Living Beyond Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are an addictive spiral that affects body, mind and spirit. At the core are false beliefs such as “I’m not good enough,” “I have to strive to be the best,” “I need to be in control” or “I’m not special.”
At least 8-10 million Americans face eating disorders – many of them young women. When conditions such as anorexia nervosa take full control, between 5 and 10 percent of those who suffer from it will die within a decade. What’s more, only one in 10 people with potentially fatal disorders seek treatment, and in many cases, they don’t get the level of care they need to turn things around.
Yet recovery can happen, and it starts with greater awareness.
“The best first step for any parent, friend or coworker to make is a private conversation where we express our concerns and really listen,” said licensed professional mental health counselor Mary Dressing, LPC-MH, LN, RD, Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Women’s. “Expressing concern and preparing yourself for a denying, defensive person can be a critical first step.”
The causes may be genetic, cultural, or a combination. “Our culture and its focus on weight and looks is a big part of the problem, too,” Dressing said. “It can set people on a pathway that goes from normal eating to distorted eating to a full-blown eating disorder.”
Eating disorders can strike both males and females and people of all ages, yet women and girls are affected more often. “Unfortunately we’re seeing it in younger and younger boys and girls,” Dressing said. “The best means to stop it is with a team that includes family (especially parents), friends, dietitians, counselors, psychiatrists and physicians.
“There’s tremendous shame and guilt that accompanies the disorder and all decisions are filtered through what we call the ‘eating disorder brain.’ So you’ll see outgoing kids who begin to withdraw or younger women who stop coming to family functions and spend hours at the gym,” Dressing said.
There’s no quick fix and recovery is hard work.
“It’s much like alcohol or drug addiction, but unlike those diseases, we all have to eat, so the threat of relapse can be intimidating,” she said. “We all should know the warning signs and have the bravery necessary to help those in need.
Too many people see a disorder as their means of controlling their lives. We have to reach them and show them they can get that control back without using the false promises that go with an eating disorder.
They can regain that means of self-management and be themselves – but with a healthy approach toward food.”
Eating Disorders: The Facts on Various Types
All eating disorders are serious and if you fear someone you care about has one, show them you care with a private conversation and then get professional help. Here’s a short look at the most common types.
Anorexia: This very-prevalent disorder is almost always the most serious. Intense fear of maintaining a healthy weight leads to self-starvation. People facing it will exhibit extremes in their eating habits.
Bulimia: People with this disorder will cycle between binging on food and later purging it out of their bodies with vomiting or laxatives, at least twice a week for three months. Sufferers usually do not lose as much weight, but tax their bodies due to the stress of these excesses.
Binge-Eating Disorder: This condition is like bulimia without the purging, and people who suffer from it may be overweight or normal weight. It’s used as self-punishment or to fill a void, and the condition is clinically official if it happens twice a week or more over six months.
Compulsive Overeating: In a country where many people are overweight or obese, this condition is commonplace, although this term isn’t used as much as it once was. The disorder revolves around using food as a compulsive means to cope with stress, low self-opinion or other issues.
Orthorexia: This condition often begins in efforts to “eat better” and becomes an obsession with restrictions, some of which can lead to extreme restrictions or a fixation on food purity.