Introduction To Eating Disorders

We live in an image conscious culture, which urges all of us (especially women) to improve our appearance. The messages sent by magazines, t.v., and other media include "buy certain clothes and products; straighten and whiten your teeth; get rid of your wrinkles; and most commonly, LOSE WEIGHT and you will be happy, admired, and loved." The recent and recurrent debate concerning the unhealthy, stick thin models used in the fashion industry is a perfect example of how strongly entrenched our notion of "thinness equals happiness" has become.

Although many of us would benefit from eating a bit less and exercising more in order improve our health and fitness, simply watching what you eat is NOT an eating disorder. Eating Disorders are potentially life-threatening illnesses which are simultaneously psychological and physical in nature. They are characterized by a range of abnormal and harmful eating behaviors which are accompanied and motivated by unhealthy beliefs, perceptions and expectations concerning eating, weight, and body shape. As a general characterization, individuals with eating disorders tend to have difficulty accepting and feeling good about themselves. They tend to think of themselves as "fat" and "ugly" because of their body size and shape, even when this self-judgment is objectively inaccurate and false. Identifying and defining themselves according to their perceived "fatness", eating disordered people tend to conclude that they are unacceptable and undesirable, and as a result, feel quite insecure and inadequate, especially about their bodies. For them, controlling their eating behaviors is the logical pathway in their quest for thinness.

The current article is designed to provide you with more information about the nature of eating disorders, their causes, potential treatments, and strategies for prevention. This information can be helpful in determining whether you or someone you love has an eating disorder. Before we begin, though, we want to stress two important points:

First, if you (or someone you love) have an eating disorder, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Between 5 and 10 million Americans have anorexia or bulimia and another 25 million suffer with binge eating disorder. Hopefully, knowing that other people have experienced what you are going through, and have gotten better with treatment, will provide you with some sense of hope.

Second, don't rely on your "willpower" to get over this condition. As mentioned previously, an eating disorder is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease. Between 6% and 20% of eating disordered individuals will literally die as a result of their disease. Seek PROFESSIONAL help for yourself or someone you love as soon as possible if you suspect there is a problem.

Comments
  • Tracy

    This site was very helpful on my research paper about eating disorders. thanks. [:

  • beath

    I have been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. My diagnosis did not come until I was in my 30s (I'm now 40). However, I'd been purging since my late teens/early 20s.

    For me it's not necessarily about thinness, but about control. I am overweight right now, but by purging I hoped to bring my weight down. Diet and excersize were failing, and it was the only way I felt I could lose the weight, the only way I had to control the outcome.

    I feel helpless and powerless over my weight, and my life. I hate my body and I hate myself. I don't feel I have control over anything. Purging helps me regain that control.

    Since I began the relationship I am now, I am feeling better about my body and about myself. I haven't purged in almost 6 months. (That is a record for me.)

    I'd be interested to hear about others' experiences.

  • Amy

    Resantly my boyfriend wont eat and he teels me he doesnt need to eat because hes fat. Hes realy not tho. He has got in to his head i wont want to go out with someone who is fat.

    He wont eat weve all tryed to talk to him but he just wont listen.

    He has even fainted once but he said that was because he haddnt had a drink.

    im realy worried and i dont no who to tell or who to talk to

    please help me

    Amy

    Age 15

    :)

  • Sophie

    I've not been eating right for about 4 - 5 years now. The reason for that is because I always got picked on in high school and primary school about my weight, so as you can figure out that is one of the two main reasons why.

    I do not wish to talk about the second reason due to the fact that I'll get emotional about it...... again.

    I know that it is hurting my mum when I don't eat, but I've grown used not eatting that its rare that I will eat.

    I don't get hungry, and when I do eat something for my mum I feel sick after eatting.

    And to be honest, I'm scared.

  • katie

    this website is really great! it has helped me see my self as a skinny girl. i have always thought of myself as fat and ugly. now that i read all those comments i feel bad for those other people. but i hope that they find the help they need. i know i did. katie age 12

  • linzi

    From around the age of about 15 iv had problems with eating,it started of that i used to think i was fat,so id not eat for about two or three days then pig out for mayby one full day then stop eating again,it never come across to me as a problem untill now at the age of 25 i make my self sick when im stressed'angry'upset and when iv bindged.I met my partner around november last year who really wanted me to stop it all for my health,i really tryed and for about two weeks i was only sick three times,but i did go three whole days without eating at one bit,but then i could not go one so since then iv carried on as before and enjoying it to??.my problem now is that i realise i have a problem and its starting to show more than ever but not sure what to do about it as i feel good for a while when im being sick,but most times feel guilty and dirty when eat and when i like to starve myself that is like full control for me.Im not sure whats up with me and think i might need help'do i??.

