“People watching.” It’s a common activity that many find enjoyable. To sit and observe those around you and perhaps even come up with the story of who they are. Based on their appearance (i.e., body, style of clothing, facial expressions, etc.) we create these elaborate stories through social assumptions and norms. But how often do we actually get it right? Are things really as they seem?
The truth is that someone’s body cannot necessarily tell us their struggles and perceived value and worth. This idea is something that I think of when I consider what the assumptions are around eating disorders. Often when we hear the term, “eating disorder,” we think of someone who is underweight or potentially vomits after they eat. When the truth is that there are various types of eating disorders, many of which you would never know about based on appearance. How many people do we walk past who are struggling with their relationship with food? Perhaps you are the one being walked past and wishing for someone to notice your pain.
The following is a brief description of the different types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa is defined by dramatic weight loss and difficulty maintaining a body weight that is appropriate for age, height, and build. Anorexia is often characterized by a preoccupation with weight, dieting, food, and excessive exercise.
- Bulimia Nervosa is characterized as the consumption of a large amount of food, also known as bingeing, followed by purging. Purging refers to the attempt of getting rid of the food consumed by self-induced vomiting, laxative use, etc.
- Binge Eating Disorder is defined as the frequent and recurring consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time. There is also a sense of loss of control in relationship to the amount food consumed.
- Otherwise Specified Feeding Disorder (OSFED) is characterized by an individual who presents with an atypical presentation of another specified eating disorder. An example of this would be an individual who meets all of the criteria for Anorexia except that their weight remains within or above normal range despite significant weight loss.
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a feeding disorder in which the consumption of certain foods is limited based on texture, smell, taste, or past negative experiences with food. There may also be a fear of vomiting or choking.
- PICA is characterized by the persistent eating of non-food items and substances and do not provide nutritional value. These may include paper, string, soap, chalk, metal, pebbles, charcoal, starch, etc.
- Rumination Disorder is characterized by the repeated regurgitation of food without effort or involuntary. The regurgitate food may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spit out.
- Orthorexia is defined by an excessive preoccupation with ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’ foods and cutting out an increasing number of food groups (i.e. all sugar, all carbs, etc.).
- Compulsive Exercise involves exercise that significantly interferes and impairs an individual’s daily life. This may occur at inappropriate times or settings and is continued despite injury or medical complications.
- Diabulima refers to individuals with insulin-dependent diabetes who intentionally restrict insulin for the purposes of weight loss.
If you are that someone who is being walked past, know that you are not alone. Perhaps you hold a great deal of shame around your eating behaviors or even think that your struggles are not valid because they don’t fit the typical mold. Please do not let that deter you from getting help. Your pain matters and deserves to be heard. There is help available. You can call Alsana Eating Recovery Centers at (888) 822-8938 and speak with a master’s- level clinician, who can help you get the treatment you need to achieve recovery.
Mary Elizabeth Akinaka, LPC
Lead Therapist, Alsana – Birmingham