucide. Please reach out if you have any questions or are struggling with an eating disorder and am not sure where to start with your recovery journey.