There are as many nuances of eating disorders as is the number of people suffering from it. Each individual going through an eating disorder is going to show a personal variation of the symptoms. Nevertheless, we can still draw some broad outlines and therefore put a specific word on a group of symptoms which can vary from one person to another.
In one sentence, eating disorders are experiences affecting people that develop an unhealthy preoccupation to the way they eat, exercise and/or their body weight or shape. People going through this experience usually have two or more of them, either combined or alternately and this interferes with their everyday life.
All eating disorders have one thing in common: an unreasonable obsession with, or against, food which is generally accompanied by a rejection of appearance. This is called body dysmorphia (or dysmorphophobia) which is the misperception one’s own body leading to shame and suffering. Thus, the people affected believe they have a defect in their appearance that makes them ugly or deformed. In each and every form of eating disorders, there is a need for control applied as a need to control food and body sensations like hunger. People with eating disorders engage in self-harming behaviors and socially isolate themselves.
The stigma around Eating Disorders
Many beliefs about food and eating disorders are considered as fact in nowadays societies, and they are passed on to us by our family, friends and even our co-workers. This leads to stigmatizing this experience and makes it even harder to understand it and increases the risk of negative consequences like shame, not asking for help and/or suicide.
It is important to know that eating disorders can happen to anyone not only to women. Men can suffer from an eating disorder, even if the ratio is 1 man for 10 women, in men, in addition to anorexia and bulimia, we can also notice an obsession with gaining muscle mass in order to meet the standards conveyed in society.
Contrary to what many believe, being skinny doesn’t mean to be healthy, as well as not being skinny doesn’t mean to be unhealthy.
Health is a set of habits, including a balanced diet, but also sleep and stress management, that promote good physical and psychological state. In this perspective, weight occupies only a small place in the very broad definition of « health ».
It is also important to remember that some people going through eating disorders might not be as thin as you would imagine they should be. This doesn’t mean they are suffering less. Also, it is not because someone is thin that they automatically have an eating disorder. You can have an eating disorder and not be skinny. In many cases, weight is not an indicator of the presence of an eating disorder. Despite the presence of restriction and compensatory behaviors, the body can adapt to block the weight loss. However, this does not mean that the situation shows no risk to health and that the person doesn’t need help.
In some countries it is usual to believe this doesn’t exist in less developed countries which is also not true. It does exist everywhere. An eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice, just one more diet or a cry for attention… It is a real illness and it is very hard to impossible to recover from, without help.
Eating Disorders’ statistics
- Across the globe around 70 million people are affected by an eating disorder.
- Over 20 million European people suffer from eating disorders.
- In the US 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.
- Worldwide the number of 8 to 10-year-old children suffering from eating disorders is on the rise.
- Recent studies have found that China, Japan and South Korea are among the Asian countries with the highest percentage of people suffering from eating disorders.
- In Canada between 12% and 30% of young girls and 9% and 25% of young boys exhibit early signs of eating disorders.
- 70% of people that struggle with an eating disorder will not seek help due to stigma.