According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders, approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and related eating disorders. Despite their relative prevalence, many people know very little about eating disorders and the intense challenges they cause.
In my online counseling practice, I spend a great deal of time working with people to overcome the intense psychological challenges that eating disorders present. This week, I want to take a moment to help raise awareness of these debilitating disorders.
1. It’s A Mental Disorder.
Because they are so intensely focused on body image and display very physical symptoms, most people assume that eating disorders are physical conditions. While they do cause very real (and very serious) physical health consequences, the root of the problem is mental, not physical. It is important to address the health consequences that arise, but in order to truly overcome the situation, the mental illness must be addressed directly.
2. Anyone Can Develop An Eating Disorder.
They don’t discriminate. Eating disorders can affect anyone and everyone – the athletic man who is head of his company, the overweight teenage girl who is getting straight A’s, the skinny mother of three kids, and everyone in between. While more women than men suffer from eating disorders in the States, men can be affected by these disorders just as easily. They can also affect people of all races and nationalities. It is important not to make generalized judgments about the people who are affected by eating disorders.
3. It’s Not A Conscious Choice.
Like all mental illnesses, eating disorders are not a conscious choice. Telling an individual who is battling with depression to “get over it” isn’t helpful, and neither is telling someone who is anorexic to eat. People battling with eating disorders aren’t consciously trying to hurt themselves – they’re trapped by a serious mental illness.
4. Anorexia And Bulimia Aren’t The Only Kinds.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the only kinds of eating disorders people commonly talk about, but they aren’t the only types that exist. Other forms include:
- Pica – Eating substances that aren’t really food and do not offer any nutritional value, such as cloth or dirt.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – Eating what appears to be a normal diet, but not being able to keep up with your body’s energy or nutritional needs. This can result in severe nutritional deficiencies or unexplained weight loss.
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder – Displaying some but not all of the symptoms of various eating disorders. These disorders cannot be classified as anorexia, bulimia, pica, or other disorder because not all of the requirements are met, but they can still cause serious problems.
Samantha M. Ruth, Transformational Psychologist
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