  • Allan N Schwartz

    Hi linzi,

    In my opinion:

    You have a serious eating disorder and need to get help for it now. It could be Anorexia Nervosa or Anorexia Bulimia Nervosa but, in any case, it is very serious. You could speak to your doctor and get a referral to an eating disorder clinic. I favor your finding a mental health clinic or hospital outpatient clinic for eating disorders because you need the help of a number of professionals: a team, and that is best obtained at a clinic. You could do an Internet search or use the phone book but do it quickly. The sooner you begin the sooner you will be on the road to recovery.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • srry cant tell :D

    i know that many people probably dont watch what they say to people but what they say actually has a big impact on how people think of themselves :S . i know that some people think that what they say and they try to impress their friends. my family used to jk with me in that sort of way saying i was fat to jk with me. i started looking at myself diffrelntly. i wont eat for days at a time and im not ashamed of it :D. i think that if people watched what they said to people and gave them more complaments than insults peole would have felt better and their would be less problems with eating disorders! :D

    many people give me complaments about how skinny i am and they say that im anaretsic at times which i know is true but until i get that from someone in my family i dont think i will ever stop my bad habits. :'(

    the day every1 in my family has given me @ least 1 complament is the day i will feel better and take myself off of the streets and horrible areas

    ill stop being such a slur and give it to my byfriend wat he deserves so he can stop wrrying about me. i lve my sugar baby

  • Trueghostgirl

    I have had a problem with anorexia since the age of 13. I had loved ones tell me I looked chunky. I then subsitituted all me snaking with vegies and fruit. Once I lost the weight I (down to 95 pounds) I began just drinking slim fast all the time. My boyfriend at the time noticed, and really helped me. After that I would go through cycles. Mainly when I was unhappy. I would not eat....not to loose weight but because I was so upset any food would upset my stomach. I would loose 20 pounds at a time during these "cycles" and although loosing weight wasn't the intention people would comment on how great I looked. Thats when I really watched what I ate. God forbid i gain the weight back! I have flucuated between average (135) and underwieght (110) my whole life. I am 5'3" and the last couple years have been the hardest. I feel fat, and disgusting because I'm 135 pounds....although I see other people that weight and think they look great. I am very hard on myself if I eat anything that (in my opinion) is fattening. I have become obsessed with nutrition information, and this is the first time in years I havent been able to loose weight easily (I'm 24 now). Before I use to just eat once a day and drink lots of water and I would loose weight like crazy, now I battle with it. My eating disorder will never go away. No matter how many people tell me I'm beautiful and skinny I never believe it. I even cried when I found up I went up a pants size (pretty sick huh?) I hate shopping because I get anxious from looking at myself in dressingroom mirrors. Alwyas pinching and pulling at my body where I need to loos the weight. It's horrible I feel like I live in my own prison. That unless I'm 115 pounds or under I'm Fat!

  • Layla Steelman

    I am the Mother of a recovering Anorexic and over-exerciser, high achiever and control freak. I was not much different from my 24 year old daughter, except that my eating disorder hit me in my teens and in the "old days ( I am 55 yrs.old) nobody knew abiut eating disorders and how to diagnose them. I checked myself into a mental hospital, without the support of my parents. I think they must have been ashamed of my appearance, as I was nearly 5'5" and I believe that my lowest weight was around 72 lbs. before nearly dying. I was tube fed and was a resident at this facility for some 3+ months and I never looked back on that nightmare. Today I give my daughters respect, love and support for ALL issues, not just with food. My recovering Anorexic is gorgeous, bright and under OUR roof for the time being, due to finances, unemployment and now insurance issues since her lengthy "inpatient treatment". She plans to continue with a Registered Dietitian and Therapist in our area to prevent relapsing. She strictly adheres to her meal plan from her treatment facility and though it is far more calories than she would like to consume, she has NEVER looked better and healthier with glowing skin, sparkling eyes and a strong body that she now likes. She even has perky breasts!( This is an added bonus!) I am urging anyone out there with eating issues, body-image dislikes or any other addiction...seek medical help before it is too late! ED can kill YOU! It nearly took my daughter's life and my own.Love and serenity! Layla Steelman

  • Anonymous-1

    My parents think I have anorexia again, but I have actually gained 7 pounds. I used to weigh 82 and went to the hospital and then an inpatient treatment. Now I am down to 89 again and my parents want me to go back to inpatient. My BMI is not that low ( I am 5'5) but my parents won't listen and I don't know what to do. I'm so fat but my parents can't see it and if they send me back I'll get even fatter. I wish I could just get away from everything

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    One of the things that happen to people with anorexial nervosa is that their mind plays tricks on them. Here is what I mean:

    At five feet five inches tall, a weight of 89 pounds is extremely and even dangerously underweight. Yet, you look in the mirror and see a fat person. You also think to yourself, in horror, "oh, my, I have gained four pounds, I am fat." Your mind is playing tricks on you because you are not fat.

