I Had No Idea! Secrets About Eating Disorders

We can't always tell just by looking at someone 
that something isn't right.
There are no excuses for perpetuating misinformation about eating disorders. No justification exists for minimizing eating disorders based on BMI, for generalizing them by age or gender, or for continuing to blame parents for causing them. While the news media may sensationalize and sometimes distort research, social media can fight back to correct misinformation. So read on, and please share!

Today starts a week devoted to spreading the word about eating disorders with the theme “I had no idea!” Thank you NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association and promoter of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, for inspiring this post.
Random thoughts come to mind when I consider what this theme means to me—and what it might mean to you.  My beliefs and knowledge about eating disorders have evolved over many years, to which I credit the Academy for Eating Disorder listserve, the FBT researchers and Laura Collins and FEAST, blogs like Carrie Arnold’s  and my many, many awesome patients and colleagues. 

What I’ve learned over the decades

Got your period? This doesn’t minimize your diagnosis of anorexia, if you meet the other criteria. And resuming menses after being without a period does not mean you have fully recovered. No, the work is not yet done.

Obese and anorexic? How can that be? You do not need to be below the BMI chart to meet criteria for anorexia. Really. Unfortunately, you are the ones who most often fall through the cracks. And you are continually subjected to messages that your weight is the issue. I am truly sorry for this. Health care professionals need to be educated

Eating disorders are quite common in males, straight and gay. Males get anorexia, and struggle with bulimia and binge eating. Their focus on bulking up their muscle mass may seem like a cultural norm, but may be the sign of an underlying disorder. Check out Roberto Olivardia’s work on men and eating disorders.

Time to look at eating disorders a bit differently.
Over 30 or 40 and struggling with an eating disorder? You are not alone! Eating disorders are not just a teen thing. You can be living with an eating disorder at any age—an eating disorder that never resolved, one that reared it’s head again after previously recovering, or one that developed later in adulthood. Check out Dr. Cynthia Bulik’s work on this population. 

Parents don’t cause eating disorders. And parents shouldn’t be sidelined in the treatment of kids with eating disorders. They play an integral part in recovery, particularly when your poorly nourished brain fights you on eating. Learn more about how families can help from FEAST, from scholarly articles and other from resources.

Barbie didn’t cause your eating disorder. Sure, the media may impact how we see ourselves but eating disorders are much more complicated, involving genetic predisposition, environmental triggers and support for maintaining the disorder. We don’t know exactly what causes eating disorders, but it won’t be long before we understand the genetics. See what research is underway and how you can help the study of eating disorders and genetics.  

People don’t plan to have an eating disorder. It’s not a decision sufferers made. Individuals with anorexia, bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder aren’t simply refusing to change when they maintain their behaviors. Change is complicated—by fear, anxiety, and hard wiring of behaviors. My patient shares some wisdom we can all learn from here

It’s not so easy to just do it as this post describes. In spite of my many years of working with clients with eating disorders, I don’t think I fully grasped how many obstacles to change there can be—that is until Cate. Writing Food to Eat and feeling I was living her struggle with her was beyond enlightening; it heightened my sensitivity to things I had taken for granted—the planning to eat, shopping, cooking, and ultimately eating. 

Let's work to not live by diet rules and restriction, 
but to trust what our bodies both need and enjoy.
Recovery is possible, even for those who have lived with an eating disorder for many decades. But it has to start with the belief that change is possible. Connect with a treatment team-a therapist, an eating disorder dietitian and an MD, and reach out to friends and family for support. I now know that it is not too late to.

Want to help others recover? Share this post to increase awareness of eating disorders, and check out this awesome new eating disorder support by Cate. 

Oh, and please tell me what you think! Thanks for reading.

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