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Eating Disorders: Profile of a Sufferer

What Does an Eating Disorder Look Like?

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What does a person suffering from anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), or binge eating disorder (BED) look like? While deeply involved anorexics certainly look underweight, and chronic binge eaters tend to be overweight, the majority of those who have eating disorders cannot be identified by their physical appearance. Their illness, which begins at the cellular level, is invisible and its symptoms cleverly and consciously hidden.

Common Characteristics/Behavioral Tendencies

People who have AN, BN, or BED are individuals first and foremost, but research shows that the eating disordered tend to share some or all of the following personality traits:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • High achieving
  • Control issues (needing to be in control)
  • Obsessive/compulsive
  • Trouble managing relationships
  • People-pleaser
  • Trouble dealing with/communicating negative feelings or conflict in general
  • Avoidance issues (doesn’t want to grow up, doesn’t want to be sexually attractive)

Non-discrimination Policy

AN, BN, and BED don’t care about your sex, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; eating disorders do not discriminate and show no mercy. Current research is focusing on the role genes play in eating disorders. The thinking is that certain people are more likely-genetically speaking-to develop an eating disorder and will do so if certain environmental factors (a “trigger“) exist. When eating disorders take hold, they can cause the following physical conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fertility problems
  • Cold intolerance
  • Heart disease, heart failure
  • Dental problems
  • Decrease in bone density, osteoporosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Death, by complications or suicide

Mental/psychological consequences:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-hatred
  • Addiction
  • Obsession/preoccupation with food, weight, body size/shape/appearance
  • Fear of food
  • Denial
  • Feelings of shame

Social side effects:

  • Lack of trust in relationships
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food

Having an eating disorder is a very isolating experience and a very dangerous disease. Not only does the sufferer feel unworthy of other’s love and affection, but often can’t even enjoy the company of others, or themselves. The fact that sufferers feel deeply uncomfortable and dissatisfied in their own skin and engage in-and even relish-self-destructive behavior reveals the power, pervasiveness, and insidious nature of the illness. Most suffering from eating disorders are well aware of the dangers, yet are powerless to stop the behavior. In fact, for many, the only time they feel in control-having any semblance of power-is when actively making choices to support the eating disorder. In reality, they are not in control; the eating disorder is. They will go to great lengths to “protect“ their illness by wearing baggy clothes to hide weight gain or loss, pretending to eat food when they haven’t, hiding evidence of bingeing, and removing themselves to eat or purge.

It is vital that those suffering with eating disorders get professional help. But, again, because of the social stigma and sense of shame, this often doesn’t happen. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) cites a statistic from the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders: “Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.“ Even this huge number does not reflect the countless individuals who simply can’t, won’t, don’t, tell.

by Catherine McNiff
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