- Why don’t you just eat more?
- Why don’t you just go on a diet?
- You don’t look like you have an eating disorder, you must be fine
- Just take a break from exercising
These are all things that individuals suffering from an eating disorder hear on a regular basis. To someone trying to understand eating disorders, these comments might seem harmless, but to someone with an eating disorder it can turn into the main focus for their entire day.
Eating disorders aren’t as easy as eating less or eating more. It’s about the mental aspect of it. To understand eating disorders, picture your biggest fear (spiders, dark, etc.), and then picture whatever that fear is, consuming your whole life. If it is darkness, what if you tried to
get out of the dark but the sun never comes up? You’re in the dark all the time and cannot get out. This is what food is for people with eating disorders. Today, food is everywhere. TV, commercials, radio, social media, every corner on the street, every billboard in the city. Having an eating disorder can cause a fear around food. Fear around your next binge, fear about consuming food around people, fear that one little snack will cause you to gain 50 lbs, fear that you won’t be able to exercise, and so much more.
Signs of an Eating Disorders
Eating disorders have so many different forms that it can sometimes be difficult to see the signs of an eating disorder, whether it is in oneself or in a loved one. Here are some of the common (but not limited to) signs that link to various eating disorders:
- Weight loss
- Missing meals
- Loss of periods (in females)
- Missing school/work
- Low self-esteem
- Going to the washroom right after eating
- Not eating in public or in front of others (secret eating)
- Excessive exercising
- Body Dysmorphia (thinking/saying they are ‘fat’ when they are underweight)
- Large amounts of food disappearing from kitchen in short periods of time
- Obsessing over food and cooking for other people
- Laxative use
- Obsessive food rituals
- Social withdrawal
Thought Process Behind an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are about feelings, not food. Eating disorders can begin for a range of different reasons. A large part of ED is the feeling of control. In a lot of cases, a certain event will take place in one’s life (i.e. divorce, the loss of a loved one, stress at school/work etc.) and it causes them to feel like they have no control. Food restricting, bingeing, purging or over exercising makes them feel in control. It becomes the one aspect of their life that they can 100% control. This causes the obsessive behaviour because it makes them feel in control and ‘at ease’.
More often than not, there is an underlaying concern to eating disorders. This may be feelings of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem, stressors, or trauma. One negative thing in someone’s day can cause them to resort back to their eating disorder. For example:
“I went to the mall today and someone was wearing the same shirt as me and it looked better on them; they look so much skinnier – now I can’t eat for the remainder of the day”
“Today at work, my boss told me I need to improve my performance – I’m going home to binge on the entire fridge and cupboard to feel better”
“I have a test coming up that is making me anxious – now I have to work out for 3 hours to make me feel better”
“We are having a family dinner tonight, I have to eat a lot so people don’t know anything is going on – I will purge right after dinner”
This thought process causes an individual to feel in control, it causes them to think that everything is okay for that time. Until the next thing happens that causes these feelings.
Common Myths about eating disorders
You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder:
- This is probably the biggest myth about eating disorders. People who are underweight, average weight and overweight can all be suffering.
Only females suffer from eating disorders:
- Eating disorders can affect anyone. It is a huge stigma in todays society that they are only for teenage girls. This is far from the truth. They can happen in kids, teens, adults, males and females. Studies show that 25% of the population suffering from eating disorders are men.
Eating disorders aren’t that dangerous:
- This could not be more false, eating disorders not only affect your physical health, but your mental health as well. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental health concern. Going untreated, can have serious long term effects. Death by suicide and eating disorders are often linked. Since eating disorders are caused by a constant stream of negative thoughts, as well as malnourishment and ability to think clearly, suicidal ideation can be quick to follow.
How to help someone you know with an Eating Disorder
There are a lot of resources for individuals with eating disorders, as well as loved ones of someone who wants to understand eating disorders. The important thing is to be patient, get the facts, give support and do not judge. If you fear that someone close to you is
suffering from an eating disorder, it is crucial to talk to them about it first, before making any decisions. Since some eating disorders stem from other mental health issues, the person is in a very fragile state, sometimes an individual does not even realize how much they need help.
Here are some tips for having a conversation with a loved one about your concern:
- Pick a time and place that is private to have this discussion
- Have some information to give them about why you are concerned and what you can do to help
- Be patient and supportive
- Do not judge
- Be prepared for denial
At Julie Lewis Counselling and Consulting Inc. we are registered with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). This is a resource for people suffering from eating disorders as well as for people to understand eating disorders. They offer a full directory of Service Providers for all of Canada. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, this is a great resource to start finding the support that is needed.