It is said that four out of ten people either personally suffer from an eating disorder or know someone who has. This would imply that at some point or other, in your life, you would have encountered a person suffering from an eating disorder, whether you were aware of it or not. Sometimes, the person themselves are not aware that they have an eating disorder, until it starts affecting their physical health.
This is very interesting because according to the National Institute of Mental Health, an eating disorder is classified as a severe disturbance to a person’s eating behaviors which include obsessions with food, body weight, and shape. So if that is the case, how do we differentiate from a person suffering from an eating disorder, to simply an adolescent girl who is obsessed with her body shape and body weight? I remember, around the age of fourteen or fifteen, when I was super concerned with my weight and figure. I would take all kinds of measures to ensure I have the body image that I was happy with. So in a way, I was obsessed with my body and my body shape and my body weight. But did I have an eating disorder? I think not! So again, we ask ourselves, what line needs to be crossed, that classifies a particular person as suffering from a psychological disorder?
I personally think that being aware of your body image is not a bad thing. But when doing so, you should make sure that you are being healthy about it. This is where the two differ. At this point we should be clear what the different types of eating disorders are. There are multiple eating disorders out there but the three most common are:
Anorexia Nervosa: people with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. They typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods.
Bulimia Nervosa: people with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This ‘binge-eating’ is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.
Binge-eating disorder: people with binge-eating disorder lose control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese.
Now that we are aware of what the different kinds of eating disorders are, the next step is recovery. The time taken to recover from an eating disorder varies from individual to individual and the path to recovery also varies. However, the very first step that a person suffering from an eating disorder must take is acceptance. In nearly all forms of therapy and counselling the first step is the person must accept that, yes, I do have a problem, and yes, I am willing to seek help and do whatever it takes not only to be physically healthy but more importantly mentally healthy, and only then are they on the right path to recovery.
As important as it is for a person to admit and accept their own problems, it is equally important that their family not only accept as well, but also act as a pillar of support in their recovery. So as a loved one, or a family member of a person suffering from an eating disorder, how can one help? They are not looking to you for help or any form of treatment; they probably have a therapist and plenty of doctors for that. What they are looking for is support. The person suffering from an eating disorder has to be able to rely on you while they are working towards their recovery. They have to feel safe enough to share their feelings without any fear of judgment. They have to know that you are going to be there for them on their good days, but also their bad days. But most importantly, you should be willing to adapt and be patient.
According to statistics, nearly 80% of people, who have suffered from an eating disorder and seek help, recover and lead happy, healthy lives. But there is always a chance of relapse. And so, after recovery, it is vital that one maintains a positive mindset and more importantly learns to be content with their body image, no, be more than just content; fall in love with your body! And this is something that everyone should embrace.
- (2016). https://www.anred.com. Retrieved July 2016, from https://www.anred.com/tx.html: https://www.anred.com/tx.html
- (2016). http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com. Retrieved July 2016, from http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder
- (2012, February). www.nimh.gov. Retrieved July 2016, from www.nimh.gov/health/: www.nimh.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
- (2016). http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/eating-disorder. Retrieved July 2016, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/eating-disorder: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/eating-disorder
[Contributed by Savia Gonsalves, undergraduate student of psychology during her internship.]