Do you have a picture in your mind of the typical eating disorder sufferer? Many people stereotype eating disorder patients as young, Caucasian, upper-class females. While certainly some people do fit this description, far more people are at risk than you may realize.
Anyone can be vulnerable to eating disorders for a variety of reasons. Eating disorders are equal opportunity destroyers. Here’s what you need to know and the signs you should watch for:
Athletic pressure may be a factor
Our society often places a high value on athletes and the sports they play. The athletic life is a great way to highlight the enormous potential of the human body and what it can accomplish. But athletes are also at increased risk of developing eating disorders. Some coaches encourage behaviors or goals that can unintentionally result in disordered eating. There’s a sense that athletes should be able to manipulate and control their bodies. As a result, they may try to achieve an unrealistic body image by any means necessary.
Males suffer too
Even though females statistically represent the majority of patients with eating disorders, males are also at risk. In fact, the rate of eating disorders among men appears to be increasing. Researchers suggest diagnostic bias favors women. If the criteria for eating disorders were re-evaluated and counselors were more aware of men’s issues, we would likely see a much higher incidence reported among men. Eating disorders are likely already present, just under-recognized. Furthermore, athletes, homosexual men and those in certain professions may face greater pressure to be thin, which can lead to eating disorders as well.
All races and classes are vulnerable
Again, eating disorders are not exclusive to white, high-income individuals. This group may be more likely or able to seek treatment, which may make them appear more prevalent among the population. People of all backgrounds, races and income levels can be at risk of developing eating disorders. However, it is very likely that many people suffer from eating disorders in silence, unable to get treatment.
Consider different types of eating disorders
When we think of eating disorders, we typically think of anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia effectively starve themselves, taking in far fewer calories than they need to survive. As a result, they lose massive amounts of weight and can have an overly thin, even skeletal-looking appearance. It’s a very dangerous, life-threatening condition.
But eating disorders take many different forms. Bulimia is characterized by consuming large amounts of food in one sitting (called a “binge”). It is followed by vomiting or laxative abuse (called a “purge”) or other compensatory behavior, such as over-exercising. Although bulimia is also extremely life-threatening, people with bulimia may not necessarily seem thinner than average. You can rarely tell if someone has bulimia just by looking at them. However, those who live with bulimics are often aware of patterns of bingeing and purging behavior.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most recent disorder recognized by the psychiatric community. Though not widely known, it affects up to three times more people than anorexia and bulimia combined. BED sufferers consume very large amounts of food in a short period of time and report feeling powerless to stop it. Unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not purge to get rid of the food. Many people with BED are obese, although this is not always true.
Eating disorders are serious. It’s far more than just dieting or being weight conscious. Some people with eating disorders have a distorted self-image about their own bodies, believing they are much more overweight than they actually are.
The one thing that all people with eating disorders have in common is an unhealthy relationship with food. With the help of a qualified counselor, you can learn how to manage your view of food and to consume it in the appropriate amounts to keep you healthy.
Take the first step…
If you are ready to address your food and body image issues and how they may be affecting your life, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT