“Just eat! I don’t understand how you can not like food!” I heard this comment often during my battle with Anorexia Nervosa. It would cause my body to physically tense and sent my thoughts into a tangled mess of complexity. The dictionary definition of the word ‘disorder’ is a ‘lack of order or regular arrangement; confusion’. If you could put a recording devise inside the mind of a person who suffers from an eating disorder, you may gain some understanding.
To be confronted about eating and exercise behaviours was a threat to the means I felt helped me ‘cope’ with underlying issues I did not know how to deal with. Don’t take these means away! Eating disorders are serious mental health issues, which manifest into behaviours that cause an array of physical problems. Here lies the problem. We see the physical and therefore make assumptions that they are ‘body image’ issues, and that they may be ‘fixed’ by merely correct eating.
A seriously underweight person may be labeled as having anorexia nervosa and an overweight person may be labeled as obese. These are labels according to a person’s size. What about all the body shapes and sizes in between? The thought processes are not seen. The battle that occurs within the mind around having a sense of worth, having value, being loved, a sense of identity, being heard, trying to deal with an issue that causes a person to feel shame etc etc, all become messed-up with food, eating and exercise. This is all ‘served-up’ with huge amounts of guilt and shame on a daily, if not, hourly basis.
A person that appears to have ‘normal’ body weight may be having an ongoing battle in their mind. Not just every now and then, but constantly. Food, exercise, control and self-image, not body image, become all-consuming, to the point where you become numb to everything else. Eating disorders are no respecter of age, race, gender or status. For males that suffer, the shame and guilt is heightened, as they are generally seen as ‘women’s issues’, and so men often do not speak-up or seek help.
Eating disorders are a rip-off of a fulfilling, productive life. If untreated, they also claim many lives. I believe it is time to stop staring at the ‘elephant in the room’ and start talking about these issues that generally have a stigma associated with them.