Eating Disorders: The Ugly Truth of the Skinny Fixation

HiRes

I know.

This topic is a bit more serious than a lot of other things I share on this blog, but I feel very strongly that it needs to be discussed. If you feel like you might be struggling with an eating disorder, please don?t think I am here to shame you. Nope ? I have been there in my own life. For many years I struggled with a combination of eating disorders, and I know this is something I will forever need to keep in mind to help my recovery for the rest of my life.

So, if you are reading this, and you are struggling, please understand I simply don?t want you to hurt like I hurt. I?m here to help you identify if you might need help, or if someone you know does. I?m here to help save you from the painful battle that I endured.

Here are a couple of staggering statistics:

? Up to 24 million people (male and female) of all ages suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
? Only 1 in 10 people suffering from an eating disorder receive treatment.

That last statistic is pretty scary, especially since eating disorders can cause major health problems and even death. Maybe you?re one of the millions who needs help, or maybe you know someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Hopefully this discussion will give you some helpful tools in either case.

An eating disorder, to put it plainly, is an illness that stems from unhealthy behaviors associated with food and weight. These unhealthy habits could include overeating, starving, vomiting, and others.

Let?s face it. There?s tremendous pressure in today?s society to be magazine-cover thin. Even though we realize many of these photos are altered and airbrushed, we still see the thin person on the cover, who looks soooo happy, and we want to be that person. And some people are willing to do anything to become that person, including behaviors that lead to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are categorized into three types:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: With this illness, a person has a fear of gaining weight and usually becomes dangerously thin. It mostly affects teen and young adult girls. Those who suffer from anorexia are very critical of themselves, obsess over food, exercise excessively, take diet pills, eat too little, and/or see themselves as fat.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: This disease is characterized by bingeing, followed by purging (through vomiting and/or laxative abuse), and also affects mostly teen and young adult girls. Those suffering from this disorder are often a normal weight or slightly overweight, feel out of control, exercise excessively, are afraid of gaining weight, experience depression and anxiety, are more susceptible to substance abuse, and/or have a somewhat distorted body image.
  • Binge-eating disorder: Unlike anorexia and bulimia, people suffering from this disorder don?t try to exercise or purge to compensate for the excessive amounts of food they eat. Their body weight ranges from normal to obese, and they often eat alone, feel out of control, and/or can experience feelings of guilt, shame, and depression. This disorder affects mostly middle-aged men and women, and can be triggered by stress, anxiety, and/or boredom. Most of the individuals we work with on Extreme Weight Loss struggle with this disorder.

The most common treatment for an eating disorder is therapy ? learning about yourself and how to find balance and control with food. However, other treatments can involve medication, and sometimes even hospitalization.

If you or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, here are some important things to remember:

  • Never compare yourself to others. We all have different bone structures, genes, and cultures. What is a healthy weight for one person is not necessarily a healthy weight for another. I?m quite petite, so a healthy weight for me is not a healthy weight for a person who?s much taller with a not-quite-so-petite bone structure. But I must admit, this was very difficult for me in my teen years, and even into early adulthood. PS ? this is one of the reasons I CrossFit and train for performance. The feeling of ?Skinny? doesn?t hold a candle to the feeling of ?Strong?. I?m hooked ?
  • Don?t let the number on the scale define you. It?s just a number that?s affected by all the things listed above. Instead of working toward a certain number on the scale, make being healthy your main goal. I know. Sometimes that number we see on the scale can either make our day or send us into a mini-meltdown. As women, our weight can fluctuate by a few pounds?overnight?depending on what time of the month it is, and also on the types of foods we ate yesterday. Depend, instead, on how your clothes fit and how you truly feel. Once again, strength training and Crossfit helped me get over this number and focus on health.
  • Find balance in your life between getting healthy and living life. Fixating too much on one thing is not healthy and in no way leads to a balanced and happy life. While Chris and I love to work out, we also know there are many other things in life that are just as, or more, important. We work together to make sure we create room in our jam-packed schedules for those things we feel passionate about. Let?s face it?you never find time. You must create a time for balance. Allowing ourselves to focus on these other more important things allows us to see fulfillment and happiness in areas outside of ourselves.
  • Realize that falling is not failing. Failure happens when we don?t get back up and try again after we fall. Learn from your falls and you?ll become a much stronger person. If you?ve watched our show, you?ve seen our contestants experience this over and over again. How are we supposed to learn how to succeed if we never fall?! Anyone (including myself) that has been down (or is going down) the road to recovery from an eating disorder knows that it isn?t easy. We fall. We mess up. Sometimes we relapse. We are human. For anyone that doesn?t struggle during recovery?all I can say is you must be super-human ?. But remember that falling is okay. It doesn?t mean we fail. Like I said, we only fail when we choose not to get back up.
  • Build a support system. Find those whose opinions matter to you and who love you for the person you are right now. They will bend over backwards to help you through this struggle?I promise! My biggest supporters were my late father and my mom (in addition to therapists). Find your supporters ? maybe a best friend, a co-worker, a sibling?
  • Get help. There is nothing weak about getting help when you need it. In fact, asking for help is a definite sign of strength! This is such a hard step for most people. There are many organizations that specialize in helping those with eating disorders, and one we?ve featured on our show is Shades of Hope in Dallas, Texas. You can also go to the National Eating Disorders Association?s website for more helpful information.