    Does this mean that you need hospitalization? I do not know you and, therefore, cannot make that determination. However, I can say this:

    To remain out of the hospital you need to be seen regularly by a number of professionals:

    1. A licensed Nurtritionist who can weigh you, make meal plans with you and set realistic eating goals for you for each week, 2. A psychiatrist to prescribe medication to treat the depression that always accompanies this eating disorder, 3. An eating disorder specialist who is either a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker to provide weekly psychotheray, and last of all, 4. A medical doctor to keep track of your health, blood presssure, blood chemistry, etc.

    All of these professionals need to work with each other so that they function as a team.

    Please get the necessary help. It can save your life.

  • Anonymous-2

    I'm a 21 year old college student. I've been suffering from bulimia since I was 19. I purge multiple times a day. Iv always been regretful of this and have never confronted it before. Today a friend from high school died from eating disorder complications. I am terribly frightened that my life is at risk. I don't know who to go to. I have never told anyone of my problem. I'm afraid and don't know what to do, I found this while researching the risks I'm taking with this disease. I know my family will support me, I'm afraid my boyfriend might dumb me, wev been dating a year and he's never known of my problem. Iv kept it so secret. Now I'm afraid I need help and I don't know where to start.

  • kayla

    I'm 15 years old and 130 pounds. I think I'd feel happier at a smaller frame. I feel like I'l have to resort to anorexia to be thin. My goal is to be 110, but I'll be happy with 120 (it's healthier anyways). I've been trying to lose weight for about a month now, and it was easy until my first binge. It's a cycle: I lose 5 pounds then binge then gain and repeat. I lost my dad about 9 months ago and dropped 10 pounds. Then I gained it back once school started again. Ever since trying to lose weight all I can think about is food, like when and what my next meal will be. I eat a lot of fruits and whole grains and I drink plenty of water, I even go to the gym a few nights a week, play volleyball, and keep a food diary, but I have no success. I used to feel beautiful, but now i feel fat and I feel negative about myself and my body. I've been reading a lot of prothinspo/pro ana/ pro mia tips and tricks and it seems like the last thing I can do to lose weight. I've been paranoid about my body since I was in 4th grade, but now it is worse than ever, mixed with the depression from losing my dad. How do I stop binging? Is there a way to save myself from becoming anorexic? Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you

  • Erika

    I am 18 years old, and I have been struggling with an eating disorder since I was 13. I have my ups and downs. I'm at a down point right now, and I am having trouble picking myself back up. I encourage everyone struggling with an eating disorder to stay strong. God doesn't make mistakes.

    "Unless you have experienced an eating disorder, you can never understand what a person goes through, nor what it takes to recover. Recovery is not an easy road and at times it may feel impossible, but I WILL continue to battle the demon within me because I know that one day, I WILL be free."

  • Anonymous-3

    I'm a 16 year old diabetic and I have always had issues with my weight. Ever since I was 7 years old, I would watch what I would eat. My family and I would go camping and I would just eat candy the whole time and say "I'm going on a diet when we get home mom!" Or I would run around the whole time and not eat at all but I had no idea what eating disorders were until health class my freshman year at high school. I went into highschool at 4'9 weighing 118 lbs. I fel so fat and disgusting. I learned about anorexia and bulimia in health class and I never thought of trying them until my sophomore year. I began by not eating November 2009 to Feburary 2010. I went into the hospital in Feburary because I wouldn't wake up since my blood sugar dropped too low from not eating. the doctors said I wasn't even taking in enough carbs for one meal the entire day. They made me stay in the hospital and I had 2 eat everything. I then developed bulimia. I would eat a regular meal then purge. My parents caught me and took me to a therapist. I began to binge and purge 4 to 6 times a day. I went down to 97 lbs. It wasnt that low but it was the lowest for me. I almost got went to the eating disorder clinic in Arizona becuase my parents and therapist said I was getting worse. The let me stay because I began throwing up else where like at school or at friends houses or at my local park so they thought I recovered. I'm also a dancer at my high school and they believe its helping me. It is, just not the way they want it to. Im using it as more as a excessive excercise to compliment my binges and purges or my days I go without eating. Its been more than a year since I've started my eating disorder and I'm still binging and purging up to 4 times a day. I even don't eat at all sometimes. I dance 4 hours 5 days a week and I run or walk everyday no matter the weather or How sick I am and only take in as little as 500 calories a day. My family and friends dont know and they see me as a heathly recovered, straight A student in my high school. My junior year is almost ending and im working to stop eating and see how that works out for me because my throat is hurting pretty bad from purging all the time. I don't even know where to begin to get help because I stopped seeing my therapist. My blood sugars are out of control and my dance performances are suffering. Who ever doesnt have an eating disorder should not want one. It doesnt make you beautiful to throw up day after day or starve yourself. Stay as healthy as possible. Do it for those who suffer daily.

