Much like mental health, eating disorders are often stereotyped and cast aside as not a “real” disease. However; that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the last ten years I have dealt with eating disorders in my own life, my friends lives and my family members lives. It is a heartbreaking disease that so many are not aware of. In the midst of hearing lots of stereotypes, misconceptions and “taboo” statements about eating disorders, I thought I’d write about a few things I think everybody should know about eating disorders.
1. Not every eating disorder looks the same.
While the most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia, eating disorders look very different for every person. While the stereotype is that everybody with an eating disorder either starves himself or herself or purges their food, there are several other types of eating disorders. For instance, a different type of bulimia is eating and excessively exercising afterwards. Exercising to the point of dehydration, fainting, vertigo etc. Another look of an eating disorder is bingeing one day and then abstaining from food the next day or next few days. Eating disorders come in different variations and not any single one is simple.
2. It is not always about body issues.
Another widely misinterpretation of eating disorders is that all stem from a body issue. While many do, some come from other problems within; such as control issues, self-harm, and self worth. Some feel they do not deserve to eat, some feel the only control they have in their lives is to control what goes in and comes out of their body and some do it out of guilt. Again, it does not always stem from one simple thing like “body issues”, usually an eating disorder and the root of it is accompanied by several different reasons or triggers, not just one.
3. Not everybody with an eating disorder is extremely skinny.
Many people seem to assume that an extremely thin person must have an eating disorder, and that if you are not overly thin, you probably don’t. This often can be on the contrary. While many eating disorders do result in a frail and thin appearance, in some cases; like with bulimia, this isn’t always true. Many people struggling with an eating disorder can look like a perfectly healthy person with a healthy body weight even though they are binging and purging and actually not healthy.
4. Things you find harmless are actually triggers.
This is one very hard situation to avoid when dealing with somebody with an eating disorder. Some may think that by telling somebody “Wow, you look so thin. Are you okay?” is helpful but it’s actually harmful. Even though the intent is good, somebody with an eating disorder only hears the word thin or skinny. In the mind of somebody struggling with an eating disorder it then becomes, “They told me I look skinny, I should continue doing this” or “They said I’ve lost weight, I need to lose more”. Talking about it in general, seeing commercials, movies or advertisements can all be triggers as well.
5. Many struggling with an eating disorder will go to great lengths to hide it.
(And they can be successful).
When you have an eating disorder and have no intention or desire to stop, you will go to great lengths to protect it and hide it. When somebody has gotten “used” to their eating disorder, they will form habits of hiding. For instance: Somebody with bulimia may only pick restaurants they know have individual stalls so nobody ever hears them purge. Somebody with anorexia may simply tell their friends they are “too broke” to go out to eat and have to eat at home, but will meet them later. (In reality, they don’t eat at all but avoid eating situations to not draw attention to them)
6. If you think somebody you know may have an eating disorder, keep a close eye on them and ask them straight on.
If you ask somebody you think may be suffering from an eating disorder bluntly if they have one, one of two things will happen: They will admit it and be happy somebody has caught on, because they were looking for a way to get help and using it as a cry for help OR (more likely) they will deny, deny, deny until you have enough proof, that they can’t deny it any longer.
Things to keep a close eye on if you believe somebody you know is struggling with an eating disorder are: (Bulimia): Large purchases of food, long periods of time in the bathroom following a meal, carrying a toothbrush everywhere with them, red knuckles (from having their hand down their throat, their knuckles will be left red), vomit smell, as much noise in the bathroom as they can have (shower running, tap running, fan on) so you don’t hear them throwing up, raspy voice, constant sore throat, hair loss. (Anorexia): Avoiding social gatherings where food is involved, strange dietary habits (ex: only eating two crackers and two grapes a day), mood imbalance, hair loss, fatigue, general weakness, pushing food around a plate but never actually eating, paleness and refusal to eat when served followed with believable excuses.
If you or somebody you know seeks help with an eating disorder, or if you would like more information head to: http://www.nedic.ca/ .