While eating disorders are very serious illnesses, they can be overcome, and those who suffer from them can go on to lead normal, healthy, and happy lives. It?s all about finding and becoming the best?and healthiest?person you can be!

And please check out this other post on my blog for more information on my journey to overcome my own eating disorder.

*Source of basic information about eating disorders: mayoclinic.com

64 Responses

  1. Binge Eating disorder… At least I now have a name for what I’ve suffered with and lost to every year of my life… But is there really hope? I live believing there is; but am beginning that’s just part of a fantasy life.

  2. I wanted to say one more thing to everyone who is still struggling with food/weight/eating disorders…please do not give up fighting. Do not lose faith that you ARE strong enough to overcome this. NEVER lose hope. I just read everyone’s comments, and I want everyone to know that I too felt the hopelessness and the exhaustion. The main source of hopelessness for me came from the thought that the very thing I was struggling with (food) was something I actually needed to survive. I couldn’t just ‘quit’ and go ‘cold turkey’. Instead, I had to confront food every single day, and every time I thought about it, and every single meal ahead of me in my life, I felt such a profound emptiness and exhaustion. I didn’t want to confront these issues, these struggles every single day for the rest of my life. It’s so easy to feel defeated, alone, overwhelmed.

    Hope for me came from wanting a different way of living, and having the faith to turn off the inner voices telling me to not eat or to throw up. I wish I could better explain it, but I literally feel like I put my eating disordered mind into a box, locked it up, muffled it, and turned my back on it. My desire to be skinny had finally been ‘outweighed’ by my anger at myself for how much of my life I has lost to my eating disorder. I remember thinking that if eating made me gain weight, so be it. I remember actually making a decision that I would rather be heavier than have my head in the toilet, the bathroom door locked, and hear my kids on the other side of the door needing my help.

    That anger, that determination started me down a new path & a new way of living and eating. It has not been easy nor has it been a straight line. I had set backs and slips, but I didn’t let these slips change my goal of wanting to live a life without an eating disorder. I lost 22 years to my eating disorder, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t willing to let one slip turn that number to 23.

    Here’s what my anger & determination looked like in the beginning: I would slip and binge, but not let myself go into the bathroom. I set my meal schedule when I was feeling strong, and would then force myself to stick to it when I was feeling weak. I made my life as busy as possible, both with kid activities but also activities for me (karate/yoga). I stopped isolating myself. The first year or so of this was more uncomfortable than I can ever explain, because I felt as if I was being pulled between two ways of living.

    Gradually, though, everything became easier, and that’s what I want people to know. It DOES get easier. I had successes, finally, that had nothing to do with being thin or my eating at all. I moved up in karate and eventually got my black belt. I started a business (I’m a pastry chef). I bought a bike and started riding in the PMC (Pan Mass Challenge) which raises money for cancer research and treatment. None of this would have been possible had I stayed locked in my bathroom.

    We are all worth fighting for…we all deserve the time to truly live, experience life, and to give back to others who need our help.

