Eating disorders, commonly referred to as EDs in the eating disorder community, is a disease that manifests itself as an obsession with food and weight. There are 3 main categories or types of eating disorders that are defined by the medical community.
Anorexia Nervosa: Known as ‘anorexia’ to the layman or ‘ana’ to people with EDs, it is characterized by a lack of eating or restricting eating. Anorectics differ in their caloric intake- most eat under a 1,000 calories a day. Anorectics restrict the when, the where and the how much of each food. They may weigh every gram and research the caloric intake of every food they eat; anorectics in general may also have certain rituals while eating, such as chewing food a certain number of times (for one girl it was as many calories the food had) or how many bites of a certain food they can have.
Bulimia Nervosa: Called either ‘bulimia’ or ‘mia’, bulimia is the eating disorder of purging or self-induced vomiting. Bulimia often follows a cycle of bingeing and purging. Bingeing to people without EDs is a slice of cheesecake, or something ‘bad’ such as Oreos. To those with EDs a binge is when you shovel food in, when a person’s bodily needs are so overwhelmed they can’t stop themselves and a binge for people with an eating disorder can range from 1,000 calories to 20,000 calories in one sitting. Bulimics then purge whether by substances such as ipecac or materials such as toothbrushes or fingers. Or they may fast or restrict in order to get rid of calories they consumed.
EDNOS: EDNOS stands for Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and lumps in people who do not fulfill the DSM- IV criteria for anorexia or bulimia. The DSM-IV criteria for anorexia, such as having less than 85 percent of expected body weight or loss of menstruation may not be filled thus the person is diagnosed with EDNOS.
Eating disorders can also come with other issues such as depression, self-harm, and body dysmorphic disorder. A possible combination would be anorexic with bulimic tendencies and depression. EDs can happen to anyone regardless of sex or race.
Your son/daughter says “I have an eating disorder.”
Or alternatively, their deteriorating condition has caught your attention.
What to do?
Take them to a hospital. Do not dismiss the claim of an eating disorder. You do not know how severe the case is. Get them checked out.
First thing they’re going to do is weigh your child and based on BMI will determine if the weight loss is an immediate concern. I would recommend that they not be facing the scale. Do not let them know you’re taking them to a hospital. There are certain tricks that people with EDs will use to fool the scale- an example is bloating with water. If they are to be placed in in-patient (IP), be involved with the treatment. Be aware of what the doctors are doing and read up on current up-to-date information on eating disorders.
Hunger: An Unnatural History. It doesn’t focus on EDs but does focus on what starvation does to the body and the different studies done on starvation.
A website is FEAST (), where parents and relatives of those with an eating disorder talk to and support each other. You’re not alone.
Even if your child is not put into in-patient, do not think that their condition is any less dangerous.
If they have lost significant weight:
Make their meals and make sure they eat. Tough love is necessary. Even if it takes re-heating or an hour, make sure they eat. In order to get better they must take their medicine which is food.
Parents, friends, please remember that an eating disorder is a monster. They might do or say things that are hurtful but stand strong. It makes the sufferer irrational. It is your job to be rational and care for the sufferer. No matter what they do- and they will try anything- reply with “I love you. So you are going to eat because you have a disease.” Do not let them choose what they eat. You choose. They need high caloric, high nutritional food. Some examples are things such as full-fat yogurt, Milo, meat products, and whole grains.
If they haven’t lost much weight, then still make them eat meals three times a day. Do not let them skip out.
For bulimics, this differs in that you need to make sure they don’t purge. So it is still three meals a day, but that you might stand outside the bathroom door while they take a shower or use the restroom. Check their room for ‘hiding places’ that they may hide their vomit in.
Friends: Avoid social eating if possible. Avoid comments about food, dieting or weight. Comments will be misconstrued to further the ED.
If you have an ED, whether aiming for recovery or not these general tips can make life somewhat easier.
Identify triggers: There are positive and negative triggers- negative triggers are the ones that make you go back to your ED and cause you to restrict or purge. These can be comments, blogs, or magazines. Try to avoid these. Positive triggers are the ones don’t make you feel like relapsing or continuing with disordered behavior.
Make a list of safe foods: Pretty self-explanatory, but make a list of foods that you feel safe eating- it may start out as low-cal yogurt or some fruit, but gradually the safe food list will become larger.
Join an eating disorder support group: Talking and venting about your ED can help clarify the issues you have that led to your ED and helps you feel not so alone.
Remember- you control the ED. It doesn't control you.