Disordered Eating

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In a world with so many voices telling us the “right” way to eat, it’s hard to know what is actually correct. My brain gets frazzled trying to keep up with it all. It’s just so overwhelming.

disordered eating for pinterestI want to do want is right. I don’t want to do what is wrong. My sense of morality becomes interwoven when it comes to eating.

My generation has grown up with the mentality of 1990s diets. Yeah, there were good things, too – like Boy Meets World and Saved by the Bell. Oh, and obviously Full House. But, we were also taught that carbs were bad (Atkins diet) and that we needed to cut out fat. We were told that margarine was always better than butter and that if the package said “sugar-free”, we should go for that brand. Counting calories was a good thing – the less calories, the better.

I’ve learned since that the ‘90s really messed me up as far as food goes. I naturally wanted good food, but somewhere along the way I got confused. I began to see fat as negative, carbs as negative, and even protein as negative. More on this tomorrow.

Today, we are taught better things… but from too many people. You have Paleos, Vegans, Vegetarians. You have the Gluten-Free crowd, the No-Sugar crowd, the No-Dairy crowd. You have the Eat-Mostly-Meat Texans and the other Deep-Fry-Everything Southerners. There are those who believe that the less you eat, the better. Some believe you need to eat more and more, and some even say you should eat whatever you want. You have those who still have the diet mentality – we should always be trying the next big thing to see if that one will work. There is an excess of diet pills, of protein powders, of supplements. What do we choose? Who do we listen to?

We’ve become disordered. Maybe we don’t have an eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean we’re not confused.

The most succinct information I’ve found on Disordered Eating comes from the National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC) based in Australia, so this information comes directly from their website. I recommend going here to learn more. In fact, their fact sheet on disordered eating and dieting is one of the most helpful resources I’ve ever read.

NEDC defines Disordered Eating as “a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern than can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals”. Examples of this might include:

 

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Unbalanced eating, such as restricting a major food group (i.e. fats or carbohydrates)
  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
  • Steroid and creatine use
  • Using diet pills
  • Dieting, which is “one of the most common forms of disordered eating”

 

People with disordered eating patterns might experience some or all of these:

 

  • Fatigue and/or insomnia
  • Overeating, resulting in weight gain
  • Feelings of guilt & of failure
  • Guilt and self-disgust resulting from binge-eating, failure to stay on a diet, or gaining weight
  • May isolate themselves out of fear of social eating
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Impaired emotions
  • Increased thoughts of suicide
  • Head and/or muscles aches
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • May develop or have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder)

Disordered eating is, I guess you could say, the “gateway drug” to eating disorders. It can start with a simple diet. It can start with hearing too many voices and cutting out certain food groups. Have conversations about healthy eating practices – real ones – like eating and balancing fats, carbs, and proteins. Begin to talk about good fats in a positive way – avocadoes, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, milk, yogurt. We can’t tell someone that might struggle with disordered eating that avocadoes have fat, especially if we have a negative tone about it.

Changing our perception of food to a positive one will help yourself and others. I, for one, am trying to shift my views on food. Join me in fighting against the noise surrounding what we should and should not eat. Be a positive voice for those who are struggling.

Bulimia

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There are so many articles, help sites, blog posts, and social media attention surround eating disorders, but I am rarely satisfied when I read them. In the past three years, I have spent hours upon hours trying to get to the heart of it all – to understand and know. It seems like that is the goal of hundreds of researchers and medical writers as well. I want to write posts for myself in hopes of closing the gap that I see in these articles. To combine what we know medically with what we know mentally, physically, and spiritually. It will at least help me, but I sincerely hope it helps you as well, and hopefully someone you know to see themselves in a better light.. Today, we’ll talk about another eating disorder we know about, but don’t really seem to know.

bulimia conversationBulimia nervosa does not take as many lives as anorexia nervosa, but it is somewhere between 4-6 times more common. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, but I’d be willing to guess that there are many, many more people (men and women) struggling with variations of bulimia than we know about. The very word means “to eat like an ox”, referring to the binge-eating sessions in those with the disorder (Abraham 32). It’s a degrading, guilt-filled eating disorder where a person has irregular eating patterns, starving at times, binging followed by purging the food consumed. Many bulimics also have clinical depression and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether depression led to bulimia or vice versa (Abraham 91).

