What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders (EDs) are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. They are characterised by disordered eating patterns. Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or body type. It is possible for someone to be ill while still looking ‘healthy’ in appearance.
Eating and body issues are unique to a person. If you’re frequently feeling stressed, anxious, upset, or confused about food, or your weight or shape, or if you find that thoughts and feelings about these things are negatively interfering with your life, then you might be struggling with an eating or body image issue. Common EDs include Anorexia Nervosa, Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
If you or someone you know are experiencing concerns around body image, food, or exercise — it’s important that you know help is out there and that you are not alone.
Many people experience eating and body image concerns
Talk to someone you trust
If you begin to notice that you are experiencing body image or eating concerns, reach out to a family member, friend, teacher, school counsellor, or someone you trust to let them know you are going through a difficult time and would like to talk about it. Remember, you don’t have to be in immediate trouble or look a certain way to seek support. You could share some resources about eating disorders with them ahead of time so they are prepared.
Take a break when you need it
We live so much of our lives online and sometimes we may find ourselves drawing comparisons to others. It’s important to recognise these feelings and give yourself a break if things become overwhelming. Try doing something that makes you feel better and relieves stress, such as getting out into nature, listening to music, dancing, or practising meditation. Take a break if needed from the online space, and when online, consider unfollowing people who are no longer positively serving you or your recovery.
Notice your “self-talk”
It’s common to have self-talk as running commentary on how we feel and everything around us. Sometimes self-talk can become negative and toxic, which can make us feel worse. Try to practise speaking to yourself in a kind, patient, and caring way. Talking to yourself should be similar to talking to your best friend.
Be honest and brave
For many, the first step in recovery is admitting that something is wrong and that you need help. It can be confusing, scary, and difficult to accept that something isn’t right, but the bravest thing you can do is acknowledge the problem and confide in someone you trust. Be honest and open in your feelings; they are not something to be ashamed about. By talking about what you are going through, you can start on the path of finding self-acceptance, validation, and hope. Everyone is deserving of recovery.
Find your inner strengths and positive attributes
It’s easy to get sucked into the belief that how you look is who you are. In reality, we are more than our bodies and how you think, behave, and impact the world is more important than your physical appearance. Also, keep in mind that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes because beauty means different things to different people. It can be difficult to go against the unrealistic standards of beauty that society projects upon us. Diet culture, the set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health and well-being is rampant within our society, but it is important to remember that this is a system built to profit off insecurities that only say we have worth in our appearance.
Try to think about all your attributes and strengths as well as the values you hold that go beyond appearance. Focusing on these traits can help you see the bigger picture and feel good about yourself and your accomplishments. For example, you could start each morning by saying “I am grateful for my beating heart that keeps me living. I am grateful for my strength in dealing with tough circumstances.” If needed, contact your local eating disorder support group or seek professional help.
Get to know your triggers and plan ahead
Eating disorder behaviours can often emerge as a result of triggering circumstances, such as studying for exams, changes in routine, stress around food gatherings, or family celebrations such as holidays. These behaviours may also be triggered by the type of content you consume. Get to know what brings up uncomfortable or negative emotions about your appearance and/or body. Make a list and prepare how you will get support if you do feel triggered. You could ask someone you trust to help you around your triggers, so you feel more confident of staying on track during these hard times.
Is it normal to be constantly thinking about your shape and weight?
How often do you think about your weight and shape, and how much of an impact does it have on your life? It’s common to occasionally think about your weight and shape. However, if these thoughts are taking up a lot of your time and leave you feeling obsessed, upset, worried, or stressed, you may need some support. The best thing to do is to reach out to someone you trust and get the help you deserve. You are not alone and help is out there.
Supporting a friend through body image or eating concerns
If you have a friend struggling with these concerns, encourage them to contact a local eating disorder support group or to seek professional help. Ask your friend open-ended questions, such as “how are you feeling today?”, and listen to their answer without judging or interrupting, even if you don’t agree with some of what they say. It is important you avoid doing or saying things that might make your friend feel guilty or ashamed. Avoid being too critical or providing simple solutions such as “just eat”, because eating disorders are rarely all about food and instead can be a coping mechanism for deeper emotional distress.
Be encouraging when your friend seems tired of the struggle to recover. Remind them of all the positive things about recovery, such as things that they used to like to do and will be able to do again once they are well. Any comments that reference appearance can be taken negatively, for example, “you look so well” can mean “you look fat” to someone in recovery. Discourage toxic and unhelpful appearance, weight, or food talk by switching to more positive topics and remind them of their progress and wins, no matter how small.
Talk to a professional
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or if you are concerned about the well-being of a friend or family member, consider reaching out to a trusted adult, contacting a local eating support group, or seeking professional help.
If you are considering harming yourself or if your eating disorder is causing serious health concerns (for example fainting or heart palpitations), we strongly suggest contacting your local emergency services.