The Truth About Eating Disorders

eating disorder.jpg

The Truth Behind Eating Disorders

An interview with Dr.Conason

Eating disorders in women are more common and less noticeable than any of us would expect but this isn’t at all surprising. Women are constantly reminded of their physical flaws and told what beauty should be. These constant pressures to portray perfection through our bodies can lead up to these disorders. We contacted an expert to speak further on the topic of eating disorders; it is not a pretty talk but it is a necessary one. We hope you're able to learn more about this topic and that you are inspired to get help if you need it after reading this interview. 

First let us introduce to you Dr.Conason: Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in New York City and the founder of The Anti-Diet Plan, a mindfulness based program to help you get off the diet-overeating-self-hatred roller coaster and start eating in joyful attunement to your body. Her practice specializes in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, and sexual concerns. Dr. Conason is also the author of the Eating Mindfully column for Psychology Today and she is frequently featured in the media including Health Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Post, CBS News, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Teen Vogue, and many more.

Your questions answered:

What are the different types of eating disorders? 

According to the DSM-5, the types of eating disorders are the following:

  • Anorexia Nervosa

  • Bulimia Nervosa

  • Binge Eating Disorder

  • Pica

  • Rumination Disorder

  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)

What are the most common signs of eating disorders? 

The most common signs of eating disorders include preoccupation with food, negative body image, body dysmorphia, fear of certain foods, bingeing and/or purging behaviors, poor self-esteem, and/or excessive exercise.

Do people usually show the signs physically or can someone have an eating disorder without anyone knowing? 

Though the narrative around eating disorders generally depicts a change in body size as an indicator that someone is struggling with this illness, people often struggle with an eating disorder without a physical change to their outward appearance. They may or may not have physical signs including malnourishment. Individuals of any size can struggle with an eating disorder, and unless they reach out for help, it can be nearly impossible to determine whether or not someone is suffering simply by looking at their body. It is important to note that eating disorders are vastly under diagnosed in people at higher weights. When someone in a larger body loses weight, it is often applauded by friends, family, and medical professionals even though it may signal an eating disorder. We need to move away from using body mass index (BMI) as a yardstick to diagnose eating disorders. Weight loss should be a red flag to further assess for eating disorders and medical problems regardless of what the person's initial weight was. 

What are the treatments for eating disorder?

Eating disorder treatment varies depending on the severity of the eating disorder, if there's imminent threat to life, the amount of money someone can pay, and what their insurance will cover. Some treatment options include in-patient facility treatment, out-patient treatment, support groups and group therapy, psychotherapy, DBT treatment, EMDR therapy, and more. 

What is the truth about diets; are they helping or hurting us? 

Without a doubt, diets are harming us. First of all; diets simply don’t work for weight loss. In the long-term, the most likely outcome of dieting is actually weight-gain, not weight loss. Dieting is also associated with weight-cycling (the processing of losing and gaining weight over and over again) which is linked with a number of health concerns related to both physical and emotional well being. Most concerning, dieting is associated with an increased risk of eating disorders and disordered eating. While not everyone who diets develops a full-blown eating disorder, almost everyone who struggles with an eating disorder reports a history of dieting.  

What is your best advice for people who feel unhappy with their physical appearance?

It has become normal for people to feel unhappy with their physical appearance. Over 88% of women are unhappy with their bodies and 97% of women report at least 1 body hating thought every day. But just because it’s the norm, that does not mean it’s healthy. When we don’t feel good enough in our body, it’s very difficult to feel good enough in other areas of our lives. Poor body image is associated with a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Improving body image is multifaceted and involves becoming more self-compassionate and accepting towards ourselves, while also recognizing that the problem stems not from our bodies but from our culture and the destructive beauty and “health” ideals we are subjected to. Mindfulness meditation can help us develop a more self-compassionate stance towards ourselves (you can find guided self-compassion meditations online). We also need to be cognizant of what media we are consuming, especially on social media where we have more control over what we see. I recommend unfollowing any accounts that promote a thin-ideal and make you feel bad about yourself and filling your feed with body positive accounts and diverse images of beauty. 

We live in a world that revolves around putting pressure on body image, working out and dieting. Beauty means having the perfect body. How can women fight against these societal views to prevent eating disorders? 

The first step is to recognize that the problem is our culture—not our body. The weight loss industry rakes in over $68 billion each year. That’s a lot of money invested in selling us the belief that we are flawed (and that we need to buy stuff to fix us). Use social media to immerse yourself in the body positive movement—follow social media accounts that promote diverse images of beauty, learn about the Health At Every Size ® movement, body positivity, and self-acceptance. Maybe you can even become an activist yourself! 

What is the hard truth behind eating disorders that people don’t usually know about?

The hard truth behind eating disorders is that they are far more common than most people believe. Eating disorders occur across the weight spectrum but are dramatically under-diagnosed in people at higher weights. Restrictive eating disorders in people who are at higher weights (currently called “atypical anorexia”) are often not diagnosed until they are more severe, more progressed, and therefore more difficult to treat. Eating disorders also tend to be underdiagnosed in men, lower income populations, and people of color.   

What would your best advice be to someone reading this who is suffering from an eating disorder?

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, my best advice is to seek help. You don’t need to go through this alone. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) provides a helpline (both by phone and online) that you can call to get a referral for a treatment provider in your area.  

We know how difficult discussing topics like this one can be and that is why we have chosen to shed light on them. When it comes to eating disorders, the word disorder alone can make you feel ashamed. Instead, we want you to feel empowered. Empowered enough to seek help, talk about the topic even if it is uncomfortable and most importantly, we want to help you overcome it. Getting answers to your most difficult questions is the first step. If you have any more questions, we are here for you. Send us anything that you are left wondering and we will add the answers to this blog post. 

A special thank you to Dr.Conason for allowing us to interview her. You can follow her and her work on: InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. If you are interested in learning more about The Anti-Diet Plan, sign up for her free 30-day starter course.