Disorders & Disordered
Eating disorders. These two simple words probably conjure up a many different emotions. They may make you uncomfortable because you don’t know what to do with them. Maybe you are uneasy because you feel I am somehow speaking directly to you. You may even be annoyed, thinking that only teenage girls deal with this and it in no way pertains to you.
Or maybe, just maybe, you are on the verge of hope because finally you are going to hear some truth about this topic.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that if you live in America you deal with some version of disordered eating. While it may not be a clinically diagnosed eating disorder, you probably have a distorted view of food and body image. An overwhelming percentage of us have an unhealthy relationship with food, whether it is eating too little, too much, an obsession with being healthy, or denial, thinking that what we put in our bodies has no connection to emotional issues. It is commonly thought that only women deal with this, but that is simply not true. Before you guys close this page and move on to something else (I know there’s gotta be at least one of you out there), you may find it interesting to know that millions of men and boys battle some form of an eating disorder.
Before we dive any deeper, let’s look at a few different types of eating disorders.
- Anorexia nervosa is a disease characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa are typically underweight and are extremely afraid of gaining weight. They often have a distorted self-image, actually seeing him or her self in the mirror as much larger than they really are. Obsession with eating, food, weight and control in general are common. Anorexia nervosa can disrupt every area of someone’s life.
- Bulimia nervosa characteristics are a little different than anorexia nervosa, and constant food restriction does not occur. People who experience this disease will often binge on unusually large amounts of food (this does not mean the occasional eating too much like everyone does at times), then purge by using laxatives, diuretics, enemas or even extreme exercise. This disease often cycles with binging, purging, vowing not to take those actions again, followed by another binge-purge cycle. During this cycle, the person feels out of control. As similar with anorexia nervosa, control, or lack thereof, is a key component. People with bulimia nervosa are often a “normal” weight, not experiencing extreme weight loss because of the consistent binge but not having a large weight gain because of the purge.
- Binge eating disorders differ only slightly from bulimia nervosa in that people are usually overweight or obese. The purging stage of the cycle is not present; therefore, weight gain results.
- Disordered eating shares characteristics with some or all of the above disorders. The main differences here are the frequency and severity. A few characteristics include dieting, binging, regularly skipping meals, and obsessive calorie counting.
Now that we have defined the most common eating disorders and the difference between an “eating disorder” and “disordered eating,” let’s talk about why this is important. Can you relate to any of the symptoms mentioned above? I’m not trying to make us all believe we have an eating disorder, but I would be surprised if you cannot relate to at least the disordered eating part. We have an unhealthy relationship with food and body image.
Here is the kicker: food has little, if anything, to do with it. Food is only the symptom of an underlying problem.
Before you think I’ve lost it by saying that food has nothing to do with diseases revolving around food, consider this: Why are you restricting food? Why are you purging? Why are you counting calories, constantly dieting, weighing, or taking laxatives? There is a deeper issue. I am not a psychologist. Obviously. But please think about the why behind some of your habits.
As a dietitian, I have spoken with many, many people over the years about their eating habits. When I travel or meet new people I try to avoid a direct answer when asked, “What do you do?” because I often find out what the person sitting next to me on the airplane had to eat for the past two weeks (not that I don’t want to hear about your food habits, my friends. I love to help when I can!).
When I start asking a few questions I quickly come to learn a lot about people’s why. And do you know what? It’s not about the food! Sometimes it goes back to childhood, to an abusive relationship with a parent. Food was the one and only thing that the child had control over. Other times obesity runs in the family and people are afraid of the health consequences of this, therefore, swinging to the other side of the pendulum by following a severe calorie restriction. Another common “why” I hear is that people just want to feel beautiful or worthy and to be accepted by others. For some, there was a certain standard of appearance expected growing up by parents or even by a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. It may be a way to deal with stress or a comfort mechanism, knowing that food will always be there. There are many more triggers for eating disorders and disordered eating. You can see from just a few examples that none of them have to do with food.
One of the many reasons diets and single focus weight loss strategies don’t work is because the root of the problem is overlooked. On the other hand, telling someone who is suffering from anorexia nervosa, to “just eat” doesn’t work either. We want a quick fix, something tangible to cover up an underlying pain. What is your why? Stop now and think about it. Why do you eat what you eat? Why do you restrict, binge, purge, count calories, weigh daily, or take laxatives? Stop now and think about it.
Here is the why for discovering your why: We cannot truly be healthy and take care of our temples until we get to the root of the problem. We cannot be well in the physical until we are whole in the spiritual, mental, and emotional.
I also want to make this point very clear: You are not alone in these struggles. And you cannot overcome them on your own, especially if your why stems from early childhood. I encourage you to get help. Talk with a trusted friend or mentor. You may even need to speak with a counselor or psychologist to work through some deep-rooted pains. And that is OKAY.
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and so is mine. It is a good thing to take care of it! I am not saying to eat without thinking about food or to avoid exercise because we might be purging. Not at all! What I am saying is to come to grips with your relationship with food. Acknowledge it. Find those experiences that you have tried to forget and pushed deep within your soul. Go there. Get the help you need. We will never, ever have a healthy relationship with food, exercise and body image until we answer the tough questions.
Let’s never forget that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remember Psalm 139? Take time to read it again today. Believe what you read. If your worth has been in your appearance, let it go. If your lack of worth has been in your appearance, lay it down. Dig deep, and go to those tough places in your soul. Go there with God. Today is the day to find healing.
We cannot be well in the physical until we are whole in the spiritual, mental, and emotional.