Every day millions of people live with eating disorders. Men and women, young and old, eating disorders are indiscriminate when it comes to ethnicity or economic demographic. However adolescent women are make up the largest portion of suffers of eating disorders. Year on year this is one group where the numbers remain proportionally higher.
The equation that thin is beautiful had typically been the domain of emaciated Hollywood starlets but it is the frightening rise in popularity of reality TV modelling shows that must carry their own portion of responsibility today. The ratings for these shows are worryingly high, especially given how barbaric they are in their treatment of vulnerable young girls.
In one show (Americas Next Top Model, Cycle 12) the appalling line “What have you been eating?” was directed at a contestant (London Levi-Nance, 18 yrs. old) a young woman who had previously openly admitted she had suffered an eating disorder in the past. Obviously it is the height of irresponsibility to posit such a pointed question at a young woman in this position but that it is dangerous, pointedly cruel and unnecessary should also be pointed out. There is no way to misinterpret the derogatory tone of the question and the young lady’s guilt laden defensive response and subsequent tears leave no doubt as to the impact this callous and withering sneer had on her.
Given the proliferation of eating disorders; up to 2000, 00 people are currently engaged in some form of recorded eating disorder in Ireland (Source; Independent.ie), it is imperative that we all inform ourselves as to the nature and danger of eating disorders. Our daughters, sisters, friends and neighbours are squarely in the cross hairs and it behooves each one of us to ensure we are equipped with the information to help them manoeuvre this passage of life armed with the support and knowledge that will safely guide them through.
To begin here are three main types of eating disorders:
• Binge purge Eating cycles
Anorexia or anorexia nervosa is the name given to starving yourself because you believe you are overweight. People who suffer from this disorder are convinced they are overweight and highly restrict their food intake. It does not mean a loss of appetite or interest in food, but it does mean reducing and restricting your food intake to that point of starvation. People who are up to 15% under the medically agreed healthy weight for their height and body type and are dieting by refusing foods may be suffering from this disorder.
Bulimia or bulimia nervosa is characterised by cycles of binging, that is, excessive eating, and then purging yourself of the food by inducing vomiting, taking laxatives or enemas and sometimes by exercising obsessively. The process of ridding your body of the calories eaten is called “purging.”
Those who suffer from Bulimia may repeat the binge purge cycle many times a day. In contradiction to anorexia, sometimes people who have bulimia can go undiagnosed for a much longer period of time. Oftentimes with bulimia, there is no dramatically obvious weight loss and so the condition remains unnoticed by those close to the sufferer. Because the cycle of binge and purge comes with a great deal of shame attached and can take place over such a long period of time, there can often be a compounding of many of the initial psychological issues that contributed to the bulimia in the first place and great deal of work may need to be done to uncover the core issues at heart. Of the two, bulimia is now the most common eating disorder. It is estimated that 2% of Irish adolescent girls may be suffering from bulimia at any given time. (Source, bodywhys.ie)
A point that needs to be made known and that we need to be reminded of is that eating disorders are a potentially life threatening mental illness. They are not a lifestyle choice, a fad or diet gone wrong. We can characterise an eating disorder by looking beyond the average diet to the point that unhealthy preoccupation with eating, dieting, exercise and a distorted sense of body image have taken on significant ramification in a person’s life.
Beyond the two outlined here, there are a large variety of eating disorders, with various different characteristics and causes that can affect a person at any given time. A common theme eating disorders however can be low self-esteem and the eating disorder is an attempt by the person to try and deal with deep rooted psychological issues by engaging with an unhealthy relationship with food.
Again it is so very important to debunk the fairly common misconception that eating disorders are a fad, a choice, or an attempt at attention-seeking. These kinds of misconceptions and judgements serve only to detract from their seriousness of the disorder and blame and further criticism on an already suffering individual. Eating disorders are serious, and potentially fatal, mental illnesses which require intensive psychological and physical intervention. It is common for a person to evolve from one eating disorder to another, and somebody with anorexia may progress into bulimia and or a different binge eating disorder, and vice versa.
Without the correct medical diagnosis and care as well the correct counselling and therapeutic support medical complications including life threatening organ failure is possible.
It is important to remember that person with an eating disorder should not be blamed for having it! Eating disorders are usually the result of a long standing series of complex interactions between social, biological and psychological factors which bring about theses harmful behaviours.
In conjunction with medical care, treatment of eating disorders nearly always includes cognitive-behavioural therapy or psychotherapy like what we offer at Midwest Counselling and Psychotherapy. Sometimes medication may also be needed and in severe cases a cross functional team may need to work hand in hand including hospitalisation combined with psychotherapy. There is some comfort to be taken in that knowledge that eating disorders are treatable, so it is important that we continue to watch out for symptoms among our friends and acquaintances and in particular among young women.
For help in tacking an eating disorder or if you are worried someone in your life has an eating disorder, feel free to call me for an appointment on 087 7097477 or (061)639472.