Choosing to Overcome

Last week's post on eating disorders and living in recovery with an eating disorder seemed to hit home with a lot of folk. I think because so many of us these days have been affected by an eating disorder in some way--either we know someone or know someone who knows someone or we ourselves live with one. And the likelihood is if you haven't been affected, you probably do know someone, you just don't know you know.

So let's be clear before we get any deeper into the conversation, when we talk eating disorders, we're not just talking teenage and early twenties girls anymore. More and more men are developing eating disorders (about 10% of diagnoses in the US), and the average age in women has become incredibly skewed as treatment centers are seeing a dramatic rise in the over 35 crowd and the average age a girl begins dieting has dropped to age 8.

All in all, when we talk eating disorders in the US, we're talking about 7 million women and 1 million men who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. And I believe, millions more who have not been diagnosed.

The official part of those statistics mean one in every 200 women suffers from anorexia and two or three in every 100 women suffer from bulimia.

Those are just the official statistics and do not include statistics on Compulsive Eating (sometimes referred to as food addiction), Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) or other variations on the eating disorder meme.

So again, being clear and trying not to be preachy, you know someone even if you do not know you know someone.

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Most of us are familiar with Anorexia Nervous or Bulimia Nervosa since these are the EDs most commonly depicted in the media.

Anorexia is characterized by extreme thinness, a relentless pursuit of thinness and an unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight, intense fear of weight gain, distorted body image, low self-esteem attached to body perception, denial of low body weight, lack of menstruation and extremely restricted eating.

Bulimia is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. "Binge-eating" is followed by a compensating behavior such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, and/or over exercise.

And here's the two you may not have heard of before--Compulsive Eating and Binge-Eating Disorder (BED).

Compulsive Eating or Food Addiction is characterized by the use of food and eating to hide from emotions, fill a void, or cope with daily stresses or problems in life. Food addicts are typically overweight or obese and are aware that their eating habits are abnormal. (I believe food addiction is highly pervasive in our society and is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.)

BED is characterized by a combination of symptoms typically associated with Bulimia and Compulsive Eating, including large binges, uncontrollably consuming an unusually large quantity of food in a short period of time (less than 2 hours), and eating until they are uncomfortably full. However, people with BED do not purge and are typically overweight or obese. Sufferers of BED, like compulsive eaters, typically use binges as a way to hide from their emotions, to fill a void, or to cope with daily stresses or problems in life.

It's important to note there are several other less common eating disorders such as Sleep Eating Disorder and Compulsive Exercise, but the four listed above are the most well known and commonly recognized among professionals (though Compulsive Exercise is becoming more recognized).

 

At twenty-three years old, after a year in counseling for depression and recurring thoughts of self-harm, I was diagnosed with BED.

Seven years ago, the BED diagnosis was still new on the scene and relatively unrecognized by medical professionals. So admitting to myself it is a thing and a thing I have and a thing I had had since I was probably about ten years old, was difficult to say the least. On top of that most treatment centers and ED specialists were well out of the price range for a recent college grad working for a nonprofit. Getting the help I was finally ready to admit I needed seemed hopeless.

But thankfully, through resources at my church and with the help at the not-for-profit, sliding scale, staffed-with-interns counseling center I'd been going to, I was able to get connected with the best people I could.

My intern counselor handed my case over to the program director who helped me with grace and love and the best kind of support and when the time came handed my case over to a host of new resources when I made the move from Portland to Colorado Springs. (By the way, although the move to Colorado was a great one for me, I do not recommend moving to an unknown place in the middle of a full-blown eating disorder. Just sayin'.)

After two and a half years of therapy and counseling specifically related to ED recovery, I felt I could finally look myself in the mirror without the shame and the guilt prevalent in EDs and appreciate the outside me and the inside me God created me to be.

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As I alluded to in the last post, I do not believe you can be "cured" of an eating disorder. All EDs, no matter what form they come in have their roots in addiction. You cannot erase the pathways created in your brain by those poor coping skills, but you can create new pathways for healthy coping and train your brain to default to those.

Maybe an ED is a bit like cancer. It can go into remission as you get the treatment and help and support you need. And you can enter recovery and be healthy and whole and on the day to day unaffected. But there's always the probability it can return. So you have to be vigilant in how you care for it, always watching out for recurrence.

If you think you know about EDs because of what you've seen in the media, I would caution you to take a step back, research and challenge your own perceptions.

In my opinion, Hollywood tends to glamorize Anorexia and Bulimia and shame Compulsive Eating and BED. Considering Anorexia and Bulimia find their roots in distorted body image and Compulsive Eating and BED find their roots in shame and guilt--this is incredibly harmful. There is nothing glamorous or shameful about having an ED. You've developed a way of coping with life and circumstances in life you do not know how to cope with in any other way. And your way of coping works to a certain extent, but you know it is never enough. You always feel the need to eat a little less, exercise a little more or conversely eat a little more--and then maybe, maybe you'll be able to cope and deal with those feelings you've not been able to deal with.

And it's ineffectiveness at fully dealing with the things you're trying to cope with is also slowly (and sometimes quickly) destroying your body. And destroying your relationships. And destroying your job or school and all the important things in your life.

You've found a way of coping, and coping is good, but there are other, better ways of coping that do not destroy. And I really encourage you to seek out the support you need (or help your loved one seek out support).

Treatment centers, therapists, counselors, support groups, medical professionals. There are so many resources available, but it takes you deciding you want better ways to cope and you want a healthy mind, a healthy spirit and a healthy body.

Again, feel free to email me for support and resources. Or check out a few of my favorite online resources:

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, you can live a better story. But you have to put the pen to the paper and start writing that story.

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Did this post hit home? You might also want to read The Story of Women Overcoming from 8/21/12.