Emotional eating, binge eating, calorie counting, over-exercising, fasting to reduce food intake, overuse of laxatives…. These are all various forms of disordered eating. Many people assume that disordered eating involves starving one’s self or vomiting after eating, however; there is a broad spectrum of eating patterns that can be troublesome.
Psychologists use terms like “Anorexia” and “Bulimia,” which can be misunderstood by the general population. An anorexic individual restricts eating and/or “purges” to a point of being severely underweight and oftentimes results in serious health and medical concerns. An individual who struggles with Bulimia often binge eats (overeats) and then uses any number of methods to reduce the amount of food absorbed. Some of the more commonly observed methods used involve vomiting after a meal, over-use of laxatives, extreme exercise and fasting. Some individuals struggle with extreme overeating without food restriction or purging, which nonetheless represents unhealthy eating patterns. All of these patterns can lead to physical and mental health concerns as well as social problems.
Disordered eating can affect anyone in any social or cultural group. Television, magazines, advertisements and the like often portray unrealistic and idealistic standards of beauty for women. This can cause a lowered sense of self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and a continual obsession with conforming to unrealistic ideals. While the majority of those affected are women (over 90%), men can also be affected.
From plastic surgery to fashion, women are often encouraged to spend time, energy and money trying to meet unfair and impossible standards. One of the main mental health concerns stemming from cultural and social pressure is an obsession with “thinness.” While many women feel the effects of such pressures, there are certain vulnerabilities that increase the likelihood of developing a disordered eating pattern to attain this ideal. Some of these vulnerabilities can include other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, family tension, peer pressure, history of trauma, and/or perfectionistic tendencies.
You may be asking yourself what to do to support a significant other, friend or family member who may display some of these vulnerabilities. Some of the practical things you can do include: avoiding comments or jokes about weight or eating habits, encouraging healthy but realistic eating and exercise, starting a discussion about unrealistic standards of beauty in today’s culture, and communicating openly about body image and acceptance.
If you are wondering if you or someone you care about is struggling with these issues, take a few minutes to answer the following questions.
Do you or someone you care about:
- Ever intentionally force vomiting, use laxatives, or enemas to reduce weight gain?
- Ever exercise to an extreme (hours a day)?
- Regularly skip meals to reduce weight?
- Avoid social gatherings at which food is consumed (holidays, parties)?
- Feel a sense of shame around “normal” food consumption?
- Feel a sense of shame about one’ s body after eating?
- Over-consume food when feeling emotionally upset (angry, sad, lonely, worried)?
- Engage in a rigid and planned eating regimen, such as eating the same few foods every day to determine the exact amount of calories consumed?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, this may suggest the need for a professional consultation to further assess any potential disordered eating.