Talking about eating disorders: Part II

Founded on revolutionary thought and a willingness to attain liberty, America has always been a nation of independent thinkers.

So, why are modern women so attached to a single, virtually impossible standard of beauty?

According to The National Eating Disorders Association, 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance. That means that eight in ten mothers, sisters and daughters wake up every morning, only to find disappointment when they look in the mirror.

This isn’t acceptable.

Even more shockingly, seven million American women suffer from eating disorders. An additional one million men have eating disorders.

This totals just more than the population of Virginia—the 12th largest state.

These numbers are particularly shocking, considering that many of the eight million suffers go unacknowledged.

People with eating disorders are often thought of as gaunt, weak and resistant to food. Although this can be accurate, even people who seem otherwise healthy can be experiencing the mental anguish of eating disorders.

To overview, The National Eating Disorders Association recognizes three different types of eating disorders.
•    Anorexia Nervosa is “characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.”
•    Bulimia is “characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.”
•    Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by “recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.”
•    Orthorexia, which is compulsive healthy eating, and Dibulima, which is a manipulation of insulin levels to control weight, aren’t yet recognized as official eating disorders, but still may have serious consequences to health.

When I was dealing with an eating disorder, there was a period during which I suffered in self-imposed silence. Even when I knew I was on a dangerous path, I didn’t know how to reach out to others for help.

At the same time, I recognize it was equally difficult for my friends and family to know how to reach out to me.

Weight is an undeniably sensitive issue. We learn at young ages that talk about weight is taboo. It doesn’t matter if a woman is skinny or larger; never do you ask about her weight.

This fear about talking about weight can pose a challenge when a friend or family member has entered the territory of a true risk to his or her health.

If you suspect that a loved one is suffering of an eating disorder, proceed with caution before immediately making accusations.

However, many eating disorders stretch on far too long without any help for the sufferer—and, as with many illnesses, the sooner recovery begins, the sooner the eating disorder can be overcome.

Here are some tips on how to help some one with an eating disorder:
•    Continue on with life: Do normal activities, such as playing board games, going to the movies or volunteering.
•    Know there is more to the disorder than eating: Eating disorders are frequently an outlet for other stressors in life. This means that recovery is about more than returning to normal eating habits. Spend time with the person reflecting on their worries, concerns and fears.
•    Respect the individual case: Try and do background research to know what all eating disorders entail, but also be aware that each case is different.
•    Recover together: Overcoming the pain of an eating disorder isn’t just for the individual, but for all people involved. It doesn’t do any good to blame or harbor resentment.
•    Continue to live your life: Set an example by pursuing healthfulness.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and guidance of my friends, family and counselors. It took a lot of courage for someone to speak up and tell me they were concerned. It took a lot of strength to stand by me through my ups and downs. It took a lot of love, patience and compassion… But, I hope they know it was worth it.

For more information, refer to Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (FEAST).

This is the second part of a three part series. Look back to part one, and come back tomorrow for “how to talk with friends and family if you are suffering from an eating disorder.”

Note: I am not a professional and cannot offer any medical advice. My words are only influenced by my own experiences with overcoming an eating disorder.

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