  • anonymous

    Hi, I'm 16 years old and have been battling an eating disorder since 7th grade (I'm now in 11th). I was diagnosed with anorexia a few months after I started dieting.My ED started because in the second semester of 7th grade I weighed 104 lbs and my friends weighed 96 lbs. so after that I cut out all junk food. I cut out more and more as the days progressed and was down to about 500 calories a day. my mom, friends, and peers noticed immediately. My friends were concerned, my peers said I looked good (which further worsened my disorder). I had no idea what an eating disorder was at the time. I was just losing weight to be healthy. but then it became an obsession, a demon in my head taht was there at all times. and I always listened to it it was always right (and still is right). 8th grade year I spent my life in outpatient centers and even was hospitalized for 3 weeks, I never saw my weight because everyone hid the scales from me. But I remember going into the hospital I weighed 89 lbs. I have literally been through everything when it comes to anorexia. I can write a book on what I've been through and continue to go through on a daily basis. Since being released from the hospital (Jan 1 2009) I have steadily been gaining weight...now I weigh about 125 and I hate myself, I really do. I really dont mean to brag but I'm first in my class and am on varsity tennis and am class president. it all doesnt matter a single bit to me though because I'm fat. I never believe the compliments I get because to me, how I look isnt acceptable. my face, thighs, stomach, and arms are just so chubby and gross. But I cant do anything about it because everytime I start losing weight, my mom flips out and threatens to take my phone away or not let me go to tennis practice. and i need my phone so I can talk to my boyfriend, the only person that keeps me sane.I so i'm basically stuck here until I graduate. I feels so alone in this house and even thought about suicide. me and my mom are constantly fighting about me eating and restricting...I am her problem child. I have 2 sisters and one brother. my youngest sister is 13, the time I started my eating disorder. she weighs 85 lbs naturally. she eats everything and doesnt gain an ounce. its so hard being in this house with her because I absolutely envy her, but I keep silent. I have no one left to talk to anymore. my boyfriend doesnt understand well enough and my bestfriend that has stuck with me since it all began, well we're really distant now and I know she's sick of the same BS with me, everyone is. I honestly wish I would have died 2 years ago from my eating disorder, I cant stand myself now and cant stand the worry and frustration I put on the people that care about me. Thats why I cannot wait till college, I'll be free (I know I'll be going to UC and live in a dorm). I am going to lose at least 20 pounds and i cant wait. i want my anorexia back. I dont care if I look too skinny, skinny is the only pretty to me. I am so sick of looking in clothing magazines and seeing the perfectly skinny models and I'm sick of being on the verge of breaking down every time I go shopping because whatever I try on makes me look disgustingly curvy. I hate curves, and because of all the weight Ive gained my boobs have got them big and people comment on them all the time at school. I want to be flat. I cant say enough about how discontent I am with myself, its all true. So college is when I will truly get to be myself. I dont care if Im unhealthy. I really dont care whether if I live or die. I just want to be skinny. I want to know the meaning of confidence. I am so embarrassed about how much I have gained since 8th grade. I havent been called skinny in so long, I was just recently called thick actually. so I've had enough. For the time being i have no idea what to do except cry and do homework and constantly have food on my mind. Its a sad truth but its who I am. I used to think it was the eating disorder saying that I was fat but now its me who believes this. I'm done. please dont pity me, I might sound pathetic but its just how I feel. This is my outlet for finally saying my plan for the future. I could write tons more but I think this should do for now. I wish everyone who has an eating disorder a safe and great recovery and to not end up like me,

    thankyou.