Sunday, 30 September 2012

What I don’t understand is how so many people are sucked into this thing…

          According to a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in grade nine had engaged in weight-loss behaviors (NEDIC 2012, Boyce 2004), 37% of grade nine girls thought they were too fat (NEDIC 2012, Boyce, King & Roche 2008), in adolescence and adulthood, ten females to every male is diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa (NEDIC 2012, Public Health Agency of Canada 2003). These disorders are significant among females, dancers, athletes, models, gymnasts and figure skaters (for example). According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15-24 had an eating disorder (Government of Canada 2006). 

          You don’t need me to stand here and preach to the choir. These are scary statistics. The more terrifying part of this is that these numbers aren’t even the half of it. I have neglected to mention that in 1998, eating disorders were the third most chronic illness in adolescent girls (NEDIC 2012, Adolescent Medicine Committee 1993), that the death rate for eating disorders has ranged between 18 and 20 percent (NEDIC 2012, Cavanaugh 1999), and that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness…with ten to twenty percent dying from complications (NEDIC 2012).  

          So, why all of these facts? I know it’s pretty heavy stuff to be dumping on you, but if one is going to understand something, one might as well do the research required to form an opinion around it. If you haven’t already guessed, my topic of choice for this particular project is disordered eating. Well, not JUST disordered eating…I mean, everything comes from something, right? Eating disorders are one of those things that  has so many factors that are not simply physical or psychological. Societal and cultural factors are (in my opinion) some of the biggest and most prominent indicators as well as the biggest culprit, for influencing people to diet in an unhealthy way (or diet at all) with the potential for things to spiral out of the person’s control. The main thing to remember here, is that someone who suffers from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge-eating Disorder, EDNOS, or any other disorder did not choose this.

It is not their fault. These statistics have faces. They are real people.

           You may be asking by this point “Heather, what is an eating disorder, anyway?”. To put it quite simply, an eating disorder is characterized by severe disturbances in eating habits ( Medical dictionaries like to throw in that this disorder is brought on by many psychological factors, is potentially life threatening, and is most often seen in young women. If someone is unfortunate enough to have to struggle with an eating disorder, it is most likely to happen during late adolescence or young adulthood. As I mentioned, eating disorders affect women nearly ten times more often than men (Statistics Canada). When people think of eating disorders, they usually come up with the most mainstream disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa.

          Anorexia Nervosa is characterized with obsession of the controlling the act of eating. People who suffer from this disorder may feel that through controlling their bodies they are controlling their lives. Usually this obsession leads to starvation, extremely restricted eating, or ritualistic eating. Symptoms include severe weight loss, the refusal to maintain a healthy weight and an obsessive desire to be thinner (so, a skewed self-image… they may look in the mirror and see a very different person than what people on the outside see), allowing their weight to dictate their moods and eating habits for that day and many other things. In more severe cases, a person suffering from Anorexia will have hair that is very dull, brittle, and constantly falling out, bloating, jaundice, and dry skin. In the DSM the diagnoses for Anorexia also includes loss of menstrual periods (

          Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by cycles of binge eating and then purging the body of excess calories. As with Anorexia, the behavior is a response to regulate feelings and there is excessive worry surrounding body image, weight, and shape. A bulimic may vomit in order to compensate for excess caloric intake. They may also use laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise or fasting. Believe it or not, many Bulimic people are within a normal weight range ( One thing I feel I need to clear up here is the definition of “binge”. I feel it isn’t really a thing people understand. I mean, many of us may over-indulge once in a while (like on a big party night, a movie night, Christmas, our Birthdays, once a week just for "us"), but a binge involves not being able to control the amount of food one is consuming. What someone may consider a binge (e.g.: eating a box of dry cereal while watching a movie) may not necessarily BE binge eating behavior. That person would have to feel as if they could not control the eating, or they would eat 6 bagels instead of one, an entire cake instead of one slice. The problem here is that they cannot stop. For example, a person with binge-eating disorder will binge (and will not usually compensate as a bulimic would) to the point of physical illness, or pain from the stomach stretching beyond its capacity. 

