This week is NEDAwareness week, a week to raise awareness of disordered eating and body image issues, established by the National Eating Disorders Association. I have several things to say about disordered eating and body image issues, and at first, I was going to write a list of common myths about eating disorders. These, however, are all over the Internet already. The only thing I might be able to add is the Dutch perspective. However, another way of addressing common myths about disordered eating and body image is to share my own experience.
First, I do not nd have never had a diagnosable eating disorder. I do however have pretty significant issues with disordered eating and body image. I mostly engage in binge eating, which I do on average once or twice a week. I overeat on more occasions, but then I either don’t eat so much that it can be considered a binge or don’t feel as though I’ve lost control. You see, I’ve lost sight of what is and isn’t nromal, how much to eat, etc.
To get to a common myth anyway: many people believe that you can only have an eating disorder if you’r thin, and/or that anorexia is the most common eating disorder. In fact, in the Netherlands, there are twnety times more people with eating disorders who have a healthy weight than there are people with anorexia. Binge eating disorder, which is what I am closest to, is the most common eating disorder, followed by bulimia and then anorexia. I still encounter people, including nurses, who say that I “only” overeat, so what’s the big deal? About three years ago, I started occasionally inducing vomiting, and that’s when my eating issue first felt real to me. In reality, I’ve had binge eating episodes since adolescence.
I am overweight. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m currently obese, but I haven’t weighed myself in months. On the Dutch eating disorder site I participate on, there were topics for discussing underweight and then healthy weight long before the admins finally opened a discussion thread on overweight. Most people believe that eating disorders are something you can overcome by just trying, and this is especially true for binge eating. I won’t say that people don’t minimize the struggles anorexics face, but with binge eating, people often assume that you just like to snack. On the same Dutch eating disorder site I mentioned, there is a blog post on the difference between an eating issue and an eating disorder, and someone who likes high-calorie food is portrayed as the one with the eating issue, while an underweight, restricting person is portrayed as the one with the eating disorder.
Let’s get one thing straight: you can have any weight and have an eating disorder. You can also display any number of eating-related behaviors and have an eating disorder. Examples of eating disordered behaviors include bingeing, purging, restricting, but also having rigid rituals or rules around eating. I know that rituals around eating dono’t mean you have an eating disorder per se, but they may be a sign of eating issues and they can interfere with healthy food intake and daily life. For example, if you’re so self-conscious about your weight (whether you actually are overweight or underweight or not) that you don’t want to eat in other people’s presence, this can lead to a lot of problems in your social life and can also mean you get less food into your body than you need, even if you’re not consciously restricting. Also, eating only a select number of foods or food types can be very unhealthy. I’ve heard of something called selective eating disorder, but this is not recognized by clinicians at this point. In my own experience, this habit interacts with my binge eating behaviors. For example, if I’ve had something for lunch that I don’t like (and I’m a very picky eater I’m told), I run a high risk of bingeing later in the day.
Lastly, I want to dismantle one myth that isn’t applicable to me personally: that eating disorders only affect white adolescent females. (Well, okay, I’m not an adolescnet anymore, but I’m white and I’m female.) There was a Dutch study in 2012 that asked around 250 high school boys about their eating and body image. As many as 25% had eating disorder features, including calorie counting (13%), being significantly underweight (10%) and laxative abuse (2%). This study showed the fact that eating disorders are probably underrecognized in males.