There are people you pass each day that struggle with an eating disorder, whether you know them or not, and whether you know of it or not. There are many misconceptions, stereotypes, and things you probably don’t even know about eating disorders. So…Her Campus UMaine to the rescue!
Here we have an approachable, informational guide to being a great mental health advocate, and maybe even a healthier person. This information is from our experiences, close friends’ experiences and the help of trusty Google for your supply of statistics. Please read, please listen, and please take care of yourself.
*A trigger warning to those of you who have suffered from an ED (eating disorder) or are still suffering from an ED*
- Not every person with an eating disorder is underweight.
One more time, you do not need to be thin to have an eating disorder. The underweight aspect is what can come with the restriction of food, and even then the individual can still be a “healthy” weight (“healthy” meaning society’s recommendation of weight depending on the individual’s BMI). Eating disorders have a spectrum of severity and forms. These include restricting food, purging the food, restricting one or more meals, becoming obsessive with caloric intake, binge eating, abnormal eating habits, and rumination. The illness is a mental factor. The physical aspect (weight loss or gain) is something that can be a consequence of the illness.
- Eating disorders are genetic.
Just like addiction and other mental illnesses, eating disorders are hereditary, such as anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders. WebMD tells us that “…areas on chromosomes 1 and 10 that appear to be significantly linked with anorexia and bulimia,” resulting in the knowledge of seven other genes that can predispose an individual for an eating disorder. It is familial and it is hereditary.
- The “thinness ideal” in many cases is not the cause of an eating disorder
As a culture, we commonly associate anorexia with achieving a thin frame commonly in models and females. As I have approached these two stereotypes as false, the idea that eating disorders are in place to lose weight is also false. Eating disorders are caused by hereditary influences, obsessive personalities, and most commonly the need for control in one’s life. The cause of eating disorders is subjective, and can be due to the pressures of a thin frame, but also other factors. The lack of control or a need of a coping skill is a large underlying effect. Because we are faced with eating each day and it is such a necessary action for function each day, if one were to skip a meal or restrict a food group, control is placed. Many strugglers of E.D. report to feel success in their restriction because it is so hard to do; we get hungry so most of us eat, and by not eating, by completely a hard task, one can feel control.
- The prevalence of “competition” in eating disorders
*HUGE trigger warning here*
In my personal experience with the deep, dark corners of the internet where eating disorder forums run rampant, the concept of a competitive eating disorder is a huge issue. In many “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” (anorexia and bulimia “inspiration”) forums, people would talk about how much weight they had lost, and sometimes how different parts of their body were smaller after extreme restriction. A lot of people in these communities would post photos of their bodies to receive praise from others who were as deep in as I was. The word “thinspiration” comes to mind here.
What’s hard about this facet of eating disorders is that it’s so much more difficult to get help. For some people, the concept of “winning” at having an eating disorder makes them feel more in control and encourages them to keep restricting.
- Physiological symptoms of eating disorders (specific to restriction subtypes)
The physical identifiers of nutrient restriction is extreme hair loss, low blood pressure, falling heart rate, weakness, being unbearably cold (one’s body does not have the fuel to heat itself), anemia from the lack of iron, organ failure, brittle finger nails, dark circles underneath the eyes, inability to fall asleep and stay asleep, women likely stop menstruating, bone density falls, and constipation.
Please honor your body, allow your body nutrients, and know that you do not deserve to suffer from these symptoms.
- A great way to show support to those struggling is…
Being a support system is tough work. Being gentle but forward is important, and to talk openly and honestly is a huge beneficial factor. The person needs to know they are supported, and they need to know the consequences of their self harm. Another key component is patience. Patience is huge, recovery is a long battle, and suggesting to your friend to just “eat”, or getting easily frustrated with the process will not help it along a positive path. Understand that they are going through the necessary process, and the difficult times that come with recovery is part of the process. Getting discouraged concerning relapses and moments of negative thoughts will not help this person. Being understanding, supportive, and giving feedback on how to get back on track after a relapse is what will make you a truly great support buddy! And lastly, that an eating disorder is not about food. It’s more mental than that, food is just an internal weapon.
- Recovery is ongoing.
There was a time during the beginning of my recovery where my mom felt extremely frustrated that I was not better or “fixed.” With all of the doctors appointments, psychiatrists, and peanut butter in my system the first month, she could not understand why I was still struggling, why it was so difficult each day, and why relapses were occurring. We like to think that there is a common solution; humans don’t like gray areas. But like all mental processes, time is an important variable. Rewiring the brain is time-dependent, and is an ongoing improvement and growth. Recovery takes time, and it takes repetition and diligence each day. And each healthy, fought-through day gets you one step closer to that finish line.
- Recovery looks different on everyone.
Your definition of recovery could be completely different from someone else. I struggle with body dysmorphia along with a generally disordered relationship with food. For me, my recovery has taken place in the gym where I am mindful to focus on non-aesthetic goals. This way, I can focus on how my body feels as opposed to how it looks. I’ve also learned after many relapses that the scale does not validate my progress in the gym. In fact, it hinders me from making progress and making me question why my number on the scale isn’t going down.
- Men have eating disorders too.
More than 10 million men are bound to have an eating disorder at some point in their lives (National Eating Disorder Association). Again, this is more than food and appearance. The lack of control and diligence lacking in a person’s life is what can also instill an eating disorder. Eating disorders come in all genders and all sizes.
Men are also far less likely to talk about eating disorders due to societal pressures put on them, as well as mistreatment historically when they have asked for help. In fact, there are multiple recorded instances of men being turned away from eating disorder treatment centers, not being recorded in scientific studies about eating disorders, and bias of ED professionals. Much like mental health, it is important to remember that we have to include EVERYONE in the conversations about eating disorders.
- Social media accounts to follow for body-positive messages, as well as eating disorder support
We indulge in media each day, we see what people are doing, we see what they eat and what they wear and what time of the day they start eating. Diet culture is a scary, scary place. Let’s make sure to protect your brain from any triggering or harmful content.
Here are some of our fave accounts to follow!
-Rebecca Leung (@rebeccajanee), YouTuber who shares her experience through anorexia recovery
– Ben Smith (@benveesmith), a recent Bachelorette contestant who has been open about his struggles with disordered eating and body image issues
– John David Glaude (@obesetobeast), YouTuber who has documented his 180lb weight loss and road to recovery from binge eating disorder
-(@feminist) For body positivity and empowerment
-Ashley Graham (@ashleygraham) Body positive model
-National Eating Disorder Association (@neda)
-(@thegoodquote) Inspiration and empowerment
-Keighty Schmidt (k80schmid) Model who has come out about her eating disorder, mental health activist and very inspirational
-Iskra (@iskra) Plus-sized Aerie model who has opened up about her eating disorder
We truly hope this gave great insight. If you are struggling or know someone that you may feel is struggling please reach out to a licensed physician or call the National Eating Disorder Association Hotline at 1-800-931-2237