Understanding Eating Disorders – Presented by Ministry for Mental Health and Wellness
When most people think of eating disorders, they think about anorexia and bulimia — behaviors inherent to both go back centuries, and today, the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia appears to apply to about 1.2 and 1.6 percent, respectively. Although serious, even life-threatening, they now represent a small ratio of eating disorders.
Significantly more prevalent today is binge-eating disorder. First deemed an official diagnosis in 2013, not everyone who overeats qualifies for this diagnosis, however, anyone who carries shame due to the behavior of overeating and the usual consequence of being in a larger body may want to consider getting real help.
We can look to the diet statistics to understand the prevalence of what is now referred to as “emotional eating” because, in reality, 97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within the first three years of the diet. By one measure, 52 percent of American citizens were dieting in 2022. The nearly inevitable overeating after a diet can be explained by a host of reasons, including biological, physiological, psychological, and emotional.
Sadly, dieting causes many people to start eating emotionally, which commonly leads to another diet, followed by another round of weight gain. Keeping the diet industry prosperous and millions of people blaming and shaming themselves for their “lack of willpower”, often going deeper and deeper into the despair of trying to “fix” one’s eating with the tool guaranteed to make it worse.
In the 1980s Susie Orbach, a British therapist, published two revolutionary books called Fat is A Feminist Issue I and II. Geneen Roth, a humble sandwich maker, and a prolific dieter and binge eater, by turn, read those books and went on to develop a profound understanding of the complex emotional and psychological issues that cause people to overeat, and a radical approach to treatment, sewing seeds of what is used by eating disorder specialists today.
Our relationship with food is personal and complex. One person trying to tell another when, what, and how much to eat will inevitably backfire (even if we are paying them to do so!); this includes parents who attempt to control their children’s consumption of food. The problem arises when the inherent wisdom of the body is repressed and determinants of eating are derived from the outside: what time it is; how many points or calories the food contains, and whether we are in the vicinity of our favorite bakery or Starbucks.
Other critical factors include whether we are trying to quell an uncomfortable thought or feeling or pour hot fudge on our loneliness. Do we feel deprived due to missing an occasion that might have been fun, nurturing, or meaningful? Do we then fool ourselves into believing that a box of cookies will somehow fill that space in our hearts and soul?
Disordered eating is complex. It is no surprise that diets will not fix the problem and end up causing more harm in the long run. For those who seek to understand and learn to manage their relationship with food, an eating disorders therapist and a licensed, registered dietician are the surest way toward finding peace with food.
Lisë Osvold, Ph.D., L.P., Eating Disorder Therapist
For More Information:
Eating disorders spike among children and teens: What parents should know, April 21, 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-disorders-spike-among-children-and-teens-what-parents-should-know-202204212731
Eating disorders in midlife. December 1, 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/eating-disorders-in-midlife
Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.