National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 25 – March 3, 2019. The theme this year is “come as you are”, encouraging people from all shapes and sizes to share their stories and unify the eating disorder community.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that 1 in 20 people will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While there are several different types of eating disorders, each involves irregular and extreme food and weight troubles. Eating disorders generally affect women more than men, but men are no exception. Though eating disorders usually rear their ugly head in adolescent years, they can continue into adulthood or until they are treated.
Types of Eating Disorders
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa is the most well known eating disorder. It is characterized by self-starvation and a lack of appetite. A person with anorexia may engage in chronic, restrictive dieting, experience rapid weight loss, and suffer from fatigue, depression, and lethargy. In extreme cases, they may even suffer hair loss and impaired cognitive function.
2. Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating is characterized by repetitive episodes of uncontrolled eating, usually in large quantities. A person may continue to eat, even after they feel full, until the point of physical pain or sickness. A person who binge eats may hoard food, eat food in secret, feel a lack of control over the ability to stop eating, and experience weight gain. It is the most common eating disorder among people in the United States.
3. Bulimia Nervosa
Some people who binge eat will follow their eating bout by purging or vomiting. The process of overeating then throwing up is what makes bulimia nervosa unique. The act of binge eating provides comfort, while vomiting provides a sense of one’s control over their weight gain. Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include eating in secret, immediate bathroom use after meals, and experiencing a lack of control when eating.
4. Laxative Abuse
Laxative abuse occurs when a person overuses laxative medication with the intent of purging food and calories from the body. Individuals may believe that this process will promote weight loss, but it can lead to severe health complications such as dehydration and irritable bowel syndrome.
Struggles with Eating Disorders
Professional treatment is extremely beneficial in the case of an eating disorder, as they can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Afterall, one must eat in order to survive, so it can’t be treated with complete abstinence, and it can’t be treated by medication either. If an eating disorder goes untreated, it can be fatal.
In addition, individuals with an eating disorder almost always suffer from a condition called body dysmorphia. With body dysmorphia, a person struggles with an obsession regarding perceived flaws in their appearance. This type of fixation can lead to self-hatred and a relapse into the person’s eating disorder.
With the prevalence of social media, weight loss programs, and medical procedures, society has a sort of obsession with an unrealistic idea of beauty. These societal pressures can place ridiculous expectations on adolescents and teens to engage in risky dieting behaviors, and develop an eating disorder.
While societal pressures surely play a role in eating disorders, many individuals who suffer from this type of condition also suffer from other mental health conditions, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, addiction, or alcoholism. Irregular eating patterns may occur as an attempt to mask one’s feelings, cope with emotions, and regain a sense of control over their life. If there is another condition underlying an eating disorder, it is important to diagnose and treat any co-occurring disorders simultaneously in order to prevent the eating disorder from being triggered again.
Loving Your Body
The first step in recovering from an eating disorder is learning to love your body. Seeking professional treatment can not only equip individuals with proper coping techniques to deal with emotions, but it can introduce people to others who also suffer from an eating disorder. There is a sense of unity and belonging in knowing that you are not alone in your struggles. Like addiction and mental illness, eating disorders are best treated when the individual has a loving, understanding support group to turn to.
Another practice that is beneficial when learning to love your body is positive affirmations. The purpose of using affirmations is to help overcome self hatred or negative thoughts about one’s body. When repeated habitually, these affirmations will turn into truths. This practice has been proven to successfully treat people who suffer from eating disorders, low self esteem, depression, and other conditions.
Through the use of professional help, a support group, and positive affirmations, individuals who struggle with an eating disorder can develop new, healthy lifestyle habits and overcome their eating disorder. With the outrageous images of beauty seen on social media today, it is more important than ever to love yourself for the body you have been given and treat it right.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She advocates breathing the stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.
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