When I was conducting research on eating disorders, I happened to stumble upon several “pro ana” websites – as in websites that promote anorexia and offer visitors tips on how to curb hunger and lose weight. I saw words like “air diet” and “5-bite diet.” If that wasn’t disturbing enough, I came across several comments in which the authors insisted that anorexia was a lifestyle choice, not a disorder, like depression and anxiety.
Reality check: Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating are disorders. Disorders that are in fact so serious, they have been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, along with Depression, Anxiety, and Schizophrenia. And guess what? The denial aspect of eating disorders (i.e. “It’s a lifestyle choice,” “I don’t have a problem,” “All I see is fat”) is one of the symptoms.
People who regularly visit my blog know that I don’t sit on a pedestal and self-righteously offer advice. I’m a researcher and mental health proponent, and most importantly, I’m not afraid to talk about my own mental health difficulties. In a nutshell, I mean what I say and say what I mean.
My personal love-hate relationship with food has been an ongoing battle most of my life. I went through stints where I ate one meal a day. I liked the way I looked, but hated the way I felt. Dizzy, distracted, and weak. When I became an emotional eater, I kept feeling a hunger that I couldn’t fill. My problem wasn’t with food however; it was something much deeper.
February 22 to 28 marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a campaign to bring attention to one of the most chronic mental health issues – and for good reason. Research by the Eating Disorders Coalition indicates that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Take a moment to read that again.
An eating disorder can kill you, more so than any other disorder – and only 1 in 10 people seek treatment.
Eating disorders are more than just a weight issue, however. After analyzing data from 465 people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, research we conducted at Queendom.com reveals that eating disorders are both a physical and psychological battle.
According to our study:
- 45% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have low self-confidence.
- 58% believe that they will never be loved unless they have a perfect body.
- 56% crave other people’s approval.
- 40% have a pessimistic outlook on their life and their future.
- 70% ruminate excessively and obsess about problems in their life.
- 56% find that their life is too stressful or difficult
- 72% tend to take failure very hard.
Our study also indicates that eating disorder sufferers are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, including:
- Persistent feelings of emptiness (63%)
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed (50%)
- The tendency to cry for no apparent reason (52%)
- Feelings of worthlessness (53%)
- Feelings of sadness (60%)
- Feeling like they have nothing to look forward to (47%)
- Feeling like they’re losing control (69%)
- The tendency to focus on upsetting situations or events (63%)
- Chronic worrying (73%)
- Fear of what the future will bring (61%)
- Edginess and tension (63%)
What does this all mean? It means that when it comes to eating disorders, we need to treat more than the physical repercussions, like nutritional deficiencies and unhealthy body weight. It’s unclear as to whether depression and anxiety are precursors to eating disorders or vice versa. What is clear is that there is significant comorbidity between eating disorders and anxiety or depression-related disorders. And that is aside from the fact that 57% of the people in our eating disorder sample indicated that they have experienced physical, sexual, or some other form of abuse.
Bottom line: If we hope to help women and men who have eating disorders, we need to focus on both the physical side of the disorder as well as the underlying psychological factors.