Beyond Food: Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Because in my mind I am not okay

Eating disorders are one of the most complex and challenging illnesses to both treat and experience. They can be close to invisible, hidden by a “healthy” looking exterior of perceived calm and collection or they can be as evident as an emaciated human being.

Types of eating disorders:

Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by a refusal to maintain a normal body weight (usually less than 85% of expected body weight), intense fear of gaining weight, as well as a disturbance in experience of one’s body shape or weight. This can be either restrictive, which involves not eating or binge-eating and purging, which involves large amount of food and then purging it out of the body in some way. This also has an increased influence on one’s body image and self-evaluation.

Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterized by recurrent binge eating over a specific period of time that feels as though there is a sense of lack of control. After this binge eating there is often a recurrent, inappropriate compensatory behaviour such as vomiting that gets rid of the food that has just been ingested. This also has an increased influence on one’s body image and self-evaluation.

Binge eating disorder: binge eating disorder is very similar to bulimia however without the purging or compensatory behaviour. It is characterized by episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time with a sense of lack of control over this. It is often followed up an experience of shame, distress or guilt following the food eating episodes as well as the feeling of being uncomfortably full. This also has an increased influence on one’s body image and self-evaluation.

Orthorexia: A form of fixation with food that resolves around obsession for proper nutrition resulting in a restrictive diet, a focus on food preparation and ritualized patters of eating. This is often has an obsession with food quality or nutrition leading to much of their mental and physical energy going towards thinking about food so much so that it interferes with daily life.

February 1st marks the beginning of eating disorder awareness week.  While this is a week that specifically works to bring to attention to struggles of those with diagnosed eating disorders, it also asks each and every one of us to evaluate our own relationship with food and hunger. Food is something that is so tied with human emotion, and human experience that it can become a method that we use to cope without even realizing it. Whether it is emotionally eating, emotionally not eating, choosing junk food when we feel bad or refusing to touch unhealthy food when we feel bad, our ways of interacting with food are often based on how we feel emotionally instead of looking at what our body needs. In this sense each of us engage in disordered eating patterns at some point or another.

The truth about food is that it is our nourishment. It is what our body needs to survive each and every day. We MUST have food every day. This is what can make eating disorders so incredibly painful for the person who suffers from them. Unlike other addiction such as drug addiction or alcoholism, a person with an eating disorder cannot avoid the trigger of all of their mental and physical pain. They have to eat. No matter how much pain it causes them – they have to eat.

For most people if there is something that hurts them –they don’t’ do it. For example when you touch a hot element on a stove, it burns and causes pain in the area that touches the element. In order to avoid this pain you take caution when you are using the elements and try not to touch the element whenever possible. For someone with an eating disorder it is eating food that causes this similar sensation of mental, emotional and physical pain in their entire being. The thing is they can’t stop eating food. This makes it incredibly challenging to recover from an eating disorder. At the same time that you are trying to work through all of the things underlying the disorder such as anxiety, depression, OCD, past traumas etc. you are continuously being triggered.  Can you imagine trying to heal that burned hand if you are constantly being forced to place it back on the hot element? It takes incredibly hard work and time and strength to overcome this trigger and truly start to heal.

This is the type of resilience that characterizes people who are in recovery or who have recovered from an eating disorder.

This is what eating disorder awareness week is all about. It is about recognizing the complexity and the challenge that comes with trying to overcome an eating disorder. It is about recognizing that recovery does not stop when someone is at an appropriate weight – instead it is a constant struggle each and every day on the inside. It involves overcoming certain thought patterns and core beliefs that are so ingrained that they feel true. It involves going beyond food and learning about who you are beneath this disorder. It is about healing all of the parts of  the self that have been hurt, fragmented, broken. It is about looking at all of the parts of the self that are scared, anxious, depressed, traumatized, alone and working with them to create safety in this world. It is about finding a way that each and every person with an eating disorder can feel safe in the world so that they do not need to hold onto their eating disorder to feel okay.  It takes time. It takes strength. It takes patience. More than anything it takes support, no matter how long it has been, no matter how long it will take. There is no right way to recover from an eating disorder, no right treatment. It is about working with each individual, to support them the best way possible, no matter what that support looks like.

Naturopathic Medicine is one of the many tools that can support those who are trying to recover from an eating disorder. The many modalities that Naturopathic Medicine encompasses including mind-body counselling, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, and nutrition are all tools that can support someone with an eating disorder. No matter what direction your recovery is going, never be afraid to reach out for support with me, Dr. Alexandra.

Remember that you are not alone in this. Support for eating disorders is available through Naturopathic Medicine and may other tools. I am always sending so much love and support. Hang in there.

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