Too Much or Too Little: The Many Faces of Eating Disorders
Jennifer has long been told by friends, family, magazines, and movies that to be beautiful is to be thin. Jennifer’s sister has never struggled with her weight; growing up, Jennifer listened to countless friends and family members remark how pretty and put-together her sister appeared.
As Jennifer’s sister seemed to float effortlessly over all of life’s hurdles, Jennifer struggled with her weight, her grades, and her personal relationships. “If only I could get my eating under control,” Jennifer often thinks, feeling guilt and shame as she looks in the mirror.
Many of us can relate to Jennifer’s feelings of insecurity. Even with career and relationship triumphs, it’s not uncommon to still imagine ourselves through the gaze of others and feel as if we haven’t succeeded at all.
Eating disorders are partially related to the nagging feelings that we’re not doing enough to be who others want us to be. It makes sense that in a culture which places such emphasis on thinness, you might come to feel ashamed and unvalued when you eat. If only you could get control of your food/weight, then perhaps you’ll be accepted, loved, safe, respected, etc. No one will be able to see the pain that you carry inside. Our human need for connection and acceptance is a powerful drive. Sometimes, these feelings of insecurity and powerlessness can lead to unhealthy behaviors with food and ultimately an eating disorder.
There are many different types of eating disorders, but they all share the same core struggles, even though the behaviors look different. Eating disorders affect people in all shapes and sizes and from all backgrounds, both men and women. Following is a brief description of the different types of eating disorders from their perspective.
Types of Eating Disorders
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
For those of us with anorexia nervosa, issues surrounding our weight consume nearly all of our attention. We might exercise constantly or routinely avoid mealtimes in order to lose weight. Intense negative emotions like fear and dread accompany any weight gain. Anorexia is the most physically dangerous of the eating disorders, because we can truly starve our bodies.
The difference between wishing we could change things about our bodies and anorexia nervosa is that anorexia controls our lives. As with most eating disorders, anorexia isn’t just about weight, it’s about how we see ourselves and how we feel we are perceived by others.
In many cases, depression and anxiety coexist with and contribute to anorexia. If we’re feeling bad about ourselves, it makes sense that we might feel desperate and turn to something we can control—like how much food we eat—to try and change how we feel.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
It can be scary and confusing when we begin to feel that something we enjoy is the root of our perceived failures. For those of us with bulimia nervosa, overeating is immediately followed by feelings of guilt and shame. When our negative emotions become self-directed, we might punish ourselves for compulsive eating by purging.
For many of us, the experience of bulimia is frantic. We eat quickly and try to compensate for it in a panic. This cycle of trying to resist the urge to eat, giving into it, and trying to undo our actions is very emotionally taxing and can leave us feeling exhausted, hurt, and powerless.
What is Binge Eating?
In cases of binge eating, we often eat when we’re not hungry and eat so much that we feel uncomfortable. It seems impossible to control how much we eat. In times of stress we turn to food to make us feel better. It’s natural to think that the comfort foods we associate with warm people and memories might lift us up emotionally but, after overeating, we often feel only guilt and shame.
As binge eaters, we don’t compensate for overeating by purging or over-exercising, but self-doubt, embarrassment, and distress still linger in the aftermath of a binge eating episode and may contribute to isolation and withdrawal.
Read more about Binge Eating Disorder.
Treating Eating Disorders
Living with an eating disorder is painful and can feel impossible to talk about with others, but they are real and can affect anyone. The good news is that eating disorders are treatable. Being treated for an eating disorder is not something to be ashamed of; treatment can help you work through your fears in a way that makes you feel better about yourself and the future. There is hope!
If you or someone you love experiences one of these types of eating disorders, it’s important to seek out support. Whether it’s you, your daughter, your partner, an eating disorder impacts everyone involved and treatment can often include loved ones in the recovery process. Contact us for eating disorder treatment in Houston, Tx at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment with an eating disorder specialist online.
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