The world is sick; not only nature but also people. Be that stress, ordinary sicknesses or those which aren’t officially recognized as such, like eating disorders, maybe all of us carry one form or another of sickness, either mental, physical or both.
This is the first in a series of articles about eating disorders, and how media, society and our present hectic way of life can destroy us from inside out.
First, here is some information on what are eating disorders:
The numbers are stunning. About 7 to 10 million women and 1 million men suffer from eating disorders in America, whatever their age, social class or ethnicity. The numbers throughout the world are equally distressing, and have been increasing.
The organization ANAD, whose site most of the contents of these articles about eating disorders are based on, reports that the most critical groups for developing the disorders are the one by the age of 20 and the one between the age of 16 and 20, which sum up to 86% and 43% of the cases respectively. Also the majority of the cases last from 1 to15 years, and there’s 50% of cure and 6% of death among them.
People who suffer from eating disorders have basically very low self-esteem and want to look thinner, either overall or certain parts of the body, even if in order to achieve that, they have to make the hardest sacrifices, such as spending the whole day without eating, eating only a few types of food, throwing up after eating, eating and not swallowing, etc. There are also cases in which people want to feel in control of their lives or dull inner pain.
Eating disorders cause many grave health problems, such as severe malnutrition, ruptured stomach, tooth/gum erosion, heart, kidney, and liver damages.
Despite all the harm it causes, there are few adequate programs and services to fight these disorders around the world, and few schools have programs to educate about the dangers, which is absurd when you take into account that most of those who develop them are still in school years.
Types of Eating Disorders
Anorexia Nervosa – people who suffer from this disorder spend long periods without eating, and when they do, seriously restrict the amount and kinds of food they eat. They may set aside a specific time of the day to eat and develop rituals for preparing food and eating. Contrary to common knowledge, not all of them have a distorted image of themselves as being fat, instead they tend to focus on parts of their bodies they want to be thinner. Some of them may practice severe fasting as a means to feel in control of their lives.
Bulimia – those who suffer from this disorder have constant periods of binge eating in which they eat excessive amounts of food in a short period of time, feeling unable to stop. Afterwards, they feel guilt or fear, and purge through vomiting, over-exercising or fasting.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) or Obesity – about 30% of those who take part in weight loss programs are diagnosed for BED. It is present in 2% of the American population and is 1.5 times more common in women. Goals of the treatment include ceasing binge eating, improvement of concerns about weight and shape, weight loss, prevention of further weight gain, etc. Remission rates are high, about 50%, and the general projection is better than for those with bulimia nervosa.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) – less occurring disordered eating patterns, such as switching between anorexic and bulimic behaviors, not so often episodes of binging and purging, orthorexia (people who eat normal amounts of food, but select foods obsessively), anorexia nervosa but with regular menses, starvation without substantial loss of weight, repeatedly chewing and spitting out -without swallowing - large amounts of food.
How to Help Those with Eating Disorders
Don’t expect those suffering from eating disorders to talk about their difficulties, as they are often secretive about their ways, and think they are well. However eating disorders are an indirect way of crying for help; those who develop them are in terrible confusion and vulnerability. No matter how hard daily life is around them, it is important to remember that, and offer them love and patience, otherwise recovery becomes almost impossible.
Also brace yourself for confrontation, as your friend or family member may feel angry at your interference. Still, try to talk to them in private, have some evidence prepared to use for persuasion, always try to keep yourself calm and in a non-confrontational attitude, and remind them of your love, and how you can’t simply watch and do nothing. Don’t let any worries and fears keep you from addressing the matter.
Be careful not to use the talk for causing conflict. Express your worries, exemplifying with specific episodes, without placing shame and guilt on them. Don’t make use of simple solutions either, like “if you stop, it’ll be alright”, as that will only annoy them. Disorders aren’t something that one can wake up the next morning without. It took them a long time to get to it; it will take them a long way to recovery.
Then explain the kinds of diagnosis and treatment available, and either make clear that you will seek help or help them do so, if they are ready. Stress the importance of treatment, which is essential to assess the symptoms, provide correct diagnosis and find other medical problems involved, and also determine any other condition, like depression, requiring treatment. In case your friend or family member is reluctant to see a doctor, ask them to get a physical, and offer to make the appointment or go along on the first visit.
There are several types of treatment, and often a combination of several ones, like nutritional counseling, therapy and group support is used. This page has more information on all the types.
The process of recovery is long and strenuous. Besides keeping to treatment plans, family therapy sessions, healthy menus and meal plans, avoiding binges or purges, family and friends have to be prepared to deal with emotional outbursts, to support the person with love and praise, and to always value the achievements despite any slips.
It is important that those who are caring for the ones suffering from eating disorders, take some time for themselves to relax and recharge their batteries. Do whatever makes you feel better, even if for a few minutes a day, and don’t isolate yourself. In addition to keeping contact with friends, support groups are great places to interact with those who are living through the same challenge. It is at least a useful way to be aware that your suffering isn’t unique, and to learn new ways of supporting those who suffer from the disorder.
Also be yourself a good role model. Avoid dieting and negative comments about your own body, educate yourself about eating disorders, learn to listen quietly to your loved one’s concerns and feelings, and try not to criticize.
And finally, these are some actions that must be avoided at all costs:
- Eat or avoid foods solely to accommodate the eating-disordered person
- Make mealtimes a battleground
- Monitor someone else's behavior for them (even if you are invited to)
- Be the "food police"
- Try to play therapist
- Comment about someone's weight and looks 
The next part in this series of articles is about Anorexia Nervosa. It includes not only basic information and sites where to look for help and support, but also a very informative and an emotional account by blogger Emily Troscianko, who was anorexic for 10 years. This part will be published tomorrow.
Besides these two articles, there will be others about Bulimia Nervosa and the part of media in all this mess, which will be published in sequence.
More information and help centers: