What Are They?
There are many different types of eating disorders.
The list below is not conclusive.
When people are coping with anorexia, they will usually severely restrict their food intake. They try to control their weight through restricting calories, exercising excessively, or misusing diet aids/laxatives. Even if the person loses weight, they could have a fear they are going to regain it or be preoccupied if they are actually overweight. Anorexia is not strictly about food. It is typically because the individual is trying to cope with emotional problems. Some of the signs someone could be coping with anorexia are slender appearance, tiredness, light-headedness, thinning or unhealthy hair, yellowish pallor, low blood pressure, susceptibility to the cold, and more. The person will often have a distorted view of what their body actually looks like, which is body dysmorphia.
Bulimia is characterized by binging and purging. It is a cycle of eating too much followed by purging. The purging can be done through taking laxatives, enemas, diuretics, or vomiting. The person will be preoccupied or have a distorted view of their weight/body image (body dysmorphia). You might notice the person repeatedly eating lots of food in one sitting. After the binging, the person might excessively exercise, restrict food, or fast. The individual might also have damage to their teeth, gums, or knuckles.
Eating healthy and taking care of one’s own body is important for wellness. Unfortunately, some people can become obsessed and preoccupied with healthy eating. It can turn into orthorexia. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Healthy eating is a good thing, right? So how can it be problematic?
The individual becomes preoccupied with the quality of their food. They compulsively think about their food and their dietary choices, have severe anxiety around food and their dietary rules, and impose severe restrictions upon themselves. This preoccupation can come with many disruptions to daily life. Due to the severe restrictions, the person may struggle psychologically, medically, and socially. One of the key pieces of orthorexia is the disruption to the person’s life.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a very common eating disorder. While we may eat too much on occasion, binge eating disorder is often coupled with emotional eating and shame/guilt after the binging. In addition, BED is also characterized by increased frequency and feelings of loss of control. The person may also not like to eat in front of people due to embarrassment and often eat when they are not hungry.
Myths / Facts Section
FACT – Being “skinny” does not mean a person is necessarily healthy.
Society places value on slender figures. The current body standards are measured by often unrealistic body standards, but these beauty standards do not necessarily reflect health and wellness. The high value society has placed on being slender has become skewed with being healthy. People can be skinny and have a myriad of illnesses and diseases, as well. Society is just blinded by its current body standards. People who are overweight are at a higher risk of health issues, but that is not the only contributing factor.
FACT – Weight is influenced by many different factors.
If a person is overweight, there are many contributing factors. There is often discrimination against people who have extra weight because society values thinness and associates it with ambition, health, and wellness. People assume those who have extra weight are lazy and do not take care of themselves. Weight is influenced by many different factors, such as genetics, medication, health concerns/issues, activity level, and diet. Therefore, being overweight does not mean the person has binge eating disorder.
FACT – Fad diets can be extremely harmful and are not rooted in proper nutrition.
Fads diets seem like an enticing way to lose weight quickly. They promise a shortchange with amazing results. They often cut out a specific group of food which can result in not getting necessary nutrients. In addition to not being a healthy option to lose weight, fad diets do not help a person develop better eating habits. Once a person has lost weight and quits the fad diet, they will often gain it back.
FACT – Counting calories is misguided and not all calories are the same.
Weight loss has been guided for years by counting calories. It seems like a logical way to lose or maintain weight. Counting calories is outdated. While it may seem like a good way to manage weight, it neglects the fact calories are not the same. Consider 100 calories of carrots and fresh hummus versus 100 calories of deep-fried chicken wings. They will not contain the same amount/types of nutrients, fats, and minerals. The calories will be derived from different types of energies. More successful ways to manage health include food quality (whole foods, lean meat, vegetables, and fruits), exercise, sleeping well, manage stress levels, and consulting a professional/doctor (for help losing weight and consultation about medications/conditions which could cause weight gain).
FACT – Eating disorders are not something a person outgrows. They need professional help and intervention.
Eating disorders are very complex. If they are left untreated, it can be dangerous. If an eating disorder is treated early, there is a greater chance the person will recover. It can be scary to address an eating disorder, but it is necessary. Not addressing it can have dangerous consequences. Relying on a person growing out of an eating disorder or not talking about it perpetuates the stigma and shame surrounding it.
FACT – Not everyone has had or has an eating disorder.
Eating disorders impact approximately 1 million Canadians.
FACT – Eating disorders are very harmful and can result in death.
