1. There are many different eating disorders.
The media shines a lot of light on anorexia and bulimia, but there ARE 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 such as ARFID, orthorexia, and EDNOS too, so shake off your preconceptions!
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 single cause or risk factor that will predict if you’ll develop one, and no checklist for behaviors that everyone diagnosed has to have.
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 eating disorders is NOT based on body size.
What this means is an individual 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 is 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 coexist with anxiety, depression, and trauma. THEY ARE SERIOUS. It’s a mental illness that not only affects thought processes but one’s physical health too.
To give an example, restrictive behaviors literally deprive the body of the normal flow of nutrients needed to survive. If not treated, this could lead to organ failure and death.
5. There’s this weird denial phase.
I mean, who wants an eating disorder right?
Eating disorders are so sneaky and creative. They create the most rational sounding excuses to make you believe you don’t have one.
In recovery, the first step often consists of breaking this ruthless denial cycle and accepting that there is a problem to address and get help for.
6. It’s not just a normal dieting or binging phase.
The line between what is and isn’t disordered is not always super clear. Many people diet and weight loss talk is literally everywhere now.
But one factor that can indicate the presence of an eating disorder is how much mental space those “dieting/binging/lose weight” thoughts consume. Are they 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 silently in 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. “Just eat”-ing, “not eat”-ing, or “eating regularly” doesn’t work.
Why? Because it’s actually not about the food.
Eating disorders are disorders of the emotions where often times, many diagnosed individuals are actually super feelers who just feel emotions way too intensely. By this, I mean like biologically.
Healthy emotion regulation methods were never learned, so resorting to abnormal food behaviors just happened to help us feel better. They were needed to get through life because emotions are a part of life, whether we like it or not.
8. The behaviors aren’t for attention.
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 individuals actually really don’t want attention. They feel bad asking for help and don’t want to be a burden.
The behaviors come about because our brains are actually trying so hard to figure out how to cope independently WITHOUT being a burden.
9. Perfectionism plays a HUGE part.
Perfection is an unattainable illusion.
So eating disorder recovery is actually putting an end to the “it’s only for x more times” or the “until I lose x amount of pounds” because there’s no reaching the goal perfect self.
10. It’s okay to talk about- it helps!
Not talking about it is what gets individuals here in the first place.
Speak your mind and ask whatever questions you have (in a considerate way, of course). Ask us if you’re curious. Ask if you want to support but don’t know how.
It leaves less room for assumptions and shows you care. It’s better to 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 or a loved one may have one, you can find more resources here.