    I hope that Heidi and Chris are able to help spread this message…I completely admire what you do, but what I admire most is that you give the people the gift of hope. xo

  3. I have been treatment for EDNOS (Binge Eating) extensively for the last 6 months. Working with a Eating Disorder Nutritionist for a year. I’m still over 400 lbs! Facing residential treatment. It has been determined that I have had the disorder for 50 years. I’m 57. A long time and lots to work through and lots of diet mentality to un-do but progress is being made. I’m so glad that you wrote about this. We need people like you and Chris to help be advocates to get insurance to cover this type of treatment than pay for gastric surgery!!!! I did that too, lived with it for 13 years, had it reversed. I’m paying $1,500.00 a month for my treatment. Our retirement fund is going down but if I want to live the $$ has to be spent. Please continue to speak out about this!

  4. This is such a good post and yet a hard topic since it hits home. I will be 45 this month and STILL struggle with anorexia/bulimia. Never in my mind would i have thought it would be me. I have found that it’s my “coping” mechanism.I have been hurt so badly in this world and have so much self hate towards myself. kind of embarrassing at my age to go for help. Sad thing is I have faith in the Lord and yet I continue on…just nice knowing i’m not alone.

  5. It’s very true that being “skinny” is not the be all and end all x I have spent 26 of my 34 years suffering in varying degrees with bulimia and anorexia resulting in a very long stay in an eating disorder unit here in the UK x I am thankfully now in recovery although I have done some serious damage to the rest of my body x at 34 I have the bone density of a 70 yr old and suffer with multiple health issues but the excellent thing is , they can disappear once I’m back to healthy which I WILL be x basically I want people to understand the actual seriousness of the “thin is in” culture. We are not all meant to be waifs. Society tells us we will all be happier thinner but it has brought me nothing but wasted years and plenty of pain and misery x embrace who you are, be healthy and most of all be happy being you x thank you so much for highlighting this topic x

  6. Hi Heidi!

    I suffered from Anorexia Nervosa and today marks my 1 year anniversary of starting my ED. Today I am stronger and getting better at controlling my ED thoughts but like most I still strugle everyday fighting back urges and past habits. Its hard because I am now a freshman and college and I got through treatment because I wanted to go to my dream school. The main problem I see with ED is finding the motivation to overcome the thoughts, to stay away from the vicious cycle. If you could email me on tips I would love it! You’re a hge inspiration to me! I recently wrote my ED story for my writing class and she wants me to figure out a way to publish it! Maybe a blog ike yours or in a magazine! Time will tell! But thank you for reaching out to the ED community… an important cause that doesn’t always get enough attention even though its a huge problem in our society!

    XOXO Erin

  7. I can’t believe I’m posting this online because no one knows about me. I’m scared people will find out it’s me with (I used an old email)? But I don’t know if it is an eating disorder and I’ve never said it out loud. I always go between not eating and working out or binge and purging. I’m at my heaviest right now at 130 and am 5’8″. I hate that I can’t control myself
    on Thanksgiving like other people I know can. It is a total obsession and I would never wish it upon anyone. My old roommate used to too but mine now doesn’t and I think that’s why I’m gaining because it’s hard to get away with it. I feel for you all who have posted here. I have no hope for myself because I know the body I want and my competitive nature will take me there. Thank you Heidi for posting <3

  8. I love this article. I myself have been fighting this since I was 12. I am now 35 with two children. I am vegan and workout everyday and am very strict about only eating healthy to an obsessive point. I fear food. I am told I am too thin and underweight but all I see is a person with imperfections. I only eat healthy, no junk but I still have to fight the urge to throw up the fruits and veggies when I fear getting fat. I have finally admitted I cannot do it alone anymore and this weekend finally talked to someone. I have a 13 and 9 year old boys that I have to live for and I have to finally get better. This article could not have come at a better time for me. I am great with my strict vegan diet but I have to finally embrace the fact that healthy one ingredient foods are not the enemy and I will be ok. I also have body dimorphic issues where what everyone else sees and what I see are two totally different things. They see too thin, I see imperfections. I wish I could just shut my mind up and make it stop.

  9. Thanks Heidi! I NEEDED to see this today. I struggled with an eating disorder throughout my teens. Once I became a mother, I stopped. Or so I thought. I haven’t been throwing up after eating “too much” but my eating habits are very much influenced by my emotions. I struggle with my weight. It is on my mind all day. I stress about it constantly. I obsessively weigh myself. That number and what I’m going to do to make it lower is the last thing I think about at night and my first thought in the morning. So clearly I’m not over this eating disorder and I had a meltdown this morning. I needed to read this today. I need to help myself. Thank you for helping me to realize that 🙂

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