Eating disorders affect millions of people every year. The two most common forms are anorexia, where the person fears weight gain so much that they starve themselves, and bulimia, where the person binge eats and then makes themselves vomit or exercise continuously to prevent weight gain.
Reasons for Eating Disorders
There are many reasons why an eating disorder develops, but it usually stems from control issues in their life. It may be that a young girl begins going through puberty and feels a loss of control with the changes her body is going through. Some teens feel their parents are too critical and they can never live up to their standards, leaving them feeling worthless. It could be that a family is too close and suffocates certain members, or one member does not achieve the same level of accomplishments as the rest. Sometimes a family member dies or there is physical or sexual abuse in the family that leaves a person feeling helpless. Often, however, it is the image that Hollywood and magazines portray of super-thin models that leave everyday people feeling fat and inferior. In each of these cases, a person feels very unable to control their situation, and this kind of emotional stress can very easily lead to an eating disorder.
With an eating disorder, a person feels they can at least gain some control in their lives. They control what they eat, even to the point of extremes, and because many people in our country can’t control their food intake to that point, it makes them feel good about themselves.
A family member with an eating disorder also controls their family and loved ones. By developing this life-encompassing, life-threatening condition, they make loved ones feel deeply concerned for them and even helpless.
But those with eating disorders are actually being controlled by the disorder, not the other way around. These people find themselves constantly confronted by the fact that they have wrapped their lives around food and their body image, and they are actually a prisoner to their disorder.
Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
Eating disorders often go hand in hand with substance abuse, something that physicians and professionals are beginning to take note of. The risk factors for eating disorders are often the same as for substance abuse (low self-esteem, depression, history of abuse or unhealthy family relationships, and social pressures) and in fact, half of those with eating disorders also abuse alcohol or drugs. Sometimes the person uses the illegal substance to help prevent weight gain (as with cocaine or heroin), and other times the person self-medicates their emotional problems with drugs or alcohol. Drugs provide the same kind of control that food does for people that abuse them, and a big part of substance abuse, like eating disorders, is trying to gain control in their lives.
If you think someone you know may have an eating disorder, it is important to get them help quickly. Early intervention offers the best chance at recovery. Just like with substance abuse, a person recovering from an eating disorder will need to go through counseling and therapy to help resolve their control issues and the events that led up to the disorder. Once these patients begin to see what life has to offer, they can begin putting their thoughts and emotions back together and start enjoying life.