Let’s hear from someone who has lived this, a young patient with bulimia: “I think that I look forward to a binge-eating session. Exactly what I am thinking is vague, but on reflection it is: ‘Oh good, I won’t have to think about dieting any more – what a relief.’ If anything happens which delays the start of the binge I become quite angry and rather rude to the person who caused the delay. This anger is not warranted and is totally inappropriate – it could be likened to a temper tantrum” (Abraham 189).

We know that food is important, logically. We need it to survive. We need fat to absorb vitamins. We need nutrients and we need carbs and we need protein. But, if you are disgusted with the way you look, then that disgust can transfer to food. Wanting to get rid of that – to purge something disgusting can seem like a good idea.

I always wonder if there are triggers for eating disorders. Many sources say that even just being a woman increases your chances of having an eating disorder: New York Times’ Health Guide research shows that about 80% of those struggling with bulimia are female. Personality is a factor, as well as mental illness, cases of early onset of puberty, and having a family member who has battled an eating disorder all increase your likelihood of having one as well (“Bulimia”). But, I want to give you some of the instigators found by professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping those with anorexia and bulimia. The wording is changed, but the ideas come from a wonderful book called Biting the Hand that Starves You.

8 Possible Initiators of Anorexia/Bulimia (Maisel 24-28)

 

Professions/Activities focusing on the body

Feeling like You have no control over your life/body

Professions/Activities encouraging selflessness

Feeling Belittled or Underappreciated

Feeling overwhelmed emotionally

Life Changes

Achievement & Competition

Families promoting perfection, thinness, or guilt

Just knowing the background of someone struggling with bulimia can help us get a handle on not only how to help, but also how to empathize. Sometimes life is just so overwhelming and all of the voices coming from outside you can internalize into something painful before we know it. Someone who feels “underappreciated” might want to change how they look outside so that the person ignoring him/her might begin to recognize them and see value in them. A person who feels like their life is out of control might want to control it in any way they can – which in the case of eating disorders is through controlling food intake and purges.

You and I need to keep up an external view of disordered eating, whether we deal with eating disorders like bulimia, or other issues like disordered eating, negative self-image, or body dysmorphia.

So, let’s start a conversation. I’d urge you to talk to someone – anyone – this week about one or all of these questions. In your speaking, be critical but stay positive.

 

1)      What issues do you think we face in our culture that need to change (Maisel 76)?

 

2)      Do you think self-image is important to talk about? Eating disorders?

 

3)      Talk about some of the 8 instigators of bulimia.

 

4)      What do you think is the relationship between the disorder and the person?

 

5)      Do you know anyone who struggles with self-image?

 

6)      Why do you think someone might struggle with self-image or eating disorders?

 

7)      Where do we need the focus to be when we talk about self-image and eating disorders?

 

8)      What do you think of this quote: “Connecting to one’s spiritual knowledge can provide a person with an elevation from which she can survey her life and her world with a refreshing perspective” (Maisel 173). Do you think there is a relationship between our culture’s problems and spirituality?

You are welcome to have a conversation below or on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on these issues through our Disordered Eating Series.

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References

Abraham, Suzanne and Derek Llewellyn-Jones. Eating Disorders: The Facts, Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press, Inc: New York, 2003.

“Bulimia.” The New York Times: Health Guide. A.D.A.M., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/bulimia/risk-factors.html

Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.

 

Anorexia

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I got on Pinterest just before writing this post – just as a last minute attempt at visualizing the statistics of anorexia. And that is what I expected to find – posts fighting against being emaciated – against anorexia nervosa. But when I searched “anorexia”, I did not find those cute graphics that I was looking for – graphics telling me the percentage of the world population struggling with the disorder and lists of how to combat it.

anorexiaNo. For the first time, Pinterest did not give me what I wanted to see.

I cannot write a light-hearted post about anorexia nervosa because it is a disease that is serious, mentally, emotionally, and physically, down to the soul – to the core of the one who struggles with it. Medicinenet.com defines it like this: An eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder”. This disorder can be fatal.

When you google anorexia, you find help for eating disorders. But on Pinterest, where real people pin and re-pin what they want from the internet, you find tips on how to be as skinny as possible. Just like in magazines and in our society, being skinny is glamourized.

I went through the first 102 pins that came up in my search – just out of curiousity. There were only 16 that had any sort of anti-anorexic mentality – four books about surviving an eating disorder, a sweatshirt proclaiming “I beat anorexia”, and some sad quotes that showed how difficult it is to beat an eating disorder. Only 15% of the first 102 pins were anti-anorexia.

