When someone thinks of disordered eating, there is a fixed picture in their minds. A skinny, boney girl who has a plate with little-to-no food. We have Tumblr to thank for that, because Anorexia has been infamously glamourized over the course of the years.
Newsflash: eating disorders aren’t just restricted to the girl pictured with salad and dressing on the side. More importantly, there is nothing to be romanticized about them, despite the continuous efforts of the media and the world around us.
There is so much more to eating disorders than what the world knows, and it’s about time that enough awareness is raised upon this topic. We spoke to Noha El Nahas, therapist and founder of Heal Counseling Center, in an attempt to have a deeper understanding of eating disorders.
Here’s a list of things they don’t tell you about having an eating disorder:
with anorexia, it can lead to death, and with bulimia nervosa, it can cause digestive problems that can often lead to cancer, so it is certainly not to be taken lightly
1. Myths & Misconceptions: Sometimes Eating Disorders are About Eating More than About Eating Nothing
An eating disorder requires as much empathy as any psychological disorder does. Some of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders are that “people can get over them on their own.” El Nahas said that, “with anorexia, it can lead to death, and with bulimia nervosa, it can cause digestive problems that can often lead to cancer, so it is certainly not to be taken lightly, not tampered with.” Eating disorders are not easily treated, but they are treatable. Another myth is that they are all of the same severity. On the contrary, an eating disorder lies on a wide spectrum, and depending on the level of severity, treatment plans are set into place. For example, there are mild cases that lie at the beginning of the spectrum and there are severe cases that require hospitalization.
Food consumes every thought of a person struggling with an eating disorder. It is not the pretty type, but rather, it can often take a toll on the emotional, mental, as well as the physical well-being of a person. There are varying types of eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder – which are the most common types of disordered eating patterns. There are new findings to eating disorders, such as pica, rumination disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Eating more is related to bulimia nervosa as well as binge-eating disorders. For these two disorders, vivacious cycles of severe restriction, purging anything that is consumed, as well as a binging and adoption of uncontrollable eating patterns.
People who generally have problems with their self-esteem can more easily fall into the trap of eating disorders than others
2. The Causes of an Eating Disorder Can Be a Mix of Psychological, Biological, and Environmental Factors
According to El Nahas, the causes of eating disorders are most likely a combination of genetic predispositions, psychological traits as well as environmental factors. People who generally have problems with their self-esteem can more easily fall into the trap of eating disorders than others. People who also suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder are more prone to developing an eating disorder as well. For the environmental factors, El Nahas underlined that the majority of the cases she has personally dealt with, have been because of peer as well as family pressures. More often than not, alongside media portrayals and fatphobia trends circulating, young girls are more prone to developing eating disorders because of comments made by their family members – the comfort in their own homes.
A bulimic person can be spotted if a person is done eating a meal and immediately goes to the bathroom
3. Symptoms and Signs a Person Is Struggling with an Eating Disorder
Because eating disorders differ from one person to the other, it is important to recognize that there are different signs and symptoms that showcase a person struggling. For anorexia, the signs include a person losing weight at a significant rate and not in a healthy manner. Moreover, people suffering from anorexia most likely never eat in front of others, and in some cases, can faint at the sight or smell of food. On the other hand, people who suffer from bulimia nervosa are not figure-identifiable, but rather, there are other physical signs that must be diligently identified. For example, their breath smells like vomit from their purging cycles, teeth decay, and suffer from problems in their lungs and throats. A tip El Nahas told us is that a bulimic person can be spotted if a person is done eating a meal and immediately goes to the bathroom. She said that most likely, they are going to the bathroom to vomit.
4. Healing from Eating Disorders Isn’t a Linear Process
Patience is key. If you struggle with an eating disorder, or know of someone who does, it is important to understand that healing and recovery are not easy processes. El Nahas underlined that any type of disorder is vulnerable for lapses and relapses. However, the key is to always be understanding, and always undergo the process of counseling and follow-ups, even if it means starting from the very beginning. Being honest to oneself, as Nahas stated, is super important because it helps us understand the core of the relapse and why it was developed in the first place!
As El Nahas said, people learn and recover through therapy techniques such as CBT and “thought-catching” techniques, which catch the automatic negative thoughts and help destroy them.
Asking for help and recognizing that there is a problem is the first step on the road of recovery.