Category Archives: Eating Disorders

America has an eating disorder

America has an eating disorder. We eat by numbers, rules, regulations. We make decisions about the food we eat based on fear, anxiety, and righteous attitude. We restrict, omit, and regiment selected nutrients and food groups.

Our culture has great angst about obesity, weight gain, and body shape. We fear food and weight-related diseases and build our diets and exercises around these fears. We’re scared to be fat. So we put nutrition labels on everything as a tool to help control and avoid fat. We put devices on our wrists and smart phones to track every bite, every step, every heart beat to makes sure we don’t get fat.

We have countless diets and cleanses and every kind of work out program; we have diet pills and calorie strategies; we have workout equipment and memberships; we have safe foods, bad foods, healthy foods, demon foods, healthier foods, poison foods, clean foods. We avoid calories, save calories, burn calories.

We’ve got teachers teaching kids how to read nutrition labels and hanging their snacks on the wall in categories “HEALTHY”  and “NOT HEALTHY.” My eight-year-old daughter came home agitated because the girls at lunch were claiming her chocolate milk was bad for her, but M’s was okay because it was “healthier” as determined by the lesser grams of sugar. L didn’t agree about either one because her mom said all chocolate milk is bad for you.

Our culture calls all of this “being healthy,” but really it’s all to avoid “being fat.”

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We aren’t healthy, though. We’re anxious because… not enough steps, too many calories, not high enough heart rate, too much on the scale, too much on the plate, still craving “that thing,” not enough days at the gym, gave in, no self-control, pants don’t fit, back fat, tummy fat, butt fat, arm jiggle, thigh gap, not buff enough, not strong enough, no muscle definition, need to lose more, need to have better habits, need to work harder, faster, longer, need to restrict more, need a new diet, need better control…

Despite all the tools, rules, and media information, America still has an obesity crisis. Yet we also have a growing crisis of anorexia and bulimia in our youngest and most precious kiddos. There is something much deeper and more troubling going on here.

I don’t believe our culture is overindulgent. I don’t believe we lack self-control in our lives. I don’t believe we are bad people. I believe as a culture, we’re very sick and we need recovery. We’ve become disconnected from our bodies, obsessed with food as something to be feared rather than enjoyed, and distorted in our understanding of what it means to be kind to ourselves and our bodies.

Eating disorders are not about food. Eating disorders are not about weight. Eating disorders are the compulsive behavior and thought patterns that are rooted in distorted beliefs about food and body. Eating disorders are evidenced by extreme anxiety about food, body image, exercise. America has an eating disorder.

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The most important thing to know about eating disorders

One thing you should know about eating disorders is that there’s more than one thing to know, because eating disorders are multi-dimensional mental illnesses. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week  I want to give you my top three things that are important to understand about eating disorders, whether you have one, think you might have one, or have a friend/family member who is struggling with one.

1) Eating disorders have no single cause. Eating disorders are biological, psychological, physiological, social and familial, which means experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors that start/happen in any of these areas will be exacerbated and distorted by experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors in the other areas.

For example, I grew up in a household with emotional and mental trauma (familial, psychological); experienced bullying in school and had an abusive romantic-relationship (social & psychological); believed I was slow, ugly, and stupid (psychological); had disordered eating habits/behaviors that threw off both my metabolism and ability to read my body cues properly (biological and physiological); and struggled with anxiety and depression (familial, psychological, physiological)

So, if anyone has ever asked you “Why do you have an eating disorder?” or you’ve asked yourself, “Why does my loved one have an eating disorder?”–there are many reasons!

2)   Eating disorders don’t make sense to those who don’t have one. There is nothing logical about starving yourself (anorexia), eating more than your body can handle (binge eating disorder), throwing up after you eat (bulimia nervosa), or eating a strictly righteous “healthy only” diet (orthorexia nervosa). It’s important to understand that all of these eating disorders have nothing to do with the food itself or even the symptoms of the disorders. Eating disorders are diagnosed by the compulsive behaviors and thought patterns that stem from distorted beliefs about the body and food and overall self. You can’t attach logic or use logic to solve or change behaviors that are rooted in distorted beliefs. The beliefs have to change before the behaviors will, and that takes professional help!

If you’ve ever said to yourself or to a loved one “Just eat” or “Just stop binging” or “Just stop throwing up,” please understand that no one with an eating disorder can “just” do or not do anything. It would be like the brakes in your car failing and your passenger telling you to “just stop.” You can’t because the brakes are broken. With eating disorders, the brain is broken; eating disorders are mental illnesses.

3). Eating disorder recovery is 100% possible! Recovery takes professional help with a team of specialists who deeply understand the nature of eating disorders, who know how to properly care for the physical damage done by the disorder, and who are extensively sensitive to the mental misfires that are happening in the brain.

There are different schools of thought on whether or not eating disorders can be completely healed or if you simply remain in recovery your whole life, similar to that of an alcoholic. I can say from personal experience that my body is completely healed from the damage done by anorexia; however, my brain is still recovery and may always be because the mental paths worn by the eating disorder for 13 years are deep and automatic, especially when I am stressed, sad, disappointed, or even just tired. My healthy voice (healthy beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors learned in recovery) take effort when the eating disorder is loud. But most days my healthy-self is intuitive and strong.

Last but not least–

If you think you might have an eating disorder or want to seek help for a loved one you can call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline: 1(800) 931-2237 or they have an online chat option.

You can also visit my Resources page for some helpful places to get started.