Eating disorders have harmful effects. Disordered eating impacts many body systems, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, and endocrine. When someone is not eating enough calories, their body starts to break itself down for fuel. This breakdown weakens the system and makes the person more susceptible to other health issues. If someone is purging, this reduces the nutrients, fluids, and electrolytes the person is absorbing. Purging also comes with damage to the gastrointestinal tract, including eroded teeth/esophagus, stomach pain/rupture, constipation, intestinal obstructions, and more. If someone has been binge eating, this can result in added stress to the body system.
Eating disorders are detrimental to the body. It is not a healthy way to lose weight. It can result in death as the damage to the body can be very severe.
FACT – Children can be preoccupied with their weight and develop eating disorders, too.
Research has found that children as young as 3 can have issues with body image and how they see themselves. Parents and guardians play an important role in promoting positive self-esteem and body image. They can help cultivate healthy body image. It is important to develop this foundation of acceptance to help combat the negative messages perpetuated by the media.
FACT – Eating disorders are not gendered. They impact all genders.
Eating disorders can impact anyone regardless of age, employment status, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, relationship status, or socio-economic background. Statistically, females are impacted 10 times more frequently than males. This does not undermine the fact there are males who have an eating disorder. Some studies suggest 10-15% of individuals with anorexia or bulimia are male. People who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
What could cause someone to have an eating disorder?
What Does It Look Like?
There are many different signs of eating disorders.
Signs of anorexia could include:
- Being underweight
- Fixating on weight
- Body dysmorphia (feeling like they are overweight when they are not)
- Ignoring the seriousness of their weight
- Low self-esteem or their self-esteem is dependent on their weight
- Preoccupied with food, dieting, and body image
- Limiting how much they eat
- Moving their food around their plate to make it look like they are eating or taking small bites
- Yellow skin
- Irregular periods
- Problems with relationships
- Digestive problems
- Passing out
- Avoiding mealtimes
- Withdrawal from relationships
- Exercising excessively
Signs of bulimia could include:
- Fear of weight gain
- Thinking about weight and body image
- Repeated binging (eating large amounts of food in one sitting)
- Feelings of loss of control while eating
- Vomiting or exercising after binging/going to the bathroom right after eating
- Using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas after eating
- Restricting food intake or fasting followed by binging
- Calloused knuckles
- Eroded teeth
- Digestive issues
- Using weight loss products
Signs of orthorexia could include:
- Very concerned with the ingredients of food and the nutritional facts
- Concerned about the quality of ingredients
- Avoiding certain food groups
- Avoiding foods which are not healthy or “pure”
- Concerned with what other people are eating
- Thinking about the food at upcoming events
- Upset when “healthy” or “safe” foods are not available
- Follows healthy lifestyle blogs and social media accounts
- May or may not be concerned with body image
Binge Eating Disorder
Signs of binge eating disorder could include:
- Frequently eating a lot of food in short periods of time
- Preoccupied with food
- Shame or guilt about eating/behaviour
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating alone to hide the shame or embarrassment
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating quickly
- Frequently dieting with little results
Remember, people with eating disorders might not gain or lose weight. They could look like they have a “healthy” weight.
What To Do if You are Struggling With an Eating Disorder?
Most people struggle with self-worth and body image at some point in their lives. If you feel like your perception of your body/weight/size is unhealthy and you are having a hard time dealing with it, it is important to reach out for help.
- Remember, it is okay not to be okay. Everyone has hard times. It takes a very strong person to admit they are not doing well. It is about seeking help when you are not doing well.
- Tell someone you trust. Find someone you trust who will help you connect with professional help. You deserve to feel better and get help! Talk to someone you trust about your struggles. There is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help is a great sign of strength. You deserve to feel good about yourself. If reaching out for professional help makes you anxious (don’t worry… that is normal), ask a loved one to support you in connecting with help.
- Take care of yourself. Make healthy choices for your mental health and practice positive coping skills. Find people who support you.
- Remember, you’ve got this!
In addition to seeking professional help and reaching out, there are many things you can do to support your mental health. Check out the wellness tips below or the wellness sessions.
You deserve to feel happy and healthy. You’ve got this!
How to Help Someone Who Tells You They are Struggling?
When someone tells you they are struggling, it can be scary and difficult to know what to say. That is a terrifying thing. It is easy to become caught up in emotions. Many people fear saying the wrong thing. We often want to try to fix our friend’s problem or counsel them, but that is not your job. Your main job is to tell someone and connect your friend to help.
The following are some guidelines as to what to do when your friend tells you they are struggling and how to handle those difficult conversations. There is a good chance your friend will talk to you before they talk to their parents/guardian. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a helping professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of somethings to consider.
The person is telling you something scary and personal to them. This is terrifying for both of you. Take that moment to gather yourself and take a deep breath.
