Tag Archives: eating disorders

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.


The One Where I Talk About Body Image.

10 Sep

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever met a single woman who is happy with her body, with the notable exception of women whose bodies have just been reduced in some capacity. For example, I’ve known people who have taken up activities like yoga or kickboxing, not because they wanted to lose weight but because they wanted to reduce stress, or feel stronger, or maybe they were just bored. But if they let something slip about any related weight loss, or if you happen to bring it up for some reason, they can’t hide how delighted they are to be occupying a smaller space in the world.

I’ve often wondered before why we have this assumption that thinner is prettier. But then it occurred to me today, we don’t necessarily have that assumption at all… I mean, most of us don’t look at someone who is very thin because they are sick, and think “…Hot,” do we? I think there’s a certain combination of leanness and good health that is truly considered to be covetable. I also think that perhaps our opinions of what constitutes “good health” have become really skewed, and that’s where you start having problems.

I’m not talking about eating disorders necessarily, because eating disorders are a beast of a different nature. The same way your brain can compel a person to pluck out the hairs on their head one by one in times of stress (trichotillomania) or eat things that just aren’t food (pica, which is, I suppose, an eating disorder in itself), so too can it condemn you to a life in which you believe you must be thinner. I’m not trying to argue that societal pressures don’t contribute to the problem; I’m just saying there’s a difference between the girl who won’t eat for days because her dance teacher calls her “thick” versus the girl who just says “shove it” and keeps on eating normally (and perhaps finds a new dance instructor in the meantime). Right now I’m talking less about eating disorders and more about the things that pretty much every girl I’ve ever known says or does.

For example, how many twenty-something average-height average-weight women have told you that they want to lose 10 pounds “for their health”? Nobody’s trying to argue that being overweight is necessarily healthy, but guess what? Neither is being underweight. Neither is yo-yo dieting. And most young people, unless their weight is a substantial problem (over or underweight), are going to be okay in the health department. So when a perfectly average sized friend says to me that she wants to drop 10 pounds “for her health,” call me a jackass, but I’m going to call her out on that. If you want to lose weight, be my guest, try to lose weight… just don’t lie about your motivation, because I’m not buying it. You buy a gym membership for your health. You start buying organic for your health. You don’t decide, at age 21 and 130 pounds, that you’re going to lose 10 pounds for your health. Sorry!

You hear so much about how the beauty industry poisons young girls’ minds by emphasizing rail-thin bodies, but I don’t really get that. Sure, I’d like to see more body diversity in magazines, but it doesn’t make sense to blame skinny models for womens’ seemingly collective low self-esteem. I mean, models are also freakishly tall but at a mere five foot five, I don’t believe I can’t wear the clothes I like because I’m too short; I believe I can’t wear them because I’m too big. And I’m not particularly big, when all is said and done.

Personally I think what we really need to do is lay off the fashion industry a little bit and start going after the diet industry. The fashion industry wants to show you frivolous, pretty things and wants you to believe that a particular garment or brand can shape your whole identity. The diet industry is much more sinister and cuts much deeper. The diet industry wants us to believe that getting thinner, no matter what size you are to begin with, is easy. The diet industry wants us to believe that “thinner” necessarily means “healthier.” And what’s more, the diet industry wants us to fail… because think how much money they would lose if people actually did succeed long-term on these fad programs and fake “food” (they say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but yes, I’m referring to one Dr. Atkins). And so much of dieting and weight loss is caught up in the notions of “success” and “failure.” Make yourself smaller, you’re a winner! But if you fail in doing so… well…

Success. Failure. These are concepts that have far more bearing on what we think of ourselves than superficial words like “thin” and “pretty,” wouldn’t you think? Now you’re not just “untraditionally attractive,” but you’re a failure too. No wonder we’re all so down on ourselves.

Ultimately, I really don’t think that our perception of what is beautiful is what got messed up, because sure, yes, many slender people are beautiful. And just as many slender people are unattractive, as well. Just like you will find beautiful and unattractive people throughout all different demographics, so too will you find them amongst the idealized slender bodies. Just because other shapes aren’t being represented and that’s not fair doesn’t mean that slim people aren’t attractive. The only type of person I feel truly safe in saying is unattractive is a person who is genuinely unhealthy, be they too fat or too thin or somewhere in between. I think attractiveness really adds up to the sum of your parts, and the skinniest body in the world isn’t going to do you much good if your skin is grey and your hair is falling out. I just think that unfortunately, nobody has a clear concept of what is “healthy” anymore. We’ve learned to equate thinness with good health and success, and that’s where we’ve gone wrong. Good health amounts to so much more than just the measurement of your waistline and whether or not you’re an “apple” or a “pear.” What does that even mean, anyway? Last time I checked, I was still a person.

Thin does not mean “healthy.”
Chubby does not mean “ugly.”
Stop thinking of yourself in terms of a piece of fruit.
Stop thinking of yourself in terms of a size.

Is your heart pounding reliably? Do you breathe in and out without thinking about it? Do all your parts seem to function pretty normally, more or less? Do you eat plants every now and again? Can you wiggle your toes? Are you reasonably happy with what you see in the mirror regardless of what Janice Dickinson would say? Then you’re good. Seriously. You’re good. And you’re probably also a lot more attractive than you give yourself credit for.