Eating disorders are a prominent topic in sessions. More often than not, people are not really aware that their behaviors are indicative of disordered eating. It seems that there is a stigma towards eating disorders that does not allow people to think that they could be someone to have disordered eating behaviors or an eating disorder. Eating disorders are very broad and do not always look the same. Also, eating disorders do not always have the same origin story. The motivation behind disordered eating or eating disorders is not just about losing weight or being “skinny”, it is deeper and more complicated than that. Eating disorders are not just based on vanity, but more control. People who have eating disorders do not all look the same or have the same behaviors. According to John’s Hopkins Childrens Hospital research (2022), 30 million people in the US have eating disorders and 95% of them are between the ages of 12-25. Also, eating disorder impact people of all races, genders, and ages. Research also indicates that eating disorders have the highest risk of death of any mental illness. Let that sink in. 95% of 30 million people, between the ages of 12-25, are suffering from eating disorders and disordered eating, and they are struggling with the number 1 killer of all of the mental illnesses!
What is an eating disorder? Eating disorders are not just a diet, or a lifestyle choice, they are a serious and severe mental illness that takes over the person’s life and mental state. Eating disorders are characterized by changes to the person’s thoughts about food, their body, eating behaviors, changes in eating, and compulsive focus on food, body, and weight. Eating disorders surface in different ways. Anorexia nervosa would be restriction in eating, but it is so much more than that. Anxiety about food availability, fears of eating, fears of certain foods, comfort in certain foods, obsessive thoughts about food and when they will eat again, anxiety about eating or changes in their routine. I can tell you, from personal experience, it is so much more than just cutting out food, and it is mentally taxing and exhausting! Eating disorders come in and just take over, they are all consuming. Other eating disorders are; binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, pica, and rumination disorder. While the eating disorders have different names and behaviors, they all act the same in your brain. It is like a computer virus but for your brain, and it just takes over.
Long-term impacts of eating disorders are mental and physical. Eating disorders can reduce fertility in women, they can cause amenorrhea in women, and a loss of testosterone in men. Eating disorders can have lasting impacts on the person’s heart, bone loss, loss of muscle, gastrointestinal problems. Eating disorders can have long-term impacts on our nervous systems, causing nerve damage that affects the brain and other parts of the body, nervous system damage can cause seizures or disordered thinking. Not only physical impacts, social and emotional as well. Eating disorders can make it challenging to attend social events but there will always be food and no control over the food. Going to a party or out to eat with friends can be scary! Emotionally the eating disorders are exhausting and all consuming. While eating disorders can be treated, they never really go away. The behaviors, the thoughts, the feelings, the anxiety, and fear stick around, but there are tools to help reduce all of this. If you or someone you know is exhibiting challenging behaviors regarding food, please reach out to a mental health provider as soon as possible.