Today marks the beginning of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. And whether or not you've ever experienced a formal eating disorder diagnosis or not, you can probably relate to the connection between food and emotions.
Most people tend to think of eating disorders as being one of two things: anorexic or bulimic. Despite what the latest DSM definition states, in my view, I see eating issues as much more fluid than what's shared in those pages.
Sometimes someone may be struggling, and they may not fit either condition. Sometimes they may even have some traits of one, and some traits of another. Sometimes it may not even be classified as a formal condition, and yet it may still be an issue.
If I'm being real and honest, most everyone struggles with food at one point or another, in one way or another.
Now why do I share that?
Because you and I live in a society where comparisons are the norm, particularly in terms of appearance and food. You can't readily compare your sex life to others, or your bank account to others, just what you assume on the outside or from their conversations (which could easily be inflated). But when it comes to food, you can compare it much easier on the outside.
Knowing that the majority of people have to cope with food issues and choices in one way or another makes you feel less alone, and less like you're the only who deals with those thoughts.
Not convinced yet?
Do you know someone who has diabetes?
Or who is hypoglycemic?
Or who has irritable bowel syndrome?
Or who has food allergies?
Or who can't eat certain things because of medications?
Or who is trying to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol?
Or who has religious customs that dictate what they should and shouldn't eat?
Or who buys a pint of Haagen-Daz when they have a break-up?
See? Lots of people have things that make them look at food a certain way.
The difference between these types of restrictions and an eating disorder is much deeper than what you see on the outside. Just because someone is extremely skinny or may be overweight, it doesn't automatically equal a formal eating disorder diagnosis. That's one reason why you can't look at last season's winner of The Biggest Loser and just assume that she won by being anorexic. While there is cause for concern, weight along doesn't equal a diagnosis.
Helping someone with an eating disorder (ED) is not as simple as helping them to reach a healthy weight. In fact, weight is more of a symptom than the real issue.
For those who experience eating disorders, it's how you feel yourself and the world around you, and how you fit into that world. Food is simply the way to measure how you fit into society.
One striking characteristic of ED is being a bit too hard on yourself, a bit of a perfectionist if you will. Maybe not in everything, but at least in one area of life, especially something that can be measured: weight, grades, performance scales at work or in athletics, or even in money.
Another big component is constantly thinking about how food impacts your outer appearance, whether or not anyone else around you realizes it. Being hungry can symbolize being in control of yourself, because that hunger pain is equivalent to resisting urges and not giving in to temptation. Being able to eat and fit in with the crowd without drawing attention to yourself by how much or how little you're eating, while still losing weight or staying small can also be seen as a huge victory.
The thoughts are what really dictates having an eating disorder, more than weight on the scales.
So does everyone have an ED?
If you look news reports on obesity, tabloids about major weight gain or loss by celebrities, and talk shows, weight is everywhere. And while it can be said that most people do struggle with food issues in some way at some point during their lifetime, it doesn't necessarily mean it's an eating disorder.
Here are some things that if you have experienced them, it's time to have a chat with a trusted friend, doctor, or therapist:
- Constantly thinking about food
- Weighing yourself several times a day
- Feeling guilty for eating
- Avoiding eating around others
- Throwing up on a regular basis
- Excessive exercise that is based on burning the number of calories that you just ate
- Using laxatives other medications to control how much food you consume and process
- Getting defensive and protective over your habits if someone talks to you about them
- Believing that no one else struggles the way you do with food- it just comes so much easier to them
- Eating to cope with your emotions and the events in your life
- Rapid weight loss or gain due to something listed above (Note: if you experience rapid weight loss or gain and you're NOT doing any of the above, then please consult your doctor immediately, some other physical condition may be at play and it's best not to wait.)
Again, if you have experienced any of those things, please consult with someone you trust, just to be safe and healthy. If you're not sure where to start, and you would like a helpful, non-judgmental opinion, you are always welcome to contact me. I'm happy to help and point you in the right direction.