This is not a comfortable conversation at all, but that’s what this blog is all about, right? Honesty?!
A lot of people look at eating disorders as a “phase” in someone’s life. But, what many people don’t understand, and what most of us (who have had an eating disorder) go through, is wayyyyyy more complicated than a phase. An eating disorder is a mindset, and changing that mindset and your ideas about your body, isn’t always easy. For me, this has proven to be a constant battle…
Bear with me for a second please because this is going into more of the psychology of disorders:
In people who suffer from eating disorders it is not uncommon to find other associated psychological disorders that co-exist with their Anorexia, Bulimia and/or Compulsive Overeating. In some cases, their ED (eating disorder) is a secondary symptom to an underlying psychological disorder (i.e. suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder). In other cases, the psychological disorder may be secondary to the eating disorder (i.e. someone suffering from Depression).
Honestly, I would clump myself into the group where my eating disorder was a secondary symptom. I am a control FREAK, and a perfectionist. So, when my body wasn’t perfect – I had a problem with that. I went through bouts of depression. I looked at my weight as something I could control; I became obsessed – weighing myself 5-10 times a day, every day.
Women constantly compare themselves, and their bodies, to models and actresses, and women they work with, or other ladies at the gym. This can lead us down a dangerous path… not all of us – but some of us. In the U.S. alone, 20 million women suffer from an eating disorder.
On top of that, athletes with eating disorders (I played volleyball in college), also tend to have higher levels of eating disorder symptomatology than women who do not participate in sports.
Higher levels of sports anxiety are predictive of higher levels of bulimic symptoms and drive for thinness. Also, the interaction between sports anxiety and the level of athletic participation, significantly predicted body dissatisfaction and bulimic symptoms.
So, clearly being a competitive athlete didn’t help my body dissatisfaction issues either… the drive to be the thinnest person in the room isn’t necessarily a healthy drive.
But this is all in the past, right? WRONG!!!
A mindset doesn’t just disappear, it isn’t something that can miraculously change over night. A mindset is something that takes work, and lots of it. For people struggling now, I would recommend cognitive therapy. Where you essentially go in and hack your brain (over time) and restructure your schema surrounding body image, or self love etc.
I LOVE working out. It is my stress relief. It is my sanctuary. The two hours a day where I ignore everyone – it is complete bliss to me. But, I don’t trust myself to become the gym rat that I was. It is a slippery slope once you open that door. The gym is another possible addiction.
My Junior year of college, which ended up being my Senior season because I graduated a year early, I would go to summer training – double days – and then go run and workout after training…
I would run 4-6 miles a day on top of what I was doing for volleyball. Shortly into preseason that year I gave myself stress fractures (in my shins) and I developed plantar fasciitis.
Every day I think about this kind of stuff.
I ask myself if I am becoming obsessive at the gym with the amount of calories I have burned. I ask myself if I am starting to obsess over my weight or how many calories I’m intaking. I ask myself if I am being healthy and safe in the way I am going about losing weight… My mom still asks me if I’m being safe when I start losing weight, because a mindset takes years to change – and mine isn’t all the way there yet.
So, I limit myself. I limit the cardio I do. I moderate my food intake – I can’t do big portions to this day because that “need to purge” feeling is still there, in the pit of my stomach. And for the last couple years, I didn’t keep a scale in the house because I didn’t want to tempt myself with one…
If you know someone who has an eating disorder, or had one – be patient, be kind. They need the support. The underlying cause of the issue could be something so much more than wanting to “be skinny”. Pay attention. Be proactive. Give them the validation they need (if they need it), they may be trying to rewrite, and rewire, their brains.
Let’s get REAL about the long term psychological effects of an eating disorder.
Let’s get uncomfortable, and stop avoiding the conversations we are scared to have. Let’s help each other grow stronger.
Holm-Denoma, J. M., Scaringi, V., Gordon, K. H., Van Orden, K. A., & Joiner Jr., T. E. (2009). Eating disorder symptoms among undergraduate varsity athletes, club athletes, independent exercisers, and nonexercisers. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 42(1), 47-53.
Müller, A., Claes, L., Wos, K., Kerling, A., Wünsch-Leiteritz, W., Cook, B., & de Zwaan, M. (2015). Temperament and risk for exercise dependence: Results of a pilot study in female patients with eating disorders compared to elite athletes.Psychopathology, 48(4), 264-269.