Hi y’all! Happy National Eating Disorder Week!
I’ve struggled with anorexia for a good portion of my adolescent life. It’s not fun. I’m (objectively) very thin, but that’s not what I would see in the mirror. I would sit in the tub, watch my thighs bloat underwater, and feel so, so horrible about myself. Nothing would look right on me. I would feel crippling anxiety at the thought of eating in front of people or going to potlucks and parties. I’ve recovered a good amount now, but I still have bouts of restricting, especially if I feel overwhelmed.
It’s hard to talk about because people think eating disorders happen to the vain and the self-obsessed. Especially being a brown girl, when food is such a big part of your culture, it can be hard to explain. And the people I’ve been around in my life are mostly well-intentioned, strong, independent women, but they would see my struggle with my body image as just insecurities and superficiality, that I “as a feminist, shouldn’t care about, because I should know better.”
But I wasn’t vain (well, I am, but not because I have anorexia). I just felt like everything else in my life was spiralling out of control, and I hated myself at times. My coping mechanism was to control what I ate because I couldn’t control anything else. I also felt like I wasn’t good enough, so I should “at least look pretty,” because as a girl, too many people placed importance on me looking a certain way. It was a way to inflict self-punishment. And after I experienced abuse and sexual harassment, I wanted to starve myself until you couldn’t see me anymore. It was a way for me to disappear.
Everyone’s experience with eating disorders is different, but that’s a snippet of mine.
Now, since it’s awareness week, I wanna make y’all a little more aware.
First, let me start with a little overview of various eating disorders and go over some terms.
Anorexia nervosa- People with anorexia restrict how much they eat. They do not eat the number of calories needed every day, and they can form compulsive habits, like over-exercising, or smoking to not feel hungry.
Bulimia nervosa- People with bulimia binge and purge. This means they overeat, and then throw it up. They might abuse pills, laxatives, and alcohol to help them do this.
Binge eating disorder- People with binge eating disorder feel a loss of control, and compulsively eat. They do not purge but still suffer from the same body image issues.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) – This usually refers to people with a “mix” of eating disorders. For example, it could be someone who barely eats, but when they do, they throw up.
(Some) roots of eating disorders:
- chemical imbalance
- stress (familial, environmental, school/ work, personal)
- poor body image due to toxic relationships / toxic family members
- fear of failure, self-hatred, self-pressure
- MEDIA!!! (Even if you think you don’t compare yourself to the skinny models plastered on magazines, we subconsciously absorb at least 500 different ads every day. We all have some bad ideas that have been planted in our brains)
Now, let’s break down some stereotypes about eating disorders:
- Only superficial people form eating disorders.
This is not true! Eating disorders have little or nothing to do with actually being thin. They usually occur as coping mechanisms to certain stressors or trauma. People with eating disorders tend to feel like they can’t control anything in their lives- but at least they can “control” their weights and bodies.
- People that are normal weight or overweight can’t have anorexia or bulimia.
This is a dangerous (yet, unfortunately, highly accepted) notion. Many people who are overweight still display signs of eating disorders. Someone that is overweight can be restricting their calorie intake, and it might go unnoticed because they’re not underweight.
- Men don’t get eating disorders.
NOT TRUE. About 10% of males have eating disorders, and the number is only increasing as the media is beginning to target not only women but men in its quest to ruin people’s body images. Society as a whole believes that men can not get eating disorders, or that they’re “weak” or “feminine,” if they do. This is really harmful because so many men don’t receive or even ask for treatment due to stigma.
- People who have eating disorders should be force-fed as treatment/recovery is a choice.
This was pretty much the most used treatment throughout psychiatric facilities for a long time. This obviously doesn’t help, though, because patients don’t want to eat. Many eating disorder patients who go for treatment just eat while they’re at the unit, and then relapse again when they’re out because the root of the problem didn’t get solved. People with eating disorders aren’t just eating unhealthily. They feel depressed and guilty when they eat. They feel anxious at the thought of eating or being around food. The brain releases dopamine when you do something that you like or that’s good for your survival. For people who don’t have eating disorders, the brain releases dopamine when you eat. That’s why you feel good when you eat chocolate, or when you eat a full meal- it’s vital for your survival. But the right amount of dopamine is not released for people with eating disorders. They do not get that “jolt” that makes them feel good.
- Eating disorders are a “rich person’s” disease
Eating disorders are pervasive amongst most cultures, communities, and countries. As stated above, eating disorders aren’t just formed when people “decide” they want to be skinny. It’s different from dieting. It is a neurological problem, and can, therefore, be found in anyone with that specific chemical imbalance.
I hope this is at least a little informative, and we can have more awareness, understanding, and research surrounding eating disorders.