“This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week so our team at Defying Shadows decided that we would join the discussion and help break down any misconceptions about this disorder. Eating Disorders are one of the many “Shadows” that we want to offer encouragement and help for those who are struggling with these issues.”
Chances are you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Perhaps that person is you. Eating disorders typically affect more females than males, but regardless of gender, they’re serious conditions and have a serious impact on the person and on those in the person’s life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.
Anorexia occurs when a person deprives themselves almost entirely of food. They typically fear food and what might happen if they ingest it. Sometimes those afflicted with anorexia will excessively exercise to counteract even a small amount of food they allowed themselves to eat. Food becomes the enemy and usually the person with an eating disorder sees a heavy person when they look in the mirror, even when their real reflection is that of someone suffering from dangerously low weight.
Because of lack of the nourishment, the person struggling with anorexia may experience lack of menstrual periods, downy hair all over their body, dehydration, cardiac issues, cold intolerance, and of course, malnutrition. They may withdraw from people and activities and have a flattened affect (moody, monotone, lack of any enthusiasm or interest), and may dress in layers of baggy clothing for warmth and to hide their appearance.
Folks struggling with bulimia will often “binge and purge” meaning they will “stuff” themselves to the point of being ill and then force themselves to throw up (purge). Besides weight loss and excessive exercise, other signs of bulimia include teeth marks on the knuckles from putting fingers down one’s throat to induce vomiting. The excessive vomiting can cause mouth and throat sores and in extreme cases, gastrointestinal bleeding. They may also experience cardiac irregularities and menstrual cycle interruption.
Binge eating without purging is yet another type of eating disorder. A binge eater does just that, eats to excess but doesn’t try to “zero out” what they ate by purging or exercising to excess. They binge eat and often that leads to more binge eating to “stuff down” the feelings of guilt and self-loathing or shame one may feel from eating too much the first time. The cycle continues.
There’s evidence pointing towards biological predisposition of eating disorders. When one has a close relative who has suffered from this challenge, one is at times more likely to be susceptible of developing one as well. There are typically psychological and emotional factors heavily involved in one who develops an eating disorder. Often, a person is influenced by perfectionism and societal pressures to be “perfect”, something we know is unattainable. However, it is widely suspected that media and its portrayal of often dangerously thin models and the misuse of altering photos to erase perceived body flaws, is a big contributor to people, especially younger people, feeling inadequate. Media plays a big part in the feelings of low self-esteem many people harbor. They trot out unfair and inaccurate portrayals of the human body often convincing us that we aren’t good enough unless we look that way too. In contrast, there are many societies in our great world that view thinness as unattractive and having a little “meat” on one’s bones is favored.
Sometimes, a person can develop an eating disorder as a form of control. He or she may have been a victim of a traumatic event that was beyond his or her control (abuse, assault, etc.) and one thing that is within one’s control is what goes in one’s mouth. Since a person lost control of his or her life or a large part of it, for example when a relationship ended or parents divorced, this is a way to maintain some semblance of control.
If someone you care about has an eating disorder or you suspect they may, begin a dialogue. Be encouraging and speak in love about your concerns. If the situation has gotten so severe that you’re in fear for their life, seek immediate help through a medical professional, even your own physician, and find out what steps you can take. Be a listening ear and a nonjudgmental shoulder of support for your loved one. Help is available and there is treatment.
If the person you care about who has an eating disorder is you, know that whether you have thirty pounds too many or twenty pounds too few, you are worthy of good things. You deserve good health and happiness. You are not “less than” and society isn’t the yardstick by which you should measure yourself, be it about weight, beauty, intelligence…Be happy in your own skin because whatever that skin looks like, it is beautiful and it is uniquely you.