What is an Eating Disorder?
What is an eating disorder? Webster's dictionary describes it as "any of several psychological disorders (such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia) characterized by serious disturbances of eating behaviour." I find that definition lacking. Eating disorders range from excessive dieting to overeating, to starving oneself, to binging, to counting calories obsessively, to purging small amount or binged amounts, to compulsively exercising, to deciding to only eat "healthy foods" and everything in between. Symptoms of an eating disorder can range from light to severe, however no matter the severity they are dangerous and, if continued, become life-threatening.
My eating disorder started when I was around 9 years old. At the time, I didnt know that what I was doing to my body and mind was so dangerous. I was in a place in my life where I felt like everything was out of my control (primarily due to trauma). I wanted so badly to control something in my life, to feel secure and safe. I struggled with body image and self esteem issues due to the trauma as well. Deciding to take control of my food intake was the only thing I could see that I could control at the time. That's how it started for me, however everyone is different. Some start dieting, exercising, or eating "healthy foods" only then quickly the diet etc. becomes out of their control and turns into an obsession.
However they start, know they dont have to be forever. It doesnt have to be a life sentence. I have struggle for 27 years. I have had periods of my life where my ED isn't as much of a struggle and times where I have been extremely ill due to the severity of the ED in my life. I've also had other periods of time where I've gone through recovery and come out the other side feeling confident in what's next, and feeling recovered. A few years ago, I was triggered and fell back into ED behaviours. I knew I needed help and I reached out for it again. My previous experiences with recovery I rushed through programs or was in the hospital. They stuck for a while, however I wasn't actually getting rid of ED. I was suppressing it. Putting it in a cage. Once my mental energy was redirected from keeping the cage locked, ED would get out and start digging in.
This time, I am focused on recovering fully and kicking ED out of my head. I am taking each goal and step one at a time. I know it will take longer, however if it means I can move forward with my life without ED's constant recurrence in my life I am willing to do whatever it takes. Each goal I have I take time to solidify in my life. I'm learning to accept my body and love myself for who I am. I'm learning that I dont have to check myself out in every reflective surface that I pass, or restrict or purge what I eat to manage my weight and control something in my life. I already have that control, even if I dont recognize it. I'm learning what a women's body is, and that our bodies change over time as we age, and that that is completely normal.
People with eating disorders often suffer from body dysmorphia. This is when your mind actually changes what you see. For example, I may look in the mirror and see myself actually change size and get larger. It sounds impossible to wrap your head around if you haven't experienced it, however, often, what someone with an ED sees in the mirror isn't actually what they look like. Imagine going to look at yourself in a funhouse mirror. That is similar to what our brains do to our perception of self when someone is living with an ED. I'm learning to love me! My worth is not based on what I look like! Here's the kicker though – NEITHER IS YOURS!
Eating disorders are serious mental and physical illnesses. If you think you may be struggling with one, or know you are, seek out help! If you think you may know you're suffering again, reach out. (I will include some links available in Canada at the end of this blog for you to get you started.) Physical symptoms of an ED range from feeling lightheaded to death. They can cause dental problems, dry skin, hair loss and so many other physically damaging effects. It's also important to remember that someone with an eating disorder doesnt have to look sick to be sick. It's a common misconception among ED sufferers that ED isn't "that bad" unless you look really thin and sick. It's not true. Your health can be in danger no matter what you look like. It is my hope that this gives you an idea of what eating disorders are. However it's important to note what they aren't – and that is "no big deal!". As I said earlier, but I cant stress it enough, if you or a loved one thinks or knows they have an eating disorder, reach out and get help and support. It will be one of the hardest choices you make in your life, however it will be one of the best! You may not see it right away, that your choice to get help was the right one. Your ED will try to convince you that you are fine. Please remember, though, that that is a lie, a lie meant to keep you trapped and entangled with ED. Push forward everyday to reach your recovery goals. One day, when you look back, you will see that all the pain and stress was worth it to be finally free of the prison an ED keeps you in. I wish you all the best in your recovery.
Written by: Cora Wright