Mental Health Awareness Breaking the Stigma: Eating Disorders

I know mental health awareness month is over but this is the final post of the series and I did not want to not include it because it is a category of disorders that resonate personally for me.

Eating Disorders are commonly misunderstood, sometimes people think it is as simple as changing your eating habits, or just a lifestyle choice. This is not true at all. Eating disorders are a disturbance in a person’s eating behaviors that cause serious emotional and physical consequences. The big 3 most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

This disorder is one in which the person suffering sees their body as overweight and continues to restrict food intake. Even as they become dangerously underweight the individual restricts calories to the point where they slowly die of starvation in severe cases. I attended a seminar by the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center where I was able to learn more about their work and how they help individuals with eating disorders. I was shocked to learn this disorder has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder due to the complications medically from starvation and suicide.

This disorder may manifest in several ways, an individual might be severely underweight and continuing to try and lose weight. They might have brittle hair and nails, and also experience osteopenia or osteoporosis. it is common to suffer from anemia and be cold all the time when restricting food intake in anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa

This disorder centers around people eating a large amount of food at once and then sensing disgust from their lack of control, force themselves to throw up the food to restrict their intake. People with this disorder can also use excessive exercise, laxatives in excess, and a combination of all these things and more to compensate for over eating or eating too much. Individuals can be slightly overweight, normal weight, or under weight depending on their severity.

This disorder can cause tooth enamel wear, dehydration from purging, constipation from overuse of laxatives, acid reflux, gastrointestinal distress, and inflamed throat or glands among other complications. This disorder seems to manifest when someone wants control over their food intake but also suffers from the third disorder we will discuss next.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is more common than we realize, in fact it is now being recognized as the most common eating disorder in the United States. It is the lack of control over eating categorized by periods of binge eating often to cope with emotions. Often people who binge eat will do so in secret, in their cars or homes alone and hide the evidence. Binge eating can cause people to be overweight and even morbidly obese.

Symptoms of this disorder include eating a large amount of food over a short time frame within 1-2 hours. Eating even if you are full or not feeling hungry, frequently dieting without results, eating very fast to avoid being seen, eating until you are uncomfortably full, and the biggest sign is being guilty or ashamed about your eating.

This is personal for me…

Unfortunately I am no stranger to trying to cope using food. When I stopped smoking cigarettes, food, particularly candy and sweets became a comfort for me. I had been overweight but I gained and went into the morbidly obese category once I stopped smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. I was depressed and anxious, and unhealthily using smoking and drinking to mask my pain, and when I gave those things up to try and be healthier turning to food was the option I chose. Obviously later I realized this too was unhealthy and so I began dieting and losing weight.

But binge eating still is an issue, when I feel depression sinking in I still go to food for comfort, I feel like battling with food is hard. Food is everywhere, when you quit drugs, alcohol, even cigarettes you can quit cold turkey and not have the items around. It is hard, I know I have done it, but it is not the same as food. Because food is a necessity to live. You have to retrain yourself on how to look at food, and how to manage it, and this is where the lifelong battle in my opinion exists.

The 2 extremes of me.
When I started Weight Watchers in 2010.
In 2013, I was dieting and over exercising at an extreme level to cope with life stress, I was still not healthy but I was weighing a lot less.

As you can see I have battled with binge eating and then later resorting to bulimia tendencies to control my weight using unhealthy methods.

How can I help?

If you know someone battling with an eating disorder I think the best way to help is to not shame them, be empathetic, and point them to some resources to help them begin their own journey to healing. Mental Health Counseling is a great start, finding a counselor who is knowledgable with eating disorders, and helping an individual really uncover the root source of the pain. Eating disorders are often comorbid with other disorders like anxiety, depression and other various mood disorders, sometimes helping someone see that and get to the heart of why they are coping unhealthily can be a large part of the battle. There are several great resources available:

Eating Disorder Helpline 1-800-931-2237

Online Eating Disorder Support Groups

Eating Disorder Hope

One response to “Mental Health Awareness Breaking the Stigma: Eating Disorders”

  1. Thanks for sharing.- the Eating Disorder Hope website is a great tip! Xx Julia and Mae


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