In fact, eating disorders are one of the most deadliest of mental illness… With over 20 percent of sufferers ending their own life as a way of ending their pain. Why can’t I stop? Why can’t I stop counting calories… having that second helping… purging after everything I eat? Why can’t I stop running ’til I cannot stand any longer… eating every last thing I can find until my body aches, vomiting in the shower? Why can’t I stop hurting myself?
In a world that is full of division and discrimination, eating disorders are an illness that cross the divide.
It does not depend on your race, on the way that you look, how you speak, whether you hold a degree, have a job, are married or single. Eating disorders touch many people’s lives, including the lives of the people around them.
To understand how an eating disorder functions, we need to understand what it is from the inside out.
Eating disorders are often misunderstood and underestimated. Eating disorders are a serious mental illness… They are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone too far. Eating disorders, such as bulimia, binge eating disorder and anorexia, involve extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviours on food, exercise and body image.
There are four eating disorders that are recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They are Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED), Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa.
However, eating disorders defy classification solely as mental illnesses. They not only involve considerable psychological impairment and distress, they are also associated with major wide ranging and serious medical complications, which can affect every major organ in the body.
Instead of looking at all the signs, symptoms and consequences of eating disorders, I want to help you to understand how eating disorders function and what an eating disorder is. To do this, we need to look at FOOD. Food is the source of energy. It is also part of the way that we find connection, as food is one the main ways in which we socialise.
When statistics show that 10-15% of South Africans suffer from eating disorders… That 1 in 5 people suffering with Anorexia die…. That 80% of people suffering with eating disorders suffer with depression… And that eating disorders have the highest death rate of all psychiatric illnesses… We have to ask ourselves the question – how can this be about FOOD? The very thing that gives us energy to get through a day… The very thing that we celebrate our lives and cultures around.
Let’s talk about breakfast.
This morning, for someone who does not have an eating disorder. We may have difficulty remembering what it is we ate. For others they may have enjoyed a slice or two of toast, some nice muesli and yogurt and off they go to start their day.
When a person with an eating disorder eats, they experience high anxiety, severe thought disturbances and noise.
A person who has an ED is trying to go to class, trying to work, trying to hear their lecturer, trying to focus through all this noise… You’re fat! Don’t eat that! You are worthless. You’re disgusting! You do not deserve to eat! Eat some more… Eat less! This has so many calories! I wonder how many calories this has…
How in the world is this person able to live? If she has breakfast, then lunch, then supper and the noise continues and continues and continues? How can this person function, work, interact?
Simply. By not eating. By purging. By bingeing. Because then a person who is suffering with an eating disorder can work, can talk and can interact.
How can I stop?
It is crucial to understand that eating disorders serve important functions. Uncovering those functions and emotional needs and finding healthier ways to fulfil them is critical to successful treatment and healing.
The answer lies in our emotions. Not in the size, not in the body, not in the amount that you weigh. The answer lies inside of you – emotions.
Many people working with eating disorders will focus on the symptomatic experience of control, or lack of control. But eating disorders have nothing to do with control – it is about fear. Fear of life, fear of responsibility, fear of growing up, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of vulnerability, fear of joy and fear of hope.
How can I stop?
Learn to face your fears with the help and support of people who understand the fear you feel. Learn to live a life free from obsession and compulsion. Learn to live again.
1) I did not develop an eating disorder because I couldn’t cope with our media-saturated culture… I developed an eating disorder because I couldn’t cope with my life.
2) I did not develop an eating disorder because I hated my body… I developed an eating disorder because I hated myself.
3) I did not develop an eating disorder because I wanted to be like a model… I developed an eating disorder because I wanted to be anyone but who I was.
4) I did not develop an eating disorder because my mind was filled with images of photoshopped girls… I developed an eating disorder because my mind was genetically predisposed to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
5) I did not develop an eating disorder because of culture. Eating disorders are illnesses, not a cultural phenomenon.
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