Feb. 27-Mar. 3 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Eating disorders, which are often misunderstood, are classified as mental health disorders because that is exactly what they are: mental illnesses expressed with disordered eating behaviors.
There are many different manifestations of eating disorders (EDs).
The three main EDs are anorexia nervosa (deliberate starvation accompanied by excessive weight loss), bulimia nervosa (binging on food and then engaging in compensatory behavior such as purging or exercising), and binge eating disorder (periods of out-of-control eating of a large amount of food to the point of discomfort).
Disordered eating does not always fit in any one title. Although EDs are more common among women, men are far from exempt. People can be any weight and have an ED.
Why would such disordered eating develop? In short, disordered eating is the behavior that sufferers use to deal with deeper emotional issues, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. However, all EDs ultimately cause damage to physical health, emotional health, and the sense of self.
EDs are often precipitated by trauma or the accumulation of traumatic events where one feels out of control or is in a situation that causes high anxiety.
Examples of this include transitions, sexual assault, other mental illnesses, and family difficulties. Cultural ideals, dieting, “the war on obesity”, and sports expectations may also contribute to the onset of an ED.
Disordered eating behavior is a way to avoid thoughts and emotions by focusing on things such as food, calories, and weight.
With EDs, the body is viewed as the problem, and thus sufferers try to “fix” the body. Depending on the ED, disordered behavior may act as a high, a form of letting go, a distraction, a communication of anger or hurt, a smaller and less chaotic world, control, and more for the sufferer.
Ultimately, those suffering from EDs deserve understanding, kindness, and support. Just as someone with a broken arm did not choose to have a broken arm, those who have an ED do not choose to have it and are hurting very badly inside.
There are many other considerations and facets of eating disorders, so if you are interested or concerned about yourself or a friend, I encourage you to reach out or learn more because this illness is serious and is nearly impossible to get through alone.