          So, in a nutshell, the above two disorders are probably the most common disorders people think about when they hear “disordered eating” or “eating disorder”. The diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual are much more thorough and include the exact list of criteria that a person MUST have in order to be labelled with one of these disorders (I would just like to point out that the sociological part in me despises the DSM on various levels, namely for the fact that it is essentially a manual that labels folks who have psychological issues. Sure, it helps in treatment, I won’t deny that, but labels are dangerous business. People start defining themselves by labels, which is one of the behaviors that can wind you up with an eating disorder in the first place! More about that later…)

          “But Heather! I don’t fit the criteria for Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge-Eating Disorder as stated in the DSM!”

          They have an answer for that too, young Padawan. You see, there is another lovely little sub category within the realm of disordered eating. This subtype is more specifically called Eating-Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). Basically, these people do not fit the criteria for any one disorder. For example, someone with EDNOS may show all of the signs for Anorexia, but may be within a somewhat normal weight range, and may still have their regular period. They may show bulimic tendencies, purging after normal eating patterns, or chewing food and spitting it out instead of swallowing it. 

          Oh, another thing to keep in mind is that people who suffer from disordered eating come in ALL shapes and sizes. I feel that there is a skewed representation within the media when it comes to stereotyping the “look” of a person with an eating disorder. Usually, we are faced with images of women who weigh barely 70 pounds, have been hospitalized, and are at the absolute extreme danger zone with their disorder (think of the anorexic and bulimic guests on Oprah and Dr. Phil over the years). Not that this image is not an important one to see, I just feel that there is a bit of a misconception when it comes to thinking about people with eating disorders. You end up with nasty stereotypes that skinny women (or men) must be anorexic, or that a person of a normal body weight cannot possibly be suffering from an eating disorder because they are not human skeletons. Remember, eating disorders affect 1.5% of Canadian women, and not all of them are walking around with skin barely stretched across their bones. You go to school with people who suffer from eating disorders, you could be living with someone who is struggling. Perhaps you sit next to a girl in class who is suffering. You could even be reading the blog of a person who suffers.

          Well, I guess you are reading the blog of a person who suffers. No… You ARE reading the blog of a person, a woman, who suffers from an eating disorder. I guess you could say that I’m coming out of the closet. I feel silly saying it, but I’m scared that half of the people who read this will not believe me. For those of you who know me, however, know that I don’t lie about this shit. You would have also noticed my weight loss over the years, especially within the year or so. I am five feet, nine and a half inches tall. I fluctuate between 128 and 130 pounds (which on a large framed person like myself, is pretty meager pickin’s). My hair falls out, my skin flakes off, I am always cold. I have no strength, and my vertebrae stick out so much that I get bruises from sitting in a wooden chair. I suppose if I were to label myself, I would tell you that I, Heather Evans, suffer from EDNOS that pulls more to the side of Anorexia/restrictive eating more than anything else.
*On a not so fun note, my weight has reached 126.6 lbs as of this morning. That puts me at a BMI of roughly 18.9.*

          You’re probably sitting there wondering why in the world I would write about something like this for my independent study for my sociology honors. Seems kind of silly, outing yourself, becoming vulnerable for the sake of research. To be completely honest, I look at this as a qualitative study of sorts, only I am the subject. Now, there are several reasons I am doing this blog, and there are several things I am going to cover over the course of this semester. I am happy to say that I will be continuing with this blog long after my study is concluded. 

So, why on Earth am I doing this?

           First and foremost, having an eating disorder fucking sucks. For how prevalent it is within our culture (as you can see from the statistics I introduced this blog post with), eating disorders are not receiving enough of the right attention. I mean, yes, they receive attention within the media, but it’s often to point out how thin or fat a celeb is getting (while on the same magazine cover are weight loss tips, and products…As if you weren’t feeling bad about your body in the first place). I also find that there is a misrepresentation of people who suffer from eating disorders (again, we are exposed to extreme cases that scare us, but we feel we will never get to that point). One of the biggest reasons I am doing this blog, however, is because I need to talk about this. I am not alone in this battle, and I want to fill in a pretty big gap I’m noticing within the media, medical information, and information in general.

