DISCLAIMER: By no means are these truths the ONLY truths nor do they all apply to everyone with an eating disorder. It’s just based on my personal experiences, observations, interactions with fellow clients, and what I’ve learned as a psych major, to jumpstart this conversation and provide basics. I’m 100% positive there are many more out there.
1. There are many different eating disorders.
The media shines a lot of light on anorexia and bulimia, but there’s also other ones too. Although often overlooked, binge eating disorder is actually the most common of all the eating disorders, followed by bulimia, and then anorexia. There are also other ones too, such as ARFID, orthorexia, and EDNOS but for now, I won’t go into details and only stick to the basics.
2. Not all eating disorders (even under the same diagnosis) are the same.
One case of anorexia can look completely different from the next. Why?Eating disorders are complex. There’s no one single cause or risk factor that can predict if you’ll develop one, and no clear perfect checklist for what behaviors you’ll have if you do.
Example: For anorexia, one person can be counting calories and severely limiting their food intake while only drinking fluids, while another can be only eating salad, no fluids, and excessively exercising.
There are many MANY combinations of symptoms and behaviors, so just because you know what one person is doing doesn’t mean you know the behaviors of another person with the same diagnosis.
3. The severity of our eating disorder is NOT based on our size.
What this means is we can be at a completely “healthy/normal” weight according to the doctor or online health charts and still be at a very life threatening stage of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are MENTAL illnesses, so although the weight change is a visible symptom, it is not the only symptom and definitely NOT a direct indicator of the severity of the disorder.
Side note 1: Everyone has different body types and shapes so “healthy” can mean different weights and sizes for different people, even if they are the same height and/or age.
Side note 2: You also don’t know if someone has any physical health issues, like those involving their thyroid or digestion, which impact weight too. So please don’t assume/judge someone’s self control based on their size… it can be harmful and well, straight up wrong.
4. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses.
Yes, even higher than depression, bipolar disorder (both of which usually include suicidal ideation), and whatever else you can think of.
Don’t believe me? Read this.
Most eating disorders (at least in my experience) coexist with anxiety, depression, and trauma. THEY ARE SERIOUS. It’s a mental illness that not only affects our thought processes but also our physical healths too.
Speaking from a more restricting (limiting food intake) perspective, it literally deprives our bodies of the normal flow of nutrients they need to survive. If not treated, this deprivation can lead to heart problems/failure and low body temperatures.
Again, just naming a FEW of the many dangers (to keep this brief) and some dangers are diagnosis specific.
5. There’s this weird denial phase.
In my opinion, not everyone goes through this, BUT a lot of us do. I mean, who wants an eating disorder right?
But really though. Eating disorders are so sneaky and creative. They create the most rational sounding excuses to make you believe you don’t have one.
So often, the first step in recovery is actually breaking this ruthless denial cycle and accepting that there is a problem we need to address and get help for.
6. It’s not just a normal dieting or binging phase.
The line between normal dieting/binging and an eating disorder is not always super clear. Many people diet and almost everyone binges every now and then (like cmon, turkey day).
But one factor that can indicate an eating disorder is honestly assessing how much of your mental processes and well, LIFE, the “dieting/binging/lose weight” thoughts consume. Is it distracting you from doing what you need/want to do? How distressed or anxious do those thoughts make you feel?
If you answered “yes” and/or “a lot” to those questions, you may want to consider getting checked by a professional. These thoughts usually occur silentlyin our heads (making these disorders so dangerous because they can slip by and hide) and usually, if and when we voice them, the not normal-ness is pretty clear to others.
7. We can’t “just eat”, “not eat”, or “eat regularly” to get better.
Why? Because it’s actually not about the food. We like food, just like you do.
Eating disorders are (like my therapists always tell me) disorders of the emotions, where often times, many of us are super feelers and just feel emotions way too intensely. By this I mean like biologically, thanks to our darn super fine-tuned nervous systems (ok really though, it can be a blessing too- I’ll do another article later).
We don’t know/were never taught/got to experience how else to regulatethese emotions in a healthyway that works. Resorting to abnormal food behaviors just happened to end up working as a coping mechanism to help us feel better, even if it was only a momentary distraction. It protected us. It reduced stress. We needed it to get through life because emotions are a part of life, whether we like it or not. Can’t unfortunately turn them off (I’ve asked God why to this way too many times).
8. We aren’t doing it for attention.
Okay maybe there are the rare few who are, but I think that’d be a different mental illness.
USUALLY, eating disorders are often also accompanied by the “don’t worry”s, “I have it under control”s, “I’m fine”s, and “I’m okay”s because we actually really don’t want attention and/or we feel really bad just asking for help. We don’t want to be a burden on those around us. So NO, we aren’t doing it to hear the “omg you look good”s (for those of us losing weight) or for vain reasons.
If anything, we’re trying so hard not to be a burden that our brains come up with their own methods to cope independently, even if it physically hurts us a lot and is accompanied by tons of guilt and shame. We hate that we’re doing this and we hate the fact that on the outside, it appears that we only selfishly care about ourselves (our worst nightmare).
9. A lot of us are perfectionists.
We just really want to try our best in everything, which at first sounds good, until you realize, it never ends. Perfection is an unattainable illusion.
So recovery is putting an end to the “it’s only for x more times” or the “until I lose x amount of pounds” or the “after the stress passes, I’ll be fines” because honestly, it never happens that way.
What does happen is we either keep striving for a goal we can never achieve(because it’s unrealistically perfect) or we reach the goal and realize it wasn’t enough, and set a new one. And start over *cringe.
Most of us just need to extend some gentleness and compassion towards ourselves and acknowledge that “hey we tried our best, and it’s enough”. Eating disorder or not, I feel like this is just a human culturally thing.
But for those of us with eating disorders, hearing from others that we just have to do (or not do) something more, like “eat more”, “binge less”, or “don’t throw up” is hard because:
- We don’t blame you for being inconsiderate. We know you’re coming from a good place.
- We blame ourselves. After all, we tell ourselves to do (or not do) what we do, a hundred times a day, and still fail.
10. It’s okay to talk about it with us- it helps!
Not talking about it, is was what got us here in the first place.
It’s honestly still hard for us to voice our struggles without feeling like a burden, but we’re learning that it’s necessary and that it helps, and it’s honestly not as burdensome as we think.
In fact often times, us isolating, hurting ourselves, and not sharing with those who care is more of a burden.
So if you just speak your mind and ask whatever questions you have (in a considerate way, of course), we like it (or at least, most of the time). Ask us if you’re curious. Ask if you want to support but don’t know how.
Why? It leaves less room for assumptions and we appreciate the honesty. Besides, we’d much rather hear that, than nothing at all… the silence is scary, seems like judgment, and makes us want to hide.
Again, this is not an all inclusive list, but I hope it can give you a basic understanding and maybe even get some conversations going!
Please, don’t use this for diagnosis. I’m not a professional (yet) and well, #5. It’s really tricky. If you think you may have one, there’s no harm or shame in getting it checked by a mental health care professional (preferably trained in eating disorders).
If you have any questions/comments or want to add/share your own truths, please comment below or contact me! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