“Oh yeah, I used to be anorexic too”
I’m sorry, but no. You didn’t.
I’m not trying to be mean. I’m not ignoring the prevalence, severity, and potential danger of extreme dieting and disordered eating habits. But society seems to have a huge misunderstanding of what an eating disorder actually is. I’ve had people say things to me like “I used to be anorexic, but then I realized how unhealthy I was and I turned it around.” Or “I had an eating disorder for a couple months, but then I decided to stop.” I realize that comments like these are said with the intent to inspire and encourage, but honestly, it’s insulting. It’s like telling someone with brain cancer that you understand what they’re going through because you had a concussion once.
I could show you numbers and statistics. I could show you the research and argue my point. But that’s boring and I’m not a scientist or a psychologist. (If you’re interested, just head over to edbites.com). I can just say from my own experience and research, that eating disorders are a lot more uncommon and a lot more serious than people think.
First of all, there’s disordered-eating, which is actually very different from an eating disorder. Disordered eating can be a reaction to trauma, an attempt to control stressful circumstances, or the result of poor self-confidence and body image. It’s widespread in today’s culture. It’s why girls start dieting at 8 years old. It’s why people skip meals in order to keep their weight in check. Disordered eating can and often does include fasting, binging, purging, and obsession with body image…all the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia…but it doesn’t mean the person has an eating disorder.
Eating disorders look a bit different. An eating disorder is a mental illness that causes serious physical harm and is potentially fatal. Unlike disordered eating, someone with anorexia or bulimia does not choose to engage in such behaviors. Eating disorders aren’t about control, or family issues, or whatever else Dr. Phil has told you. Eating disorders are about trying to silence the noise in one’s head that gets increasingly louder in reaction to food. In order to keep anxiety at bay, the patient will withdraw from social activities, hide food, and develop rigid “food rules.”
Here’s another way to look at it: many people drink alcohol. But not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic.
Similarly, not everyone with disordered eating habits has an eating disorder.
However, it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two; disordered eating can look a lot like an eating disorder. In the end, I know an eating disorder when I see one.
Both issues are important. Both issues deserve attention and action. But it’s well, hurtful, when someone believes that their extreme diet plan is equivalent to my best friend’s 6-year long battle with this illness. Preventing disordered eating, particularly in young girls, is something I am seriously passionate about. But I’m also passionate about shedding light on the world of eating disorders and giving sufferers the treatment they deserve.