This post is primarily to educate. If you wish to skip all the eating disorder facts, I briefly share some of my own story towards the end of this blog post.
An eating disorder is characterised by obsessive thoughts about food and body weight. This includes people who limit the amount of food they eat (Anorexia Nervosa), eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time and then purge (Bulimia Nervosa), or overeat often (Compulsive Eating).
Eating disorders do not discriminate – that is, despite the fact that it is generally believed only females suffer from this mental illness, there are many cases of males also suffering. The prevalence of the condition is higher in females; however, and it is estimated that 8.8% of female adolescents in Australia have an eating disorder. Almost half of these young women also experience high levels of depression and anxiety.
There are many causes of eating disorders, and it is too difficult to do an intricate breakdown of contributing factors. I would like to mention though that despite the belief that the media should bear most of the blame, and despite their influence on society in terms of body image and the like, it is wrong to singularly blame the media for eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia. Other factors leading to eating disordered behaviour also may include family breakdown, physical, sexual or emotional abuse or genetic inheritance. So we can see that there are personal, psychological and social factors all contributing to the continual rise of eating disorders in our society.
Eating disorders can be treated, and treated successfully – hooray! A team of professionals is usually necessary, and should include a psychologist or psychiatrist, a dietitian, nurses and doctors. Hospitalisation may also be necessary, depending on the severity of the weight loss.
“Anorexia Nervosa is a psychiatric disorder characterised by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation and a conspicuous distortion of body image. The individual is obsessed with becoming increasingly thinner and limits food intake to the point where health is compromised. The disorder may be fatal. The name comes from two Latin words that mean nervous inability to eat.” (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)
“Bulimia Nervosa is a serious and sometimes life-threatening eating disorder affecting mainly young women. People with bulimia, known as bulimics, consume large amounts of food (binge) and then try to rid themselves of the food and calories (purge) by fasting, excessive exercise, vomiting, or using laxatives. The behavior often serves to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Because bulimia results from an excessive concern with weight control and self-image, and is often accompanied by depression, it is also considered a psychiatric illness.” (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)
“Compulsive Eating is an eating disorder characterised by continuous or frequent excessive eating over which an individual does not feel he or she has control, and which usually leads to weight gain and obesity. Eating is not connected to hunger, and food intake may be rapid or secret. Compensatory behaviors like purging, laxative use, or excessive exercise do not occur. Generally the amount eaten at any one time is not large; when it is, the disorder is usually called binge eating.”
Primarily, I would like to focus on Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa considering these two illnesses are what I have been dealing with, though Bulimia in more recent times. My eating disorder dates way back to when I was eight years old. I thought that I was fat (when I wasn’t) and have very profound memories of guilt surrounding food. I remember what I weighed when I was ten years old and had a desire to never weigh more than 50kg.
In year eleven, I developed an unhealthy obsession with exercise (sometimes doing up to 30 gym classes, plus running, swimming, bike riding and walking in a week). I restricted my food intake and eventually lost 16kg as a result of starvation – I was within a healthy weight range before I lost any weight. I had an unhealthy fixation with food, weight loss and exercise and became very agitated if I was to miss my heavy exercise regime.
About 7 months later, I started binge eating – I would wake up in the morning and eat 4 packets of porridge and cheese and crackers, before heading to school and walking around with a bloated and ill stomach all day, consuming nothing and doing three hours of exercise at night. I slowly was spiralling out of control. My binge eating was a result of my self-imposed starvation – I was quite malnourished, and my body decided to feed itself, considering I was not.
I gained 10kg in this time, before I started purging through means of laxatives and vomiting. I started to (very slowly, as my metabolism was basically non-existent by this point) lose weight again.
The only way out of the binge / purge cycle is the very thing that is scariest to the anoretic or bulimic – a diet rich in nutritional goodness, that steps out of the ‘safe food comfort zone’ and provides an adequate amount of calories – calories that consist of carbs, fat and protein.
I’m happy to say that I have not binged in a few months! I am able to regularly (every two to three hours) feed my body the food it both requires and deserves. In future blog posts, I will seek to discuss physical complications of anorexia and bulimia, as well as my own experiences with these and also further explain the contributing factors that led to my eating disorder.
I hope I have equipped you with knowledge you have not previously known about the nature of eating disorders so that you too can look out for people in your life who may be susceptible to such a disease.