Important note: This blog will briefly discuss intersectionality and describes some people’s experience of supporting a loved one living with an eating disorder, among other important points pertaining to eating disorders. While a very important topic, this may be distressing, so please do not read this if it’s not what’s best for you at this moment.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses (National Eating Disorder Information Centre [NEDIC]), occurring most frequently in those who identify as female and in adolescence or young adulthood. Genes and heritability also seem to put some individuals at higher risk for developing an eating disorder; but, this condition can occur in anyone and at any time (American Psychological Association [APA]).
In Canada, eating disorders are diagnosed based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) ([NEDIC]). Some eating disorders include, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Pica, and Rumination Disorder.
Anorexia nervosa involves weight loss through self-starvation typically because of fear of gaining weight. Anorexia of any psychiatric condition (except for opioid use disorder) has the highest lethality.
Those living with bulimia nervosa also think about food and their weight in an excessive manner and for these individuals this fuels intense dieting and then episodes of binge eating (eating during a short window of time, a large quantity of food, often resulting in nausea and discomfort). Following this may come private episodes of fasting, vomiting, taking laxatives or overexercising.
Treatment of eating disorders depends on the type and many other factors (Nemours TeenHealth). In Canada, available treatment options differ depending on finances (and insurance coverage), such as seeing a psychologist or registered dietitian in private practice, and those offered through publicly funded healthcare. We must all recognize as a society that it is not only white, female teenagers coming from middle- and upper-class families that develop eating disorders, although it is this subpopulation that has been largely studied and in which most treatments are based upon. 2SLGBTQ+ individuals also develop eating disorders, and yet few resources have been created or exist to meet their needs. Regardless of sexual orientation or how an individual identifies, they can develop an eating disorder. People of color, those who participate in certain religions and cultures may also experience barriers to care and inadequate care once it is received.
Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder
Living or trying to help and support a loved one with an eating disorder can be an exhausting and scary journey. For those unable to access private care in Canada, or for those living somewhere without services for eating disorders, it can be beyond terrifying. Eating disorders sometimes fracture relationships and social ties; the voice of the condition itself can become so loud and overbearing for the person experiencing it, not only causing a personal struggle for them, but also for those around them. The patience sometimes required to support someone with their illness can take every ounce of energy you have. So, if you know someone who is supporting their loved one living with an eating disorder, please show them compassion and kindness, they are supporting someone with a serious health condition and you do not know their personal struggle, the barriers they may face in access to care and what lived experiences they may have.
References and Resources
Eating Disorder Hope - Recognizing Intersectionality in Eating Disorder Treatment
Nemours Teens Health - Eating Disorders
National Eating Disorder Information Centre - Affirming Care for Every Body
National Eating Disorder Information Centre - Types of Eating Disorders
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Review of the burden of eating disorders: mortality, disability, costs, quality of life, and family burden
American Psychiatric Association - What are Eating Disorders?
National Library of Medicine - Epidemiology of eating disorders: incidence, prevalence and mortality rates
National Eating Disorders Association - Warning Signs and Symptoms
National Eating Disorders Association - How To Support A Loved One With An Eating Disorder
Amen Clinics - Do You Know the Deadliest Mental Health Disorder? (It’s Not What You Think)
About the Author
Hi everyone! Currently, I am completing an honours of psychology degree through the Faculty of Arts. I am very excited to be a part of the Healthy U team because I am passionate about health and increasing accessibility to care, building resources in the community, and diminishing stigma.
I love psychology, so when I am not studying, I enjoy exercising, travelling, and spending time with loved ones.