Theres a huge lack of awareness around eating disorders. I do see a shift, however, happening in the media. Celebrating all body types has been a wonderful, much-needed new fad (hopefully one that sticks around).
Even some professionals lack awareness.
Ideally, all doctors/counselors should be educated on eating disorders, but I understand that they have a heavy caseload: dealing with limitless medical issues.
However, specialists in the field have no excuse, and one should not say they “specialize,” unless they have adequate knowledge and experience.
It takes years to become a specialist and you are directly affecting the lives of those suffering from the mental illness. That is a lot of pressure and I admire the individuals who choose to pursue it.
They know how fragile and complicated eating disorders are. They encourage and challenge, and they put up with a lot. They seem to also be constantly learning from patients and evolving themselves as therapists.
(To make a shout out, my life has been forever changed by the professionals at both Mount Laurel Renfrew and Ridgewood Renfrew.)
However, there is one person that did not have such a wonderful impact on me. She was a therapist in a group setting. She was constantly lecturing and not listening to the very crucial things—we as patients—needed to say.
When other therapists/counselors sat with us in a session, I felt as though they were sitting BESIDE us.
This particular woman seemed to sit above us, looking down at her ‘specimen.’
No matter how educated a person is, they cannot possibly understand the ins and outs of an eating disorder unless they have experienced it themselves OR are open to continuously learning from those directly affected—which she wasn’t.
During one of her spiels, she listed symptoms of our eating disorders. As she said “binge” she pointed to the heaviest girl in the room. I saw my friend’s face fill with embarrassment as she realized the therapist was pointing to her. The therapist then mentioned “resticting,” and her finger went to the tiniest person in the room.
Needless to say, this seemingly innocent action followed my friend out the door, as she cried to me in the parking lot. And I’m sure it followed her into the next day as she chose what to (or to not) eat.
That therapists enhanced her feelings of inadequacy. She also validated the impulse to compare herself to others. And she was unknowingly supporting the restrictive mindset. “You aren’t good enough, unless you restrict. And you’re absolutely worthless, unless you LOOK like you’re restricting.”
I wish I was in charge that day, I would have blindfolded everyone, INCLUDING the therapist. Then I’d have everyone list the complex thoughts we have around food. No one would’ve been able to tell who said what. A body type does not define what kinds of urges you have or the symptoms you use.
Blind-folded, we would have all admitted to skipping meals because we didn’t think our bodies NEEDED or DESERVED any more food. We would have all agreed that food is the predominant thought in a day. I’m sure all of us have either experienced vigorous exercising, taking laxatives or attempting to throw up because we couldn’t stop thinking about the calories we consumed. And I know none of us feel completely comfortable eating in public–fearing judgment from others.
No eating disorder can escape restrictive behaviors.. We all feel the same self-loathing shame that comes from eating.. And most eating disorders involve purging (which is not always in the form of vomiting, as we were taught to associate with bulimia).
I am very transparent with my eating disorder. This doesn’t mean I lack embarrassment with all the thoughts and behaviors I share. I am actually highly self-conscious about the things I’ve exposed. But I choose this way of life for a reason. I can’t complain about ignorance, while doing nothing about it.
A common question I get upon revealing that I have/had an eating disorder
(I still have no idea if I consider myself “recovered” or ”in recovery,” that’s a question for another day)
..But everyone wants to know: what kind of eating disorder I have.
People are very kind and always include, “if you don’t mind me asking.”
I absolutely don’t mind discussing anything eating disorder related. If a question is triggering, I would actually like to answer it and let the inquirer know WHY it is so triggering. Or why, perhaps, some others wouldn’t want to talk about it.
I was formally diagnosed by a psychiatrist at 18 years old. I went to him because I wanted to stop binging and purging. He diagnosed me with bulimia.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I had also experienced “anorexia,” in the years prior to that diagnosis.
My junior year of high school, I started dieting with the intention of getting “bullies” off my back.
I wanted to feel better about myself and I didn’t want them to have a reason to make fun of my body.
I counted calories, fasted occasionally and weaved out any “unhealthy” foods I read about. This continued for a while–waaaaay before I binged and purged the first time.
My eating habits were viewed as “normal” by most in high school. (To this day, I see other people engaging in these habits. I don’t have all the answers, and I often wonder: do they have an undiagnosed eating disorder or are they simply missing that addictive gene that I unfortunately have?)
Many of my close friends and family have apologized for not catching onto my eating disorder at that period in time; acknowledging now, that it was disordered.
None of my thoughts/urges or behaviors were actually labeled as disordered—until I made myself throw up.
“Binging and Purging” are the actions that solidified a problem. Now, suddenly, my so-called dieting was labeled as restricting. Because no one can turn a blind eye to self-induced vomiting.
I learned about the negative side-effects of ‘not eating,’ so I slowly replaced my goal of ‘restricing’ with ‘clean’ eating. All of my therapists supported this mentality shift.
Obviously, they were not specialists.
For that reason, I understand why none of them were able to point out how helplessly I clung to a restrictive mindset.
I still counted calories, even if my goal wasn’t to eat as little as possible. I occasionally replaced meals with bars and smoothies. I only ate organic and non-gmo foods. I needed the control of knowing every ingredient going into my body. And I exercised much more often to compensate for the increased intake.
I also lived somewhat of a double life: the foods I ate in secret during a binge and purge episode. And the everyday foods I ate when I was “being good.” I loved myself when I was working out and I loathed myself if I didn’t have the energy for it. My thoughts were so vastly different depending on which version of myself was in control.
That stage lasted for 3 years (until I entered treatment).
Knowing what I know now, the proper therapist would have explained how I was merely finding loopholes in the ‘anorexic’ and ‘bulimic’ illnesses I learned about. My eating disorder was still in full control.
And since I was not seeing a specialist, no one was catching on to these new, sneaky methods.
These behaviors are most commonly known as orthorexia.
However, treatment taught me that the diagnosis doesn’t matter. It is an irrelevant, outdated, and often inaccurate category to place us in.
It has taken many years to put an end to the self-induced vomiting. I live with health issues that can make my urges feel unbearable. Things such as acid reflux and a slow digestive track add to the difficulty of keeping down my food. But I can never use those obstacles as an excuse to purge.
I am very proud of my progress. However, without purging, I’m sometimes left sitting with the embarrassment and discomfort of binging.
Binging has been the last symptom to leave me. And sometimes I feel it’s the most shameful. It’s wrongfully associated with lack of discipline. And I think most of us have heard the VERY ignorant and appalling comment: “I wish I could throw up after eating all that.”
Which leaves someone in recovery wondering, “why on earth would I stop myself now that I’ve binged.. even if it does mean i’m going backwards..”
So now, for me, is the most accurate diagnosis binge-eating disorder?
I don’t want another label. Another diagnosis. Yet another phase of my eating disorder.
But the only way out is through.
Do you see the problem with grouping eating disorders into 3 or 4 various categories?
All eating disorders overlap. There is no prototype. There is no specific code of symptoms that each type of diagnosis engages in. We have ALL been there.
Walk into a treatment center and look around. Most “anorexic” women/men will not show the body type of the actress in “To the Bone.”
Painstakingly OBVIOUS (as the media portrays it) ^
Tell me, is it really that obvious?..^
(Sidenote: I am not against the movie, To The Bone. I support the idea of spreading awareness, but they DID indulge a pretty bad stereotype during casting).
The diagnosis is irrelevant. Even the symptoms themselves aren’t a priority. Dig up the emotions. Find the solution.