You’ve probably heard of eating disorders, but what do you really know about them? What are they? What aren’t they? And what should you do if someone you know is struggling with one?
In this article, we will discuss the truth about eating disorders – what they are, what they aren’t, and what to do if you or someone you know is struggling.
What Are Eating Disorders? – Brian C Jensen
There are three main types of eating disorders:
- anorexia nervosa– an eating disorder marked by self-starvation, excessive weight loss, and a relentless pursuit of thinness.
- bulimia nervosa- and eating disorder marked by recurrent episodes of binge-eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging or fasting to avoid gaining weight
- binge eating disorder- an eating disorder marked by recurrent binge-eating episodes, but without the use of compensatory behaviors.
Eating disorders are far more complex than “just a desire to be thin” or an effort to “look good for…” For most people struggling with an eating disorder, there is usually some underlying reason they are doing what they do. Some common reasons for developing an eating disorder are:
- Low self-esteem or poor body image.
- Familial pressure to be thin.
- A need for control in one’s life, due to life stressors/abuse, low comfort with emotions, etc.
According to Brian C Jensen, Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness that causes people to starve themselves. Bulimia nervosa is a mental illness that causes people to binge on food and then purge (or get rid of) the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. Binge-eating disorder is a mental illness that causes people to eat an excessive amount of food in a short period of time.
All three of these disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have life-threatening consequences.
What Aren’t Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are not simply “lack of self-control” or “being too skinny.” They are serious mental illnesses that should be treated by a professional.
What Should You Do If Someone You Know Is Struggling With an Eating Disorder?
If someone you know is struggling with a disorder, the most important thing to do is express your concern for their well-being. It is also important to know the facts about eating disorders, and not make assumptions.
Let me tell you a few quick facts about eating disorders:
They are treatable mental illnesses. Getting help from a professional can be very effective. Treatments include therapy, medication, nutritional counseling, and/or hospitalization if needed. Eating disorders are dangerous mental illnesses that can lead to death if left untreated. They don’t discriminate – people of any age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status can suffer from them. The only factor that increases risk is having someone close with an eating disorder (i.e.: parents with anorexia).
Myths vs. Facts
Myth #1: Eating disorders are diseases of vanity.
Fact: False. People with eating disorders have very low self-esteem and are controlled by their disorder, which is much more powerful than they are.
Myth #2: People with eating disorders just lack willpower; they don’t really want to change that badly.
Fact: Most people with eating disorders do want to recover, but there is some part of them that does not believe it is possible nor deserves the life that goes along with healthy living (partly because of the faulty thinking encouraged by the eating disorder itself). This discrepancy makes it difficult for us as therapists working with those suffering from anorexia or bulimia to label this population as “not wanting it enough” or “being lazy.”
Myth #3: Eating disorders are caused by bad parenting or a traumatic experience.
Fact: False. While these experiences may trigger the development of an eating disorder, they are not the root cause. The root cause is a mental health disorder that needs to be treated with therapy.
Myth #4: Once someone has an eating disorder, they will always have one.
Fact: False. With treatment, most people with eating disorders can and do recover completely.
Myth #5: People with eating disorders are all thin and look like models.
Fact: False. There is a wide range of body types among people with eating disorders. Some are very thin, some are overweight, and most are in between.
What actually ARE eating disorders? Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just about being “too skinny” or “obsessed with food.” In fact, there are three main types: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED). And contrary to myth number four, people with eating disorders can and do recover completely with treatment.
So what ARE the symptoms of these different disorders? Anorexia nervosa is characterized by excessive weight loss due to self-starvation. Bulimia nervosa is marked by cycles of binging (consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time) and purging (vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise to get rid of the food). Binge-eating disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrollable eating, with no compensatory measures taken afterward.
All three disorders share some common symptoms, such as feelings of guilt and shame around food and eating, a preoccupation with weight and body shape, and distorted body image.
What should you do if you think you or someone you know might have an eating disorder? The best thing to do is talk to your doctor or a therapist. They can help you get the treatment you need to recover.
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that should not be ignored. With the right treatment, most people with eating disorders can and do recover completely. So don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you think you might be struggling with one of these disorders.
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can lead to death if left untreated. They affect people of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses. The only factor that increases risk is having someone close with an eating disorder.
Most people with eating disorders want to recover, but there is some part of them that does not believe it is possible nor deserves the life that goes along with healthy living. With treatment, most people with eating disorders can and do recover completely. So don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you think you might be struggling with one of these disorders.