Eating disorders in our society, and how to find help
By Chitwan Khosla, Features Editor
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ― George Bernard Shaw
I am a big time foodie, and I can bet that I am not the only one with strong feelings for food, which is a very natural social behaviour—our social lives are deeply connected with food. Apart from being a basic necessity for life, food is part of our cultures, values, religions, traditions, history, relationships, and memories. Every country has a cuisine of its own which tells you a lot about its people and their lifestyle. There are families’ traditional recipes which we all enjoy with our siblings and cousins to cherish childhood memories. Every child loves the food cooked by their mothers and grandmothers. Whether it be a family picnic or special dates, nothing is complete without food.
Our brain connects food with emotions because it is trained to do so. We feel calm and glad when we eat because other than satisfying hunger, our brain associates food with happy memories. You can understand this whenever you are offered a favourite food; the elation you feel by just looking at it and anticipating its taste is what turns the meal into an experience.
Having said all this, we know every coin has two sides. One can’t ignore the saying, “Too much of anything is bad.” Balance is what needs to be maintained in every aspect of life. Nature is beautiful when in balance—otherwise, it can bring disaster. Similarly, if our eating becomes imbalanced, it can lead to difficult negotiations with food and health: eating disorders.
Eating disorders are not so much an issue of eating as they are an issue of an unhealthy state if mind. Eating disorders are a mental health problem and many people suffer from them, although many don’t realize that they do. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reports on its official website, “Eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated illnesses that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth, and self-esteem.” Food becomes the centre of focus and people might start starving themselves, or start overeating. This may happen due to number of reasons such as depression, stress, and social problems. For example, a teenager in high school who is bullied at school for their weight could fall victim to this mental illness. They might either start extreme dieting or overeating—in any case, they would suffer.
Eating disorders come in different forms, but generally three kinds are common: anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge-eating disorder (BED). People suffering from AN are super-conscious of their weight. They feel they are fat, even if they are healthy or underweight. They diet persistently and take extreme measures to lose weight. Kelty Eating Disorders explains on their website that such individuals deprive themselves of essential nutrients and minerals, inviting a number of health problems. They eat very little, tend to eat slowly so that no one notices them eating less or throwing away food, and over-exercise. Thinning of bones, loss of a regular menstrual cycle in females, low blood pressure, low heart rate, kidney issues, and infertility are a few of the many health problems associated with AN. The same website also informs that a young woman suffering from AN is at much higher risk, as much as 12 times, of dying than other women of her age. CMHA also reports that 10 per cent of people suffering from AN die young or commit suicide.
Next, people who suffer from BN also feel they are fatter than they really are, but they don’t starve themselves. They fear gaining weight, and try to diet and lose weight but overeat at times. They can’t control such incidents and then feel guilty about it. They try forced v0miting, take laxatives, over-exercise, and use other methods to compensate for overeating. BN poses very serious threats like heart and kidney failure, severe dehydration, and colon damage, as reported by Kelty Eating Disorders.
Individuals suffering from BED are different from the other two eating disorders we discussed. Sometimes to compensate for stress, anxiety, or other emotions, people with BED eat lots of food on a regular basis, maybe several times a day. Because the eating behaviours are linked closely to emotional well-being, it can be hard to control or stop. This eating disorder is different from BN, as the individuals do not attempt to forcefully remove the food from their bodies. Obesity, diabetes, and blood pressure complications are common effects of BED.
But, of course, there are ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent such disorders. The very first step towards this is acceptance: you can help yourself and your loved ones if you accept that anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, and that there is help. Don’t feel ashamed or panic that you have any mental sickness. As per a fact reported by DoSomething.org, as many as 24-million people in the US suffer from some sort of eating disorder, showing that it is highly common.
The next step is to get help. If you think you have any of the symptoms then you must seek a professional. It is always better to get treatment as soon as possible, so you can get the help you need and reverse the eating disorder’s effects. If treatment starts late, it becomes risky for the patient to co-operate with treatment, just like for a drug-addict. But, prevention is always better than the cure. Be mindful about your eating habits and behaviour, and live a healthy life: eat healthy, work out appropriately, avoid eating alone when stressed or sad, stop rewarding or punishing yourself with food, and stop dieting immediately. Let food be what it is best suited for: satisfaction, happiness, and sharing!
If you are concerned about your own eating habits, or those of a loved one, there are resources and help in the Lower Mainland for you. Here is a list of organizations which are available to help those in need.
- Thrive BC provides care for those struggling with an eating disorder, and their “interdisciplinary team has worked in specialized eating disorder treatment settings (inpatient, outpatient, and residential programs within the St. Paul’s Hospital Eating Disorder Program). Collectively, we have over 25 years experience working with people who are struggling with problematic eating (i.e. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, emotional eating).” You can find more information about Thrive BC at www.ThriveBC.com, or call 604-928-5699.
- The Looking Glass Foundation formed the Looking Glass Residence, which provides support for “medically stable youth (17-18 years old) and young adults (19-24 years old) in their recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or [an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified].” You can find out m0re about the Looking Glass Foundation at www.LookingGlassBC.com or by phone at 604-314-0548. For more information about the residence, contact 604-829-2585, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kelty Eating Disorders provides a list of resources and information on their website at KeltyEatingDisorders.ca, where you can find out more about getting help.