The other 86 pins? On my count, 34 of them were just of underweight girls – some with words glorifying starvation, exercise, or self-hatred. 37 other pins were solely dedicated to losing weight, including “ana tips”. Apparently, chewing ice burns 55 calories per cube.

This post was going to give you statistics and attempt to help readers become a little more aware of what anorexia nervosa is and how difficult it is to overcome. Throughout this week, we’ll look at other eating disorders, so maybe we’ll get a chance to go into that later. But what I want to do today, because it struck me completely down, is go through some of what I’ve seen re-pinned in the last hour.

I pray this shows you more about eating disorders than I could tell you on my own.

The first photo I saw took me by surprise. I kept repeating it in my head, thinking that it mustn’t say what it said: “We never regret eating too little.” A photo of a skinny girl, thighs not touching, face not showing stands in the background.

 

Here is another one: “Have you ever just cried because you are you?” The comment beneath it was this: “I can’t even look at myself because I’d rather die than being me.” Can you imagine the heartache of the girl that pinned this?

 

I am not ‘beautiful’. You don’t see

What I do when I look in the mirror.

You don’t hear the voices in my

Head telling me I’m fat.

 

Don’t tell me I’m perfect just the way I am. I have a mirror.

 

The nagging guilt in the pit of your stomach asking, ‘Why did I just eat that’?

 

I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely.

 

You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.

 

Hungry? Have a bottle of water.

Still hungry? Eat an apple.

Still hungry? Too bad. You need to be skinny.

This one was pinned by a girl whose Pinterest name is “Thin Princess”. She pinned it to her “Motivation” board.

 

How about this saying that you’ve heard before? In this context, it’s a little different: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

 

I feel too fat to have an eating disorder.

 

My problem: I don’t want to eat, but I do, and when I do, I hate myself a little more.

This particular pin stuck out to me: “I don’t care if it hurts. I wanna have control. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul.

In their book on beating eating disorders, Maisel, Epston, and Borden echo this idea that anorexia nervosa, as well as bulimia nervosa, is more than just physical. There is a link that anorexics feel between morality and food. They even say that most of the women with anorexia or bulimia have had a very high level of justice and carried the ideals of helping others in their lifetime, even from a very young age. When their dreams of helping others seem unreachable, it’s their eating disorder that offers “help”. They write that anorexia and bulimia vow to “bring an end to the pain, fear, and despair” by helping one see their “hopes and dreams possible” (Maisel 23). Those with anorexia are good people, like many of us. It’s not a matter of just eating to solve the problem. It’s often a matter of just wanting to perfect themselves in every way, but finding it almost impossible to step away from the harmful aspects of what that perfection demands.

One particular patient, Emily, wrote this at the age of 14. She had been anorexic since age 11. “Anorexia approached me when I was miserable. It told me it could make me feel better. It told me that my fat was making me unhappy. It told me to get rid of the fat and then I would feel better. Basically, Anorexia told me that losing weight would make me feel better, because all of my problems and all my bad feelings were existing because I was fat and ugly. If my fat was gone, all my problems would be gone too. There. There it was… the answer! It all seemed so simple and so perfect and SO EASY. That’s why Anorexia is so appealing. It seems like the perfect solution. It gave me the power I could lose the weight and then I would no longer have any reason to feel bad. I could have reasons to feel good, too, on top of it all. I was really quite impressed and pleased by Anorexia in the very beginning when it first introduced itself. It told me it would make me feel better if I lost weight but it didn’t tell me it would punish me for failing to lose weight. It didn’t tell me how difficult it would be to lose weight. I did eventually realize that if I lost too much weight I might die but by then I didn’t really care. Oh, well, if I die, I die. Big deal. Being thin and beautiful is worth dying for” (Maisel 46).

I want all of these words to help lead you, as they have me, into a greater understanding of eating disorders, particularly anorexia. I want us to be able to see all people – no matter their disorder, their illness, their disability, or their struggle – as just that. People. The struggle those with anorexia nervosa face, from very young ages to much older, is not something we can judge. It’s not something we can understand, but it is something we can identify, help with, and make a small difference.

Here is a simple way you can help. Post and Re-pin positive messages about the body. Don’t let it be you who pins or accidentally supports negative body image. Let beauty be shown in any skin – “fat”, “skinny”, short, tall. Let your messages on the web lead to positive change in the world. Simply doing that can create change.

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References:

Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.