This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and a time for us to start talking more openly about disordered eating patterns. As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is no “normal” amount of food to eat – each of our biochemical and physiological needs are so unique and can be influenced by a host of factors including genetics, the environment, hormonal changes, stress, muscle mass, and so much more.
What I hope to talk about in today’s post is what a normal relationship with food looks like vs. an unhealthy relationship with food. The more quickly an eating disorder is identified, diagnosed, and treated, and the greater the chances are of recovery.
What is disordered eating?
“Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders, but a growing consensus suggests that a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors come together to spark an eating disorder. Once the disorder has taken hold, it can become a self-sustaining process that usually requires professional help and support to recover.”
Types of disordered eating patterns
- Anorexia: characterized by weight loss, difficulty maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature, and a distorted body image. Generally, people with anorexia restrict the number of calories and the types of food that they eat. Read more about the signs and symptoms of anorexia here.
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): characterized by significant weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. ARFID is similar to anorexia, without the distorted body image component. Read more about the signs and symptoms of AFRID here.
- Binge Eating Disorder: characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, a feeling of a loss of control during the binge, and experiencing shame and feelings of guilt afterwards. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Read more about the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder here.
- Bulimia: 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. Read more about the signs and symptoms of bulimia here.
- Orthorexia: While orthorexia is not formally recognized in the diagnostic manual, cases of orthorexia are increasing. Orthorexia is an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating, and can be characterized by a fixation on so-called ‘healthy eating’ to the point of damaging an individual’s own well-being. Read more about the signs and symptoms of orthorexia here.
“Normal” eating vs. disordered eating
Normal eating behaviors and attitudes include (source):
- Eat more on some days, less on others
- Eat some foods just because they taste good
- Have a positive attitude towards food
- Not label foods with judgement words such as “good”, “bad”, “clean”
- Over-eat occasionally
- Under-eat occasionally
- Crave certain foods at times
- Treat food and eating as one small part of a balanced life
Disordered eating behaviors and attitudes include (source):
- Binge eating
- Skipping meals regularly
- Self-induced vomiting
- Obsessive calorie counting
- Self-worth based on body shape and weight
- Misusing laxatives or diuretics
- Fasting or chronic restrained eating
We live in a society that promotes disordered eating
Every single day, we are bombarded of images and messages that promote the ‘perfect’ body. Companies are absolute pros at selling us the products that will help us achieve our ‘dream’ body. The quote above by Dr. Gail Dines (first seen over in this post by Kate) sums up the challenge we all face: LEARNING to LOVE OURSELVES FOR EXACTLY WHO AND WHAT WE ARE.
IF YOU SUSPECT THAT YOU HAVE DISORDERED EATING:
- take this annonymous screening tool
- look for a support group in your area
- contact the helpline
- look for providers to help you with treatment
If you notice any disordered eating patterns but don’t believe you can be formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, I still encourage you to seek out treatment to lower your risk of developing an eating disorder in the future.
What we can do
- Love ourselves as we are and practice these 10 steps to positive body image
- Model healthy attitudes about body image
- Talk about the dangers of dieting