Facing The Stigmas Associated With Eating Disorders

If you regularly read my blog or know me personally, you know I have a heart for those battling eating disorders. I once battled one myself, which of course led me to write a memoirDying to Be Thin. There are many misconceptions about eating disorders, and Michelle Peterson of RecoveryPride.org has written an informative article about more issues that people with eating disorders may face. 

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From Michelle . . .

Eating disorders are complex behaviors that are brought on by psychological disorders and can cause serious impairment to mental, emotional, and physical health. Yet many people remain uneducated about them and continue to assume that they are easily changed. In reality, for individuals suffering with an eating disorder, life can become a near-unbearable arrangement of ways to avoid social situations, shame, depression, and pain.

Negative body image almost always accompanies an eating disorder, and a person living with it will likely not reach out for help. For that reason, it’s important for friends and loved ones to understand what causes these disorders and what the warning signs are. In some cases, the individual will need to seek intensive therapy to get to the root of why they feel the way they do about food and their own bodies.

Warning signs of an eating disorder include:

  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide weight loss or gain
  • Being extremely careful about the food they eat, often choosing non-caloric foods such as plain lettuce or vegetables
  • Eating quite a bit at family meals but excusing themselves immediately afterward to go to the bathroom
  • Showing a decline in physical health, such as sallow or discolored skin and hair loss
  • Suffering big mood swings or displaying disproportionate anger
  • Displaying an obsession with calories and weight
  • Using substances to suppress appetite
  • Exercising compulsively, sometimes for hours per day

It’s important to remember not to approach a loved one who is displaying these symptoms with judgmental statements. There are many causes for eating disorders, and they can affect anyone, regardless of gender or social status.

A subset of people with eating disorders believe they must punish themselves for some transgression—either real or imagined—and may also cut themselves or self-harm in another way in secret. If you believe your loved one is hurting themselves, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and let them know they are not alone. Offer to help them find a therapist or doctor who can aid them on the road to recovery.

Because different eating disorders affect everyone in different ways, it’s imperative to remember that there are also different methods of treatment. Physical health must be a priority, however, as any eating disorder can cause loss of function in various organs and even death if not treated immediately. They can also cause the bones to become brittle, hair to fall out, the heart to slow down, blood pressure to drop, muscle loss, and fainting spells, which can be dangerous in and of themselves.

Eating disorders are not solely the issue of movie stars and models. They are very real problems that affect millions of people every year, in particular young girls and women. Make it a priority to help change the way your loved ones see themselves and each other by exposing them to many different types of people and helping them learn that what we see on television and in magazines is not the real thing.

Michelle Peterson is a recovering addict. Her mission is aligned with that of RecoveryPride.org, which is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it. 

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