What Are Eating Disorders?
Let’s start with anorexia, as I’m sure you’ve heard of it before.
“..I need to eat with someone else so that I can measure the amount of food I serve on my plate to that of the person I am eating with. I have developed an obsession of constantly looking forward to the next meal of the day; I fall asleep thinking about what I will have for breakfast and where I might go have lunch. I have to be with my mom when she is shopping for food and planning dinner so that I can check and control exactly what is going on; on mornings when I crave an extra piece of fruit, I will allow myself only with a promise of having that much less at lunch; then at lunch I will allow myself any extra mouthful on the condition that I walk however many miles it will take to make me feel purged.”
A person with anorexia tends to keep a weight that is far less than what’s normal for his/her age and height. Sufferers may starve themselves or exercise excessively. About 20% of anorexics die, making anorexia the most serious mental illness. As their weight drops, organs can shut down from a lack of energy. However, anorexia isn’t necessarily about food; limiting their food is a way of coping emotionally with one’s problems.
“The remains of my dinner bobbed in the toilet basin, a floating testament to my dedication, determination, and sheer willpower. Here was proof that I could do whatever it took to be, well, perfect. But as I leaned against the wall, reality closed in around me. This was perfect? Swollen, bloodshot eyes. A throat so inflamed it was difficult to swallow. My self-esteem in tatters. Where just moments before, I'd felt relief -- pride, even -- suddenly there was only despair. Sitting there, wasted from the effort of forcing myself to vomit for the umpteenth time that week, I was tired of doing this.”
Like anorexics, bulimics may starve themselves; however, they have episodes of binge eating where they eat large quantities of food and later, expel the food by vomiting. Not all bulimics are underweight, which makes the illness less hard to notice from the outside. Still, bulimia can cause severe organ damage just like anorexia.
“I began to gain weight and, of course, I periodically went on various diets to try to lose what I’d gained, only to relapse and regain all I’d lost and then some… When I found myself unable to stop eating once I’d started, I resolved not to eat during the day. Then, after work and out of sight, the bingeing began… I would spend the night eating nonstop, first something sweet, then something salty, then back to sweet, and so on. A half-gallon of ice cream was only the beginning.”
People with this disorder have the same habits of bulimics in that they starve themselves and then binge eat, but they do not vomit.
NOTE: If you're struggling with an eating disorder, we encourage you to please get help. Your friends and family will be grateful to get their loved one healthy and happy again, and your life will completely change for the better. The National Eating Disorder Association has a national helpline where extensively trained volunteers can help you by giving you advice and figuring out treatment options with you. If you yourself are not struggling with an eating disorder but you have loved ones who are, their helpline can also help you figure out ways to help them.
Their number is 1(800) 931-2237.