February 22-28th was Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Eating disorders are yet another Body-Focused Repetitive Disorder, different from hair pulling, cutting and skin picking, and yet somehow the same. In my opinion, eating disorders also belong under the shame umbrella. They are in many ways about appearance and beauty – never being the right size or the right weight. My young lady clients talk about the “thigh gap (good), the visible collar bone and upper ribs (also good). However, this original focus soon becomes tangled with other factors.
Eating disorders are complex phenomena that involve biological, neurological, emotional, and social systems. They may begin with a preoccupations with weight and weight control, but ultimately are much more. Anxiety and control drive the conditions. In many cases the conditions co exist with major depressions and anxiety.
As early as age 3, kids know that “Fat is bad. Thin is good.” Eating disorders have been identified as young as age 7. Some sports are particularly focused on control of weight – ballet, wrestling and gymnastics. Currently anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness in adolescents. Anorexia also has the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders.
Eating disorders affect 20 million females and about 10 million males. Besides anorexia, there is Bulemia and Binge Eating. Bulemics generally eat and then use compensatory behaviors (vomiting, enemas, laxatives) in order to control their appearance. Binge eaters describe an emotional release that comes from eating thousands of calories at a sitting. They may restrict food at other times or compulsively exercise in order to compensate for the binge.
You can test your own eating using the Eating Attitudes Test. It is online and free. You can also check out the National Eating Disorders Association online. There is also a super site called mental fitness for those of you who want to learn more about prevention and wellness.
Again, these disorders are about not being good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, social enough, athletic enough….simply not enough!