When I was in my early twenties, I had an eating disorder. For the sake of being thin and fitting into a size 4, I would purge after at least two meals a day. Fortunately, I recognized the error in my thinking and confided in my mother what had been going on. She listened and offered to help me in any way. With her support and an abrupt realization of how I was hurting myself, I determined to stop the unhealthy obsession. I was one of the lucky ones who found my way out before it was too late.
The consequences didn’t pass me up altogether, though. It was no coincidence that I suffered from a temporary thyroid imbalance mere weeks after my last purging session. I shared that piece of my history to ensure you that I do have perspective and empathy for those who suffer from poor body image, addictions, and all types of eating disorders.
It Takes a Village
Because image is so prevalent in our society, many women feel the need to have the perfect body, which is defined by the media and Hollywood as a size 6. The funny thing is that most women are above a size 8. This trend can start at a young age; children as young as 5 years old are expressing concern about their appearance, while children as young as 7 have been formally diagnosed with eating disorders. You can easily see the problem.
Inadequacy: A Smoke Screen
When women feel their bodies are inadequate, they tend to want to change things for the better but often lack the proper resources to do so. It could be money, time, health problems, or even fear that keep them from doing the right thing. Instead of turning to a professional or even a family member for help, they take things into their own hands thus causing, in many cases, eating disorders, and addictions. According to the APA Work Group on Eating Disorders, between 0.5% and 3.7% of women suffer from anorexia, and between 1.1% and 4.2% of women suffer from bulimia. That’s too many women out there destroying their lives with something that is supposed to sustain it.
Research conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggested that eating disorders are becoming even more of a problem in our modern society. Statistics show that cases of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating have doubled since the 1960s. While eating disorders were once most common among middle-class, Caucasian women, the condition now affects people in all ethnic and social economic groups. According to statistics from foodaddictionsummit.org, over the last 20 years, obesity rates have dramatically increased in the United States. Of the approximately two thirds of adults in the United States who are overweight; more than half of them-more than 72 million-are considered obese.
The Core of Addiction
An addiction is defined as being abnormally dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit forming and has an abnormally strong craving (Dictionary.com, 2004). As with any addiction, the problem lies in the root causes that often bury themselves deep within the individual’s emotional make up. It takes more than just wishful thinking to stop the madness that consumes the addict. It is a lifestyle change that requires consistent discipline and courage from the sufferer. Often, professional help may be needed to diagnose underlying conditions, such as, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
The best doctors in the world can’t help any of these problems, however, unless the person is willing to dig deep within themselves for the answers. We can’t definitively say why anyone has food, drug, alcohol, sex or any other addiction; only that humans do things because they get something out of it-the pay off. Whatever the circumstances are behind a person’s addiction, they believe that the result or pay off is worth suffering the consequences for; otherwise, they wouldn’t do what they do.
An individual with a food addiction is completely consumed with thoughts of food and is lacking the general concern for their well-being. Life threatening ailments like heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, liver damage, and many others are taking more and more lives every day because of this epidemic. Even with the threat to life, these individuals may not have the ability to stop without the proper care and information.
We Must Change
The World Health Organization projects that, by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese. These alarming numbers if not taken seriously will doom an entire generation to poor health and premature death. Thankfully, we are seeing some changes in our society concerning the problem. Schools, businesses, and families are beginning to recognize that we are only going to abort the trend with education and action.
Try the following tips to strengthen the cause against eating disorders and obesity:
- Keep informed about your current state of health; regular doctor visits will keep you in check.
- Do not assume foods are healthy because they say “low fat or no added sugar” on the package.
- Educate your children about food portions and balancing the food groups. If you don’t know what that means, then educate yourself.
- Encourage young girls to focus on things other than their appearance.
- If you notice that you have gained weight, figure out why before it gets out of control.
- Give yourself a maximum weight limit and try to stay under it.
- Pack lunches for the whole family instead of relying on schools and restaurants to supply healthy meals.
- Get more active.
- Get kids involved in sports and outdoor activities.
- Don’t buy it and you won’t eat it.
- Talk openly to a doctor, friend, or family member about your fears and challenges with food.
- To help determine if you have a food addiction, consider the following questions:
1. Do you eat comfort foods to help deal with an emotional issues?
2. Do you fixate on certain foods throughout the day?
3. Do you binge on food either in secret or when alone?
4. Do you clean your plate regardless of how much food there is on it, even when full?
5. Do you eat until you get sick?
6. Do you find yourself eating very quickly so you can eat more?
7. Do you feel guilty after eating too much of the wrong types of food?
8. Do you hide food in the house or car?
9. Do you think about food even when you’re not hungry?
If you suspect that you have a food addiction or are overweight/obese, please seek help from someone you trust.
Statistics taken from the following sources: http://www.foodaddictionsummit.org/epidemic.htm
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
APA Work Group on Eating Disorders
The World Health Organization
Hamburger photo by, David Franzen. Woman on scale photo by, Genie4today.