This shit doesn’t discriminate. This is not a choice. This is not our fault.

           I often wonder to myself how this could have happened. I am an educated woman. I am a feminist, an avid student. I have studied these disorders on both a psychological and socio-cultural level. I knew that being female, being slightly obsessive-compulsive, being a perfectionist and being a dancer put me into a risk zone for developing EDNOS, but I never EVER thought it would happen to me. You can’t control this shit. This disorder sneaks up on you and throws you into a fucking cage and if you stick around long enough, even though you are thin enough to fit between the bars, you will never leave. You need this disorder, and you’re too weak to fight back. It’s a scary reality. Weight loss, being smaller, being thin being attributed to beauty…All of these standards that exist in the West and the fact that they are often supported not only by the media, but by both men and women toward one another and toward themselves is a big problem!  I mean, losing weight if your health is compromised is a different issue, but when every second word I hear in television commercials is “calories”, that there is a NEED to have a size double zero available for women, that our culture CELEBRATES thinness, that food is attributed with sin, and that there are 8 year olds who are on diets either out of fat phobia or overbearing parents scares me to death. I want to address all of this. I want to tease out the myths, the misconceptions, the history, the psychology behind this, and media as a very dangerous vehicle for tearing down our self-esteem (I mean ads, movies, magazines…everything).

          This blog is not only an independent study for credit. It is a piece of art. It’s a journey, and it’s a memoir. I’m going to be bringing in sociological analyses surrounding the topics I will cover throughout the semester, and I am going to be exploring through my own analysis of the topic at hand, this disorder’s place within our society. Fact sheets about ED, academic papers about ED… They all play the blame game with the media. What I feel makes this blog different is that I am going to be able to put a personal spin on this. This is my account, not notes from a focus group, not results from a survey… I feel that giving insight into each topic I cover is going to bring this study to a more relatable level. I hope to inspire, and I certainly hope to educate.

          So, what can you expect from this blog? Well, as I’ve mentioned, I am essentially doing a content analysis concerning societal and cultural factors related to eating disorders. Some of the topics I hope to cover include medical research, society’s obsession with beauty and the beauty industry (and why this is dangerous), myths and misconceptions surrounding eating disorders and those who have them, the fact that there IS help out there, body issues (concerning bullying, self-esteem, media influence on body image), fat shame (this is going to be a fun one. The word FAT is a feared word in our society and is a sure fire way to silence many individuals, especially women), Western culture’s beauty ideals – how they have evolved and how they differ from the views of other cultures and the ideas surrounding policing of the way we feel about ourselves and present ourselves (including pressures from the outside, and within a person themselves).
All the while, I am going to be taking my own journey. I’ve just started my path to recovery. It isn’t easy. This study that I’m doing…This is an intense and very personal topic. I fully plan on including this journey throughout this blog and this study.

           Think of this entry as the first chapter of a textbook…An overview of what you’re going to expect. I want to thank you, first off. I know there are many people who do not understand this condition (I often don’t understand it myself), but it feels good to know you try. Thanks for not judging me. Hopefully you think I’m strong by doing this. And thanks to those who have been there when I broke down and told them what was going on in my life. There are going to be bad days. Lately there have been a lot of bad days. Someday the good is going to outweigh the bad. I just hope that this information I provide will give insight into our society as we know it, our culture and how it can hinder our development into healthy, happy people. Most of all, I hope this information sheds light on the reality that is ED, and that there is life after ED.

You just need to be willing to fight for it.

Internet resources

1 comment:

  1. I do think you are strong. Thank you for sharing this with us and good luck with your journey to wellness. You have taken a really big step.