Many people believe that thinner is better.
People with eating disorders believe it so deeply
that their weight and dieting success become that
measure of their self-esteem. Thinking that eating is
the cause and result of many of their problems, they
become trapped in a cycle of repeated, ritualistic,
and rigid behavior focused on food. Eating disor-
ders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race,
ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.
TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS
The most common eating disorders are anorexia
nervosa (self-starvation) and bulimia (binging and
purging). Some experts also consider compulsive
overeating an eating disorder.
People who are anorexic are often thin to the point of
emaciation, but are afraid to gain weight. They may
have symptoms caused by severe weight loss: dry skin
and hair, cold hands and feet, general weakness,
constipation and digestive problems, insomnia, and
absence of menstrual periods. As the weight loss
progresses, more severe problems may develop,
such as increased susceptibility to infections, stress
fractures, severe chemical imbalances, and weaknesses
of the heart muscle that can lead to death.
People who are bulimic may be of average or slightly
above average weight, usually do most of their binging
and purging secretly, and have rapid weight gains and
losses. They purge through self-induced vomiting,
abusing laxatives and diuretics, fasting, or over-
exercising. They are subject to medical problems, such
as dehydration, constipation and digestive disorders,
severe dental problems, and muscle weakness. As
bulimia progresses, ulcers and life-threatening heart
irregularities may develop.
Many people who have anorexia may periodically
binge and purge like those who have bulimia. They
suffer from a combination of anorexic and bulimic
People who compulsively overeat are usually over-
weight and may become obese. As their weight
increases they may begin to suffer from shortness
of breath, high blood pressure, and joint problems.
If they become severely obese, their problems can
progress to life-threatening disorders such as diabetes
and heart and gall bladder diseases.
People with disordered eating patterns that don't fall
into a specific category or don't match all of the cri-
teria listed above have what is classified as EDNOS-- *
eating disorder not otherwise specified. For exam-
ple, someone who suffers from bulimia but has less
frequent binges, or someone who suffers from
anorexia but still has a body weight in the normal
range. Many people fall into the EDNOS category
and should consider the strategies in this brochure.
SIGNS OF EATING DISORDERS
People with eating disorders spend a lot of time
| thinking about eating, food, weight, and body image
| -- they may count and recount the calories in their
| meals, weigh themselves many times a ady, and place
| themselves on severely restricted diets, regardless of
| their weight. They often "feel fat" when their weight
| is normal or abnormally low, or feel uncomfortable/guilty/anxious
| after consuming a normal-size or small meal.
| Generally, they categorize foods as "good" or "bad,"
| and make judgments about themselves based on
| how well they control what they eat. Believing that
| others are also judging them based on their control
| of food, they frequently feel anxious eating when
| people are around.
WHAT CAUSES EATING DISORDERS?
Cultural and psychological issues, personality traits,
and learned behavior all contribute to eating disor-
ders. In addition, some people may have biochemical
imbalances that make them prone to these disorders.
American culture encourages people to base self-
worth on body weight and shape-- if you aren't as
thin as a fashion model or as muscular as a sports
figure, you may see yourself as a less valuable person.
At the same time, food is often used as a source of
love and comfort, and eating is an important part
of social events. The resulting confusion can lead to
conflict about why and when to eat. Both men and
women are susceptible to this confusion, especially
given that physical appearance is viewed as very
important in attracting a partner.
People with eating disorders are often subject to
depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They gener-
ally are perfectionists who feel inadequate, ashamed,
and guilty when they don't measure up to their own
standards-- standards that are often unrealistic and
based on rigid, black/white, either/or thinking.
An eating disorder is also a learning coping skill used
to rechannel, avoid, or forget emotions-- anger,
sadness, anxiety, or even joy-- that feel too threat-
ening. People with eating disorders have learned to
wear "masks" as a way of coping. They may appear
happy but are experiencing a lot of sadness. This
behavior may be learned from family or peers. Often,
- a parent of someone with an eating disorder abuses
- food, alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
DO I HAVE A PROBLEM?
Many people go on diets or overeat once in a while.
If you think your eating is getting out of control or
that food is playing too big a part in your life, use the
questions below to help evaluate your behavior and pinpoint potential problems.
Answer Yes or No:
Y 1. I constantly think about eating, weight, and
Y 2. I become anxious prior to eating.
Y 3. I'm terrified about being overweight.
Y 4. I don't konw when I'm physically hungry.
Y 5. I go on eating binges and can't stop eating until
I feel sick.
Y 6. I often feel bloated or uncomfortable after meals.
Y 7. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about food.
- 8. I weigh myself several times each day.
Y 9. I exercise too much or get very rigid about my
Y 10. I believe that being in control of food shows
other people that I can control myself.
- 11. I have taken laxatives or forced myself to vomit
Y 12. I believe food controls my life.
Y 13. I feel extremely guilty after eating.
Y 14. I eat when I am nervous, anxious, lonely, or
Y 15. I don't think I look good in my clothes.
Y 16. Because of my weight and appearance, I'm more
uptight than I'd like to be around people who I
Look at your answers carefully-- if you decide that
your eating habits are making you sick or simply
keeping you from enjoying life, it may be time to
make some changes. Keep in mind, however, that
the ways you use food come from cultural heritage,
psychological makeup, and years of habit. Take it slow.
Select some strategies from the list to the right...