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.