Posts Tagged ‘Eating Disorders’

Episode 21: Eating Disorders and the Holidays

A festive holiday table setting

Episode description:

Kezia Reeder is a former Emily Program client and staff member and a continual advocate for eating disorder recovery. In this episode of Peace Meal, she joins host Dr. Jillian Lampert to describe her holidays with an eating disorder.

“I feel like I was constantly stressed from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve,” Kezia says. “It’s supposed to be a time of celebration and… in the United States, a lot of our celebration centers around gathering for a meal.”

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The Truth About 5 Eating Disorder Myths

5 people in a group therapy setting

An estimated 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. The majority of them do not receive professional care. Many experience shame and stigma because of their illness, and many struggle all alone.

By educating ourselves and others, we can work to reduce stigma and to better understand these complex illnesses that affect so many. Here are five myths and facts about eating disorders.

Myth: Eating disorders affect only thin, young, white women.

Fact: This is the stereotypical image of eating disorders—a thin, young, white woman. It is this woman we’ve seen in media depictions of these disorders and heard about most in common chatter. Even within the field, research has historically focused on clients who fit this profile, in part because white women were (and still are) the most likely to receive care.

But this narrow demographic does not accurately reflect the diversity of those who experience these illnesses. Far from it. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, body sizes, classes, and abilities. They’re not just a “teenager’s problem” or a “white girl’s problem.” They’re not something that affects only wealthy people, or only cisgender people, or only people of any other social group. Eating disorders don’t discriminate in these ways; they span across all social categories.

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Body Checking and Body Avoidance

A person checks appearance in the mirror

Eating disorders are often tied to a preoccupation with shape and weight. This preoccupation commonly manifests itself in distorted thoughts and beliefs, as well as in unusual behaviors around food and eating. Rigid food rules, denying hunger, hiding or stockpiling food, and eating in secret are among the key behavioral signs that may indicate the presence of an eating disorder.

Less-discussed behavioral signs are body checking and body avoidance. While these behaviors are not unique to eating disorders—and not experienced by everyone with an eating disorder—they are common in people with these illnesses. Checking involves the repeated checking of one’s shape or weight, and the other involves the complete avoidance of that behavior.

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Crohn’s, Colitis, and Eating Disorders

A person experiencing stomach pain

We in the eating disorder field are generally wary of restriction. Dieting is a key risk factor in the development of eating disorders, and eliminating it and other disordered behaviors is central to healing. One of the biggest gifts of recovery is the opposite of restriction: a life where food is just food, and all foods fit.

Even so, “all foods fit” does not necessarily mean that all foods fit for all people at all times. Like any pithy “all” statement, this generalization does not represent any unique considerations. For those with special dietary restrictions, all foods quite literally do not fit. For those with allergies and intolerances, some foods are forever off-limits, and those with conditions like type 1 diabetes or celiac disease need to closely monitor ingredients to avoid triggering their physical illness.

Similarly, gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often require dietary restriction as part of their treatment. The relationship with food is especially complicated for people in this situation. IBD symptoms can overlap and interact with eating disorder ones, and there is no one nutritional plan proven to work for all of those suffering.

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“We Can’t Just ‘Quit’ Food”—and Why That’s Okay

A woman in a home kitchen with a plate of food

When eating disorder recovery is compared to substance use recovery, a sharp distinction is often drawn: You can’t quit or give up food, vowing to never touch it again. You can’t cold-turkey it with a pledge of sobriety.

That is to say, the human body doesn’t need alcohol or drugs in the way it needs food. Eating disorder or not, we all need food to survive. It’s one of the few can’t-live-without, most basic human needs. And those recovering from eating disorders need it, too, to heal from their mental illnesses. No matter your restricting, bingeing, or purging history, you do need to eat.

Eating is integral to the process of eating disorder recovery in ways that drinking or using are not part of substance recovery. To assume that recovery would be easier if this were not the case is, of course, an inaccurate oversimplification of the complexity of issues with alcohol and drugs, but the analogy does underscore a reality specific to eating disorder recovery: You face food every day, multiple times per day. You sit in the discomfort of eating a portion right for you, then the discomfort that often follows, then the discomfort that may come with knowing you will do it again. Soon.

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How Do Eating Disorders Affect Relationships?

A young couple

Eating disorders are fierce, all-consuming illnesses. They develop gradually and insidiously, but once formed, impact more than a person’s relationship with food. They damage social relationships as well, affecting far more than the person experiencing the illness firsthand. Parents, siblings, friends, and partners are also subject to the toll of an eating disorder, their relationships with their loved one often strained in its presence. 

Given the secrecy and isolation common to these illnesses, eating disorders are particularly at odds with healthy intimate relationships. These relationships require vulnerability, honesty, and open communication, all qualities that are incompatible with an active eating disorder. The more consumed by disordered behaviors a person is, the more physically and emotionally distant from their partner they often are in turn. In situations where this distance or other relationship distress precipitated the development of the illness, the eating disorder only exacerbates it.

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