Eating Disorders Q&A
Q: How do I know if I myself or someone I love is suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating issues?
A: If you are searching for information on eating disorders, perhaps you yourself or someone you know might be struggling with bulimia, anorexia, binge eating disorder, or another form of disordered eating or compulsive exercise.
You have taken the first step towards freedom from these devastating disorders!
There are multiple types of eating disorders, and though they may be characterized by differing types of behavior, they each have the same painful root: uncomfortable feelings and emotions that may seem unbearable.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation, distorted body image and excessive weight loss.
• Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, body type, age, and activity level • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat” • Feeling “fat” or overweight despite dramatic weight loss • Loss of menstrual periods • Extreme concern with body weight and shape (source: National Eating Disorder Association)
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Bulimia includes eating large amounts of food–more than most people would eat in one meal–in short periods of time, then getting rid of the food and calories through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over- exercising.
• Repeated episodes of bingeing and purging
• Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness • Purging after a binge, (typically by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting) • Frequent dieting • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
Binge eating disorder, or compulsive overeating, is characterized primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge. People who overeat compulsively may struggle with anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which can contribute to their unhealthy episodes of binge eating. Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity.
Q: What if I think I have an eating disorder but it is not anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder?
A: Eating disorders may be characterized by a combination of symptoms of eating disorder types. What is important is not that you “fit into a specific box”, but that you notice that the behaviors are physically dangerous and that they are causing severe emotional pain.
Other types of eating disorders or related issues may be qualified as: diabulimia (in which people with Type 1 diabetes deliberately give themselves less insulin than they need for the purpose of weight loss), orthorexia (an intense fixation on healthy food), body dysmorphia (where someone is overly fixated on perceived defects in his/her body, and is very concerned with body image), or pica (where someone eats foods that are non-nutritious, such as sand and clay).
Q: Do only women get eating disorders?
A: There is a commonly held myth that eating disorders are “a woman’s problem”. Women are more commonly affected by these disorders, with over 20 million women in the United States reportedly suffering from an eating disorder today. However, over one million men and boys are also currently suffering from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. Men are just as susceptible to society’s messages that they “should” look a certain way — that they should have bulging muscles or that they should be skinny to fit into a stereotype. Pressure from the media combined with self-esteem and body image struggles can easily pave the path to eating disorder development. If you are a male and are struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone, and you are on your way to getting help!
Q: Is it possible to truly recover from an eating disorder?
A: As an eating disorder specialist, I get asked this question a lot. I know how it feels to be deep in an eating disorder and to feel helpless and hopeless about a full recovery. I am here to tell you: you can fully recover from an eating disorder. I have done it! You too can have a life free of destructive behaviors (purging, restricting, bingeing) and can find love and acceptance within yourself. This may take an investment in time and commitment, but it is fully worth it. YOU are fully worth it!
Q: Are you going to make me stop doing eating disorder behaviors right away?
A: Our overall goal is to help you find healthy, sustaining coping mechanisms to heal the inner pain effectively and to live your life. Eating disordered behaviors are destructive to your mind and your body and take your life away from you. In order to achieve lasting recovery, we cannot force you go “cold turkey” and have no more behaviors. This is not realistic, nor helpful, and I am not going to “make” you do anything. Together we will set a structured plan for reducing behaviors gradually until you have been able to effectively replace them with more appropriate ways to soothe your inner hunger. Recovery does not follow a straight line; sometimes it goes in all directions, up and down, but it does get you to the place of recovery. The journey is where all of the healing, changing, and learning happens and we cannot force that to go any way than is natural for you.