The One Where I Talk About Eating Disorders Proper.

17 Sep

A recent post where I discussed body image and my opinions on where our distorted perceptions of body image come from is proving itself fairly popular. Judging by some of the search terms that have led people to it, I’m left to wonder if people are stumbling on it because they are searching for more information about eating disorders in general. As such, I’ve decided to write a post about eating disorders and disordered eating… what they are, and what you can do about them.

If you’re wondering what qualifies me to write about this, I have my B.A. in psychology, and I volunteer for a local eating disorders resource centre. I am in no way qualified to diagnose somebody’s problem for them, or even directly help someone who’s affected, but I believe I am qualified to present this information in hopes of helping someone find the help they need. Here goes…

First, let’s get the really bad stuff out of the way: Eating disorders. Eating disorders and disordered eating are not the same thing (we’ll get to the major differences in a bit). Eating disorders are a problem in the same sense that depression and anxiety are a problem. It’s not something that a person can just get over, or will themselves to recover from. It’s a medical problem, a serious one, that requires the intervention of a doctor or team of doctors. I won’t soften this for you: Your eating disorder can kill you. The stats on deaths related to eating disorders are actually disproportionately low, since the cause of death is generally not the eating disorder itself, but rather a related complication. That is to say, people with eating disorders may die of something like heart failure, as opposed to simple starvation. An eating disorder is not a weight loss strategy so much as it is a long, slow suicide.

A common belief about eating disorders is that they are all about wanting to lose weight. Not true. Eating disorders can develop out of trauma in a person’s history, or it may be a coping mechanism. For example, you can’t control the amount of schoolwork being assigned to you, nor can you really control the grades you receive on your assignments… but you can damn well control what you put into your body.

Eating disorders are extremely difficult to treat and you shouldn’t expect to be able to do it alone.

Disordered eating, on the other hand, is still sinister, but not so lethal. A person with disordered eating may, for example, restrict entire food groups from their diet (so yes, when you went on that low carb diet, you were exhibiting signs of disordered eating) or may exercise compulsively for fear of getting “fat.” Unlike eating disorders, disordered eating is more easily treated. It may have adverse health effects, but disordered eating probably won’t kill you. That said, disordered eating can progress to an eating disorder in certain individuals.

So the question becomes, what do you do in the instance that you or someone you know is suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder? In the case of an eating disorder, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you get help. Do not think you can fix the problem yourself, whether you are the person suffering or it’s a friend you’re worried about. If you are suffering, tell somebody. There are plenty of resource centres where you can get help. Don’t be afraid to “shop around” different counsellors, psychologists, or support groups. Just because a person is a paid professional who is supposed to be able to help you, it doesn’t mean they have all the answers… it doesn’t mean that your personalities will be compatible, necessarily. There are different styles of counselling available out there; one of them is bound to work for you. Find a therapist who you like and who you trust. Try not to get frustrated if the first person you seek help from fails to give you the help you need. Keep reaching out until you get it. Don’t let financial concerns stop you from getting help. If you need a hundred thousand dollars to pay for your therapy, find a way to raise a hundred thousand dollars. I cannot stress this enough: If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you must get help from someone.

A lot of the time, I think people are looking for information on eating disorders not to help themselves, but because somebody they know has a problem, and they don’t know what to do. Here is a list of things you can do in order to support a friend suffering from an eating disorder. This list is in no way exhaustive, but it offers some starting points.

– Confront them gently, but directly, about what you’ve noticed. Don’t be accusatory (ex: “You have a problem and you need to get help!”) but rather, state what you’ve noticed and express your concern and desire to help (ex: “I’ve noticed you’ve been skipping meals lately and I’m concerned about you… how can I help?”). Try not to mention their weight specifically (ex: “You’ve gotten really thin”) as they might take this as a good thing… after all, it proves they’re losing weight, even if you don’t frame it in a positive way.

– Know the local resources and provide them with email and phone contacts.

– Watch your own mannerisms and language and keep it in check. Don’t complain about being or feeling fat. Don’t openly criticize other people on their weight or appearance. What seems like an offhand remark to you might be deeply affecting someone overhearing it.

– Know that there’s only so much you can do, particularly with regard to eating disorders (as opposed to disordered eating). People with eating disorders are often very resistant to trying to get better. You can’t force somebody to heal. All you can do is provide them with your support and contact information for professionals who can help. You have to accept the fact that by confronting your friend, you might get them angry with you… but at least you’ve opened the door to communication, and that’s what really matters. You also have to accept that if you’ve done all you can and they’re still not getting any better, that it’s not your fault. You have to take care of yourself as well. I think this is especially important for parents to realize.

So there you have it. If you stumbled across my little blog in search of information pertaining to eating disorders or disordered eating, I hope this has helped you. For further, much more detailed information, please visit NEDIC;. I am in no way affiliated with them; I simply think it’s a fantastic resource for education and information.

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