Eating disorders: “simple” solution, complex issue

Eating disorders can be hard to understand. What seems like a straight forward “skewed vision of one’s body” is rarely this simple.
Providing a fridge full of good food or begging people with an eating disorder to “just eat!” very rarely works. No matter how minor the problem seems to be (and it is common to scoff it off as not serious enough for therapy) professional help is needed to recover. One problem that tends to be underestimated is binge eating disorder. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from BED have the same body image problems as people with anorexia or bulimia.
Why professional help? Because they help the sufferer deal with all the major complexities of an eating disorder. Believing yourself to be “fat” when you are thin (or a normal weight) is only one of the symptoms of an eating disorder. A major component that goes one step deeper is the fact that self-worth is based on weight. The higher the weight, the lower the self-worth. Rather than looking at all aspects of life that make up an evaluation of one’s self, like being a nice person, a good student, a kind daughter/son, punctual, reliable, etc-  weight is the most important aspect.
This is why exploring more than just body weight is needed for recovery. Specialized psychologists and dietitians can help with all behaviors of an eating disorder to help increase other aspects of life that make up self-worth.
When weight loss is the goal, no amount of weight lost is enough. Food becomes feared since it brings the person farther away from their goal of weighing less. This fear can be compared to a fear of dogs. If someone has an intense fear of dogs, they will likely do anything they can to get away from one or avoid being close to one. This intense fear can lead them to do things that puts their life in danger. Imagine running into traffic after being scared by a dog on the street or being confining to the house since there may be a dog outside. Neither of these behaviors are healthy but they are done to avoid the dog. Similarly, if someone is scared of food, they may avoid social situations where food is the main event, live with a dangerously low body weight or even sacrifice their teeth to get rid of any food eaten.
So, would offering food to someone who is scared help to decrease this fear? Well, in the short run, no. It is a process that takes time. Small exposures to the thing that is feared (whether it be dogs or food) and working up to the equivalent to petting a dog works best. Although someone who is underweight would benefit from eating high calorie foods, it takes time to work up to being able to do it. This process is best done with the help of a professional to help guide and provide support. Usually it starts by adding “safe” foods to a routine and progress to more “scary” foods.

One thing that has been proven time and time again, is that returning to a healthy weight by eating the foods your body needs is the most effective treatment for an eating disorder. 

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3 Comments

  1. Having lived most of my life with an eating disorder, the most important aspect of recovery is psychological therapy; rarely is an addiction or disordered eating manifested for the sake of itself. It is 99% of the time a coping mechanism for heavier, deeper-rooted emotional problems. Simply addressing the issue of what we are ingesting too much of or not enough of is like fixing a broken house with a coat of paint.

  2. Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.
    You are absolutely right. I apologize if the reason for & answer to an ED is eating came across as they only aspect of recovery. I often struggle with keeping my blog short and on just one point. Portraying the entire picture of any topic is a challenge.
    I work very closely with psychologists in a few ED clinics and have the utmost respect for what they accomplish in therapy. Psychological therapy is key to recovery and I am happy that it has helped you. It takes courage to seek help.

  3. Amazing post Lisa. With an eating disorder, we tend to overreact to even minor dietary blunders and use them as evidence about our lack of self-control. Because binge-eating behaviors are indefensible and antithetical to our core values, we internalize a sense of being unable to control eating or weight. It is self-fulfilling to binge and then, in an effort to regain control, return to restriction. But restricted eating is difficult to maintain in the face of life’s challenges and negative moods. Binge eating, on the other hand, may temporarily improve a negative mood or serve as a distraction from difficult circumstances.

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