When Eating Disorders Occur
Sharing a meal can bring us together; favorite foods from childhood can bring back happy memories; or family recipes passed down become family traditions. Food represents culture, community, family, togetherness. But for those suffering from an eating disorder, food becomes the enemy. Something to be feared, avoided, and obsessed about.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder often feels alone. Eating disorders are all consuming and can be a lonely experience. Suffers spend a great deal of time and energy doing eating disorder behaviors or activities, thus isolating them from others. Sufferers also feel intensely negative feelings about self and body, which tends to further isolate them from friends and family. These are the reasons I started an eating disorder recovery group in private practice; to provide a place where those in recovery can come together for support and community.
Eating disorders are one of the most deadly mental health issues, second only to opiod addiction. Depending on the severity of the disorder, those suffering may need to go to a higher level of care than outpatient therapy to start. The media has perpetuated a stigma of a thin, white, privileged female as the only person who suffers from eating disorders, but this is simply not true. Eating disorders do not discriminate; they affect people regardless of race, gender, or economic class.
There are different types of eating disorders. The most common three talked about in the media are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are broken down by different behaviors a person does with food. To give a brief overview, someone suffering from anorexia might restrict food intake even when hungry, a person with bulimia might eat a meal and then purge it, and a person with binge eating disorder might eat a larger than normal quantity of food not based on hunger. Of course, eating disorders are complex and often have more detailed and nuanced symptoms, and I've added links at the end of this article if anyone would like additional resources.
Eating disorders are treatable and those struggling deserve help. The earlier someone gets treatment the better. It's also not uncommon for those suffering to be unsure about getting help in the beginning. Having the support of friends and family during the recovery process is very helpful. Also, finding treatment providers that are specialized is important on account of the specialized needs of the recovery process. In private practice, I often work with dietitians, psychiatrists, and other doctors to collaborate care, which is a must when someone is suffering from a mental health condition that impacts physical health so acutely. With care and support, those suffering can heal and move forward in their lives past the disorder they were once consumed by.
National Eating Disorders Association
National Institute of Mental Health