Give the person the time and consideration you would like if you were struggling. Be the friend you would like if you were the one needing help by giving your friend your full attention. They deserve it. It will also help you know what your friend is trying to tell you. While you are listening, be understanding and compassionate. Give your friend the space to talk.
- Do not judge your friend. What they are coping with might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them. Therefore, it is valid.
- Sometimes when someone tells us how they are struggling, we react with anger or judgement because we are scared. We might say something like “Oh my goodness! How could you say/think something so stupid?”; “Don’t be dumb”; or “How could you say something like that?”. As you can imagine, this is not helpful for your friend. What your friend hears is “you are stupid/dumb.”
- Do not interrupt your friend. Being interrupted is very frustrating. It can make the person feel like they are not being heard.
- Put your phone down! Have you ever talked to someone who is on their phone, and they don’t hear a word you say? It can be very frustrating. Treat your friend with the respect they deserve.
- Be the best friend you can be and the person you would like if you were in that situation.
- Do not judge your friend. What they are coping with might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them. Therefore, it is valid.
- Your friend needs to get help. This is not something you can deal with without professional/adult help. Sometimes, it can feel like adults do not listen or take problems seriously, but this is something you need to talk to an adult about. Help your friend think of someone they trust.
Try saying something like, “Have you thought about who else you could talk to about this?”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Who do you feel comfortable talking to about this?”
“Okay let’s find you some help. Who do you feel comfortable telling?”
If they feel like they have no one they can trust, talk to someone you trust. Thinking of who to talk to can be really challenging when you are struggling because it can feel so lonely. If your friend is having a hard time thinking of someone to talk to, help connect them with resources, like a school counselor or family liaison worker. You can also offer your friend some helplines they can call when they are struggling. If you are comfortable, you can also offer to go with your friend to talk to the adult. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else.
If your friend asks you to keep it a secret, you cannot keep it a secret. There are things we keep secret for friends, like their crush or that embarrassing story they swore you to secrecy about, but there are three instances where you must break your friend’s confidence. Eating disorders have many negative health consequences.
- They are going to harm themself.
- They are going to harm someone else.
- They are being harmed by someone.
Talking to a friend who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. This does not mean gossip, but using your own support system. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.
Sometimes, people will not want to talk to you. That is okay. It is their choice. Simply let them know you are there to talk if they need someone and give them resources, like hotlines they can call whenever they want to talk to someone.
How Do You Ask Someone About Their Mental Health?
If you have a feeling something is going on, have a conversation with the person if you feel comfortable talking to them. (If you do not feel comfortable, that is okay. You just need to tell someone who will have the conversation with them and connect them with help).
The following are some guidelines of what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal or not doing well. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a counselor, doctor, or another professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider.
Before You Have the Conversation
- Make sure you have time for it
- You are in a place the person will feel comfortable to talk to you
- Approach the situation with compassion
- Make sure you are willing to listen
- Remember you can initiate the conversation and let them know you are there, but it may take some time before they talk to you.
If you feel like something is going on with someone, there likely is something. Trust that gut instinct.
Open the conversation in a nonjudgemental and compassionate way. Start off by stating a change you have noticed. Use “I” statements so it does not feel like you are accusing them.
Example: “Hey, I have noticed you have been cancelling plans lately. How are you doing?” or “I heard you putting yourself down in class. What’s been going on?”
Listen to hear and understand. If you do not understand something they are saying, paraphrase and ask them to clarify. Listening means putting down your phone and giving them your undivided attention. Let the person talk. Do not feel the need to fill the silence. Allow them the space they need. Sometimes, we want to interject our opinion, but this is about the person, not your opinions. While you listen, approach the situation with nonjudgement and compassion.
If their level of risk is high and they cannot keep themselves safe, connect them with emergency services. If they are not a danger to themselves, they still need help. Connect the person with a counselor, agency, or person they can talk to about what is going on in their life.
You must tell someone so the person gets help. You must connect the person with a mental health professional.
Follow-Up Support for Someone With an Eating Disorder
- Be patient and supportive
- Listen without judging your friend
- Practice healthy boundaries with your friend
- Have fun with your friend
- Be mindful of images you see on social media
- Adopt healthy habits
- Be aware of how you talk about body image
- Practice self-care
Things to Avoid
- Making fun of people’s weight
- Judging your friend
- Threatening your friend
- Counseling your friend
- Encouraging your friend to lose weight
Tips for Wellness
- Seek help when you feel triggered
- Follow body positive/neutral social media accounts
- Be aware of the type of content (social media) you are consuming
- Foster friendships/relationships which are healthy
- Do things that support and encourage positive self-worth
- Have fun
- Practice healthy boundaries
- Utilize positive affirmations
For more information or ideas for wellness, check out the wellness sessions.
If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.