I am slowly announcing new contributors to the blog. One new regular contributer, which you may have seen around here before, will be my friend and fellow Nutritionist, Kelly Boaz. Kelly specializes in eating disorders, and she is a wealth of knowledge. On the blog she will be writing about eating disorders and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Everything Your Health Class Didn’t Teach You About Eating Disorders
Whenever I do talks at high schools on eating disorders, I always start by asking the students what they already know on the subject. While there are usually one or two who are willing to share their more comprehensive knowledge on the subject, the majority of the feedback I get goes something like this:
“Anorexia is when you don’t eat. Bulimia is when you eat a lot, and throw up. And I think there might be another one in there, too . . .”
Sadly, this seems to be about as much as the general population knows about eating disorders, too. And, even more unfortunately, it’s not entirely correct.
Today, I thought I’d give you a little primer in the various types of eating disorders, so hopefully you’ll know if you or someone you love might be suffering.
When people think of anorexia, they tend to think of emaciated bodies who only ingest lettuce. In reality, those battling anorexia have very different eating patterns. Some will focus on low-calorie foods, while others will practice “clean eating”, while others still will eat restricted quantities of higher calorie foods. Some will only restrict, but others will also engage in binging and/or purging symptoms, as well.
While the diagnostic criteria for anorexia puts a big focus on low body weight, people at any size can experience the symptoms of anorexia. Many “weight loss transformation” stories are only achieved through restrictive tendencies that would be diagnosed as anorexia in a smaller body. No matter what size someone wears, anorexia and its associated symptoms can be deadly. In fact, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
This is another misunderstood eating disorder. In fact, a lot of people could be diagnosed with bulimia without even realizing it. Because we tend to associate bulimia with vomiting, it’s easy to forget that there are other methods of purging that are more “socially acceptable”. One of the most common methods of purging is excessive exercise.
Have you ever been bored at home, eaten more food than you’d intended, then worked out extra hard at the gym the next day to compensate for it? You’ve engaged in a form of bulimia. While this must occur at least once a week, and over a period of at least three months to meet the diagnostic criteria for bulimia, it is definitely a warning sign that you may need help with your relationship with food.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder is similar to bulimia, but without the purging factor. If you feel out of control around food, and eat quickly, to uncomfortable levels of fullness, or in secret, you might have binge eating disorder.
People binge for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s for emotional comfort, or out of boredom, but quite often it’s a response to restrictive eating patterns. It happens a lot with people who try to only eat foods they deem “clean”. Say you avoid eating ice cream. You’ve convinced yourself that banana “nice cream” is the same thing. Then, one day, your husband leaves a pint of ice cream in the freezer. You can’t stop thinking about it. You grab a spoon and promise yourself only ONE bite. Next thing you know, the whole container is empty.
This isn’t because you can’t control yourself around ice cream. It’s because you’ve controlled yourself TOO MUCH around ice cream, and this is the pendulum response. It takes a lot of work, but it is possible to be a person who eats ice cream every once in a while, and stops when they’ve had enough. In fact, it’s possible to be a person who has ice cream in the house and just forgets it’s there.
OSFED (Formerly EDNOS)
OSFED is a catch-all term which stands for “Other Specified Feeding And Eating Disorders”. (It used to be known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). This is the diagnostic term for those who meet some of the criteria for eating disorders, but not all. In my experience, most people with eating disorders fall into this category. Being “subthreshold” for any of the other diagnoses doesn’t mean your eating disorder isn’t as severe as that of someone with anorexia or bulimia, it just means that the limited criteria we have don’t account for everyone’s experience.
While orthorexia isn’t an officially recognized eating disorder yet, it affects a lot of people. Orthorexia is a preoccupation with “healthy” eating to the point where it affects a person’s quality of life. In many cases, orthorexia is typified by the removal of food groups from one’s diet. Often, orthorexia is a stepping stone to other eating disorders.
Sometimes known as “anorexia athletica” or “exercise bulimia” this is a preoccupation with exercise that can interfere with normal life, feels out of control, and/or is affecting one’s health.
If you’re feeling out of control in your relationship with food, you don’t have to suffer alone. There is life outside of food prep and calorie counting and hours at the gym. It doesn’t matter if you meet the diagnostic criteria, or weigh a certain number, or wear a certain size, if you’re suffering you deserve help. Reach